Running a virtual graduate assessment centre

Interested in joining us?

Check out our current vacancies
Running a virtual graduate assessment centre featured image

At Rightmove, we are no strangers to bringing in fresh talent and supporting graduate software engineers. We successfully ran a scheme around 3 years ago which allowed us to place 4 graduate software engineers from varying backgrounds with the majority still working for the company today. We are extremely proud to see how well they have progressed through the scheme, settled into their roles as well as how they have expanded and grown their skills and have a clear focus around their career direction. They have all also had a huge impact on Rightmove as a business.

As developing and investing in people is core to the culture at Rightmove, we wanted to open up the opportunity again in 2021 for our next generation of engineers. We knew that there would be additional challenges this time round, but we wouldn’t let a global pandemic get in our way.

With university studies disrupted and nearly the entire UK office based population forced to work from home, organising an effective, interactive, enjoyable and fair assessment centre relying entirely on video calls was going to take a lot of additional work, effort and energy. To make sure that this was handled smoothly and that we had a strong pool of candidates to work with, we engaged with a third party company who have plenty of experience in this field and could guide us along the way.

We wanted to turn things around as quickly as possible with initial plans starting approximately 16 weeks before the assessment centre took place. At this stage our main aim was to get a dedicated crack team together to focus on the organisation and logistics required to run the event.

We needed some help to tailor the activities and sessions to work in a remote world as well assessing the candidates on the day. Who better to do this than a combination of some of our senior and experienced software engineers, HR Managers, Product Owners as well as those who have come through our previous scheme and been on the other side of the fence, bringing a completely unique perspective.

I can still remember entering the office a few years ago as a potential graduate and feeling the nerves as there were a lot of new people to meet on the day, as well as the different activities we took part in to try and secure a place as a grad. Knowing how I once felt in this position made me want to do everything I could to help the candidates feel at ease.

Jessica Madhavan - Software Engineer

With the work well underway to host a virtual assessment centre, we still needed some candidates to invite. About 8 weeks before the day the company we were partnering with started discussions about the type of profiles, experience and backgrounds that Rightmove would be looking for. Based on this they provided us with 16 CV’s and with only 8 spaces available in the assessment centre the organisers from Rightmove had the hard job of selecting the most appropriate profiles based on exposure to different technical areas, previous work placements and any potential that could be spotted while still wanting to maintain a diverse range of candidates. We also wanted to have 2 reserve candidates in the case of someone dropping out.

While our team of engineers did a great job at preparing an appropriate technical assessment and briefing those involved the rest of the group had a huge challenge of making the arrangements to seamlessly run the day with 8 candidates who had never met before. This is where our engagement with the third party company really kicked in. Not only did they moderate the event, they also provided the guidance, a number of the core competencies as well as a group task where 4 of the candidates could work together to solve a problem and create a presentation that would be possible to complete over a video call.

With only some minor last minute tweaks, the only thing remaining was to meet the candidates and let the day commence. with 8 candidates in the mix, the plan was to run 4 individual technical sessions in parallel where 2 assessors could evaluate the approach taken to solve some simple but common issues that developers at Rightmove face on a daily basis. While this was happening the remaining 4 candidates could focus on the group presentation task with a total of 4 assessors each allocated to evaluate a specific candidate. These sessions lasted for approximately 1 hour.

Graduate assessment centre timetable

It was quite clear that working together on a group presentation and trying to collaborate over a video call was a huge challenge and it took a huge amount of organisation, persistence and thinking outside of the box from the candidates but there was a huge amount that the assessors could take from their approach to the task and it was extremely valuable. 

We then paused for a short break and some networking sessions where the candidates could speak to a number of people from Rightmove to find out more about their experiences and in some cases how they themselves came through a previous Rightmove graduate programme.

Being an assessor during the grad assessment centre was quite a surreal experience after going through the process as a graduate over 3 years ago. One thing that took me by surprise was the fact that I felt just as nervous and excited being an assessor as I did when I was a candidate! Being a part of the process again gave me a chance to reflect on the last 3 years at Rightmove and how much I have learnt. Coming into the company I had little to no experience developing and maintaining production code so my first few weeks were extremely daunting. Concepts that seem like second nature to me now were confusing and hard to understand at the time!! Having said that, the culture at Rightmove and the structure of the graduate scheme has allowed me to learn so much and that really is due to the passion of a lot of my colleagues at Rightmove who have taken the time to offload their wealth of knowledge onto me. I now work in a position where I have a good understanding of how many of Rightmove’s systems work and have had experience with a whole array of technologies. I’m excited for some new graduates to join so I can repay the favour and help them settle into the company in the same way that my Rightmove elders did for me!

Fin Evans - Platforms Engineer

It was then time to swap the groups around, so it was the turn for those who had previously completed the group presentation to complete the individual technical exercise and the remaining 4 candidates combined to complete the presentation activity.

With all of the sessions complete, there was enough time for a bit more networking and conversation before wrapping up the day and the candidates could finally take a well earned rest. The assessors also had around an hour to take a break and finalise any last pieces of feedback before going into a mammoth wash up session where a list of pre-defined competencies would be scored and decision would be made on which of the candidates would be offered the 2 graduate engineer positions.

The wash up was anything but a simple process with a lot of discussion points and strong thoughts and opinions and this was testament to the hard work, effort, energy and skills demonstrated by each of the candidates. A significant amount of time was spent looking at how each of the candidates performed at each stage of the assessment centre and eventually consensus was reached. We are extremely happy that 2 offers were accepted and really excited to start working with both of them.

While the day went smoothly, there are always things to reflect back on. With plans to bring in more engineers through coding bootcamps later in the year, we took some key learnings that would help create an even better experience for both the candidates and assessors. Things like creating an environment that allows more people to shine in group activities, more guidance and support in technical tasks from our assessors as well as broadening the assessment criteria to give more opportunity to demonstrate personal values and motivation for the role. We can’t wait to put this into practice and introduce even more engineers to the talented teams as Rightmove.

Joe Stickings author photo

Post written by

Joe Stickings is an Engineering Manager at Rightmove. He leads our talented community of Front End and Node.js developers across both consumer and customer teams. Outside of work Joe is a dedicated footballer and a competitive tennis player. He is also passionate about aviation and is a qualified pilot. In his spare time you'll find him flying light aircraft at his local airfield.

View all posts by Joe Stickings
%d bloggers like this: