Why do employers use Assessment Centres?
Assessment Centres are usually used by employers to test skills that cannot be assessed at interview, some last for several days and some only for a half day or day. Employers will screen applicants via a face to face interview or telephone conversation and then if successful, invite the candidate to an Assessment Centre where they can scrutinise their short listed candidates further. The Assessment Centre will often be held at the company’s head office, but sometimes at hotels or conference centres. They are popular with large companies recruiting for their graduate programmes.
Assessment Centres require an investment of resources and time from the employer and so an invitation to attend an Assessment Centre is a positive – you’ve managed to clear the first hurdles and they definitely think you have potential!
What should I expect?
At an Assessment Centre, a group of candidates, (usually between 5 and 10 people) will be assessed together. The Assessment Centre is usually organised by the HR department in conjunction with managers, who can provide more detailed and often technical interview questions directly relating to the role you are applying for. Occupational psychologists may be employed to assess candidate behaviours during the assessment process and actors may also be introduced to create realistic role plays so that candidates behave in the way they would in “real life”.
The employer uses the assessment centre to simulate the types of situations that may occur within the role they are interviewing for, to measure how you handle them. They are looking to see how you would work within a team within their organisation and will usually set the team tasks that simulate the sort of work you might actually have to do in the job you are applying for.
Assessment Centres often include exercises such as e-tray, in-tray, presentation, group exercise, attending conference call, role plays, personality questionnaire etc.
An employer will probably run more than one assessment day and you should remember that you are not necessarily in direct competition with the people attending with you. There may be multiple roles available and the employer is looking for the candidates who will best fit in with their organisation, so they may select one candidate or several in any assessment group. Being overly competitive or even unpleasant to your perceived competition could actually damage your chances of landing that job.
A typical assessment day could look a little like this:
09:45 Arrive, collect name badge, coffee/tea
10:00 Introduction and opening presentation by the employer
10:30 Individual numerical and verbal reasoning tests
12:15 Buffet lunch with managers and current employees
13:00 Individual technical interview(s)
15.15 Individual task: In-tray exercise
16:15 Group task: Case study exercise
Often the day is designed to be demanding to see how you would cope with a stressful day at work.
You should treat the entire day as an interview, including the lunch /refreshment periods, as your attitude and comments during these “relaxed” sessions will be noted by the company staff you interact with and also provide you with an opportunity to build relationships with the other candidates which may benefit you in the group tasks later in the day. You will probably be required to present to the group and assessors at some point during the day.
Presentation skills are important in the workplace, and the ability to confidently impart information in a clear, concise and logical manner is valued by employers.
Assessors will be looking at:
- How you have organised and planned your presentation
- Oral communication skills – try to speak clearly, don’t turn round and face your slides, look up and project your voice, try not to rush
- Time management – try not to finish too soon or over-run your given time slot
- How you have presented your information – is it clear, is there a logical progression to your presentation. Do you have an introduction and conclusion?
- Your professional style – which will be personal to you
Often an employer will give you information in advance about the presentation exercise. Sometimes assessors may interrupt during your prepared presentation or add a minor last-minute change to your brief. This often happens in real life and they are looking to see how you cope with it.
If your presentation is pre-planned then you will have the opportunity to practice it – try to do this in front of an audience who are happy to point out the things you may not be aware you are doing – for example distracting hand gestures, pacing or mumbling etc. Try to learn your presentation so that you do not need to read your script verbatim. Small note cards can be used as an aide memoire, but the less you need to refer to them, the better.
Presentations at Assessment Centres are usually only 5-10 mins long, so try to keep within the time allowed, but do try not to rush. Practice is key.
The assessors will be scoring you for:
- Evidence of planning and preparation
- How confident was your presentation?
- How convincing was your presentation?
- Was your use of any visual aids effective?
- Did you satisfy the brief given to you?
- How did you handle any questions?
- How you delivered the presentation – oral communication skills and style
- Did you engage with your audience? Were they interested?
Group exercises are popular with employers as it is important that you are able to work well with others. They are often used to assess:
- Teamwork / Interpersonal effectiveness
- Leadership qualities
- Problem solving/ Analytical thinking
- Oral communication skills
- Focus on achieving goals
If your group exercise involves a case study, assessors will be looking to see how you
- Communicate orally with other members of your team when making recommendations
- Use analytical skills to strategically analyse issues
- Interpret data from various sources and in a variety of formats
- Show commercial insight into a problem
- Make and commit to a decision
Assessors will be looking for candidates who listen to other people’s ideas whilst remaining positive and articulating their own ideas.
You must speak up if you do have suggestions for the group as you will only be marked on what you actually contribute to the task.
If you notice someone in the group is getting ignored, try to make a point of drawing them into the group and asking them for their ideas. This shows you know how to be fair and inclusive, whilst exhibiting collaborative team working skills.
Assessors are not usually looking for someone who dominates the rest of the group – speaking for the sake of speaking and talking over other participants is not the way to score points. You will actually gain marks if you can tactfully get those verbose individuals in your group to be quiet and let others contribute.
Whilst you are being assessed, try to ignore the assessor in the room and do not talk to them. There may also be cameras monitoring the room so that the employer can review the session later.