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Assessment Centres

An Assessment Centre is a process designed to assess whether or not an interview candidate has the particular technical skills, personal skills and potential that the organisation is looking for.

Assessment Centres are used to supplement interviews and obtain information about the qualities of candidates. They are a strong predictor of future job performance.

Assessment Centre tests are often group oriented. This means you can expect to work with a number of fellow job applicants on these psychometric tests. This can include:

  • Presentations
  • Role play exercises 
  • Group Tasks

Two other things you can expect at an assessment centre.

  1. You may be asked to retake a number of the aptitude tests in order to verify your results. 
  2. Interviews for the job are likely to be administered.

You can practice for the types of interviews employers use at assessment centres here.

What are assessors looking for in Assessment Centre participants?

  • Social Skills - The social role each candidate takes or tried to take. How much others listened to or ignored the candidate; the way each person tries to influence others and the amount of respect the candidate engenders.
  • Intellectual Ability - The quality and quantity of the individuals contribution, their clarity of thought, flexibility and ability to express ideas logically
  • Attitudes - These are provoked in discussion but are much more difficult to detect in interview.

Checklist of Skills, Abilities and Competencies

There is typically a checklist of skills, abilities or competencies required by the employer, against which the observers are rating participants on each of the exercises and interviews. This list is often stated explicitly in the recruitment information, or it may be given to you at the assessment centre.

Assessors will keep detailed notes of performance, grade participants against each competence and each exercise, and look carefully at overall performance.

Remember that even the best candidates won't do everything perfectly - if you feel you have made a slip, get over it and carry on regardless. All is not lost.

Group Tasks

Group tasks examine how individuals respond in a group and / or problem-solving situation. A group typically consists of 6 - 8 candidates. A number of assessors observe from a distance. Skills being assessed may include:

  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Judgement
  • Reasoning
  • Persuasiveness

Observers are Looking for Answers to:

- How well can the candidates argue?
- Are they able to convince one another?
- Who is going to lead the group?
- Who is generating the ideas?

Some common Exercises and Activities include:

Topic of General Interest - A topic is given to the group to discuss for 3 - 4 minutes. Several other topics mat be introduced until 5 - 6 topics have been discussed. This task is typically used as an 'icebreaker' with an unfamiliar group, or to observe how candidates "think on their feet".

Assigned Role Exercises - these are used to assess negotiating skills, persuasiveness and ability to compromise. Each person is given an individual brief i.e. where they are competing for a share of a single budget, or a scenario where one fictitious individual has applied for promotion and a decision has to be made in the group, as to which of the fictional applicants should be promoted. The assessors observe the candidates' skills in promoting their particular applicant and the quality and structure of the arguments put forward.

Unassigned Role Exercises - i.e. running a simulated business, in which decisions must be made rapidly, with incomplete information. A group task is set where everybody has the same brief to study (e.g. examples of problems at various levels). As a group, the participants agree the order of priority in which to discuss the various problems. They are asked to reach conclusions within a given timeframe. The observers assess capacities such as tolerance of uncertainty, ability to provide one's own structure and ability to adjust and be flexible in changing circumstances.

Team Practicals - A typical exercise is where the group is provided with materials (e.g. string, rubber bands, beer mats, drinking straws and uncooked spaghetti) and given the task of constructing a bridge over a one-metre gap. The outdoor version of the exercise may have planks, oil-drums and ropes etc and involve bridging an actual gap over a river. Observers assess negotiating, teamwork and analytical skills, as well as problem solving ability, and leadership skills and sometimes creativity.

Tips for Effective Group Work

  • Participate actively in the group
  • Listen to what others have to say
  • Speak clearly - you can't be assessed if you can't be heard!
  • Contribute early, even if it's just few words
  • Be friendly and co-operative, but defend your point of view
  • Never try to win by putting others down
  • The quality of your contribution is what matters, not the quantity

Individual Tasks

These are usually designed to mirror tasks you would be doing on the job.

Exercises such as:

In-tray Exercise - candidates are presented with a series of letters or emails with varying degrees of importance and given about 30–60 minutes to tackle the task. Observers are looking for decision making skills, time management, and how you work under pressure.

Tips

  • Read through everything quickly
  • Identify requests needing immediate action; those you can delegate; and those you can delay
  • Be prepared to justify your priorities and actions to the observers
  • Pace yourself, but aim to work quickly and accurately

Case Study - candidates will be given a business scenario and asked to imagine they are giving advice to a client or colleague on the basis of the evidence. You may have to make a presentation explaining your findings. This can also be used as a group exercise.

The observers are looking for analysis, problem solving, and business acumen.

Tips

  • Practise by carrying out some basic research
  • Find out the kind of real-life business decisions the company has to make
  • Read the business pages of newspapers to get a feel for current issues
  • See if your careers service runs workshops on preparing for case study exercises

Presentation - Candidates will usually be asked to prepare for this in advance. You will be told the subject and length of the presentation and the range of visual aids available (e.g. laptop, powerpoint/keynote, flipchart etc.).

The observers are looking for communication skills, confidence, and quick thinking on your feet.

Tips

  • Plan the content - If you are free to choose the topic, go for a subject you know or understand well
  • Structure your presentation - Break your presentation into three memorable points – start with an introduction and end with a summary and include an invitation for questions
  • Make sure your Visual Aids are visual - don't use too much text!
  • Focus on your delivery - try to talk slowly; pause if necessary to get back on track; vary the tone of your voice; make eye-contact with everyone in your audience from time to time
  • Get plenty of practice - practise out loud so that you are comfortable speaking from memory, or with brief prompts on screen or using index cards
  • Get used to the timing when speaking at a measured pace
  • A final dress rehearsal the day before will always help your confidence level

General Assessment Centre Tips

  • Gather as much information as you can about the tests beforehand
  • Listen carefully
  • Pace yourself
  • Work quickly and accurately
  • Finally, just be yourself – don’t act! If you find you need to change your behaviour or personality radically to fit in, maybe this employer is not for you?


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