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A company is more likely to use an assessment centre format to recruit people if it is recruiting several at once, perhaps in the same area or in different disciplines. Some companies use them routinely because an assessment centre should give a rounded picture of the applicant’s attitude and abilities.
Although assessment centres are believed to accurately identify an individual’s ability to do the job, not everyone is a fan. Experienced personnel may feel they are being asked to prove something their work record already reflects; although if you are new to an industry or want to switch jobs, an assessment centre may demonstrate that while you don’t have the experience you do have the right skills.
Expectations and preparation
An assessment centre might take place at a company location, hotel, or a similar venue. Candidates are usually asked to attend for a significant period of time – perhaps even a couple of days. The idea is to see how a candidate performs in different situations.
Depending on the qualities employers are looking for, several different assessments can take place. These could include presentations, role playing, practical exercises – such as written assessments – and team-based assessments. Interviews are also quite usual and there may be several with different people – so you don’t have the pressure of a single interview where you have to be a “one-shot wonder”.
You may be able to prepare based on the paperwork sent in advance of an assessment centre. Make sure you read this thoroughly and fully understand what is required. If you have been given prior warning of the need to deliver a presentation, make sure you produce suitable material and rehearse it. Find out as much as you can about the availability of supporting aids such as projectors, internet access, flip charts and the duration of your time slot. In some cases the presentation may be a sole effort, or you may be asked to present as a member of a team.
Skills and behaviours
Assessment centres often aim to mimic some of the work you would do if you are selected for the job. An example of a practical task is the “in-tray exercise”. Typically, you will be asked to say how you would act on a variety of memos, telephone messages, letters, emails, documents and reports. The assessors will be looking at how effectively you delegate, prioritise and schedule the tasks and also at how effectively you are likely to work under pressure. You may be asked to draft a letter or an email – this should be professional, using good grammar and be constructed in a logical way to get across all the key points. Often there are no right or wrong answers to these types of exercises, but you should be able to provide a rational explanation for why you have taken certain actions.
Group exercises aim to find out how you operate in relation to other people. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the assessors are looking for a “leader”, unless, of course, you are applying for a leadership position. Most often, your communication and problem-solving skills are being assessed, plus your interaction. Being able to make a positive contribution, encouraging others to take part, helping them to develop their ideas and showing a willingness to listen, will be just as important as your individual contribution in terms of completing the group task. Be focused and prepared to summarise where the group is in terms of progression with the task at hand.
A social element might be included. This has been referred to as “trial by sherry”, which should be a clue as to how you should behave. Forget the dubious jokes, even more dubious tales of your behaviour at other social events and don’t give in to the temptation to bad-mouth people in your industry or current job, even if it seems a good way to score points at the time. Be sociable, interested in the work of the company, polite and, if it’s an evening event, remember you will have to be up bright and early the next day.
A shining opportunity
An assessment centre will offer you an opportunity to shine. Check the company’s website for any clues as regards the sort of skills, personalities and attitudes they seek in their key employees – there may even be tips on what to expect at the company’s assessment centres. If you are using a recruitment agency be sure to benefit from its experience – staff can guide your preparation or even let you know what exercises the company typically includes for the kind of job you are applying for. Be self aware. If you have a tendency to be shy, stay alert for opportunities to bring yourself into the limelight, or if you know you have a tendency to rabbit on for too long, remember to keep it short and sweet.
Keep an open mind and be prepared to view the whole process as a learning experience that is designed to let you show off your skills and attributes.