The Assessment Center

An 'Assessment Center' does not refer to a location, but to a process which is being increasingly used by organizations to assess staff, either as part of the recruitment process or for internal promotion. The Assessment Center involves a set of varied exercises which are designed to simulate different aspects of the work environment.

It can be usefully defined as ‘A method for assessing aptitude and performance; applied to a group of participants by trained assessors using various aptitude diagnostic processes in order to obtain information about applicants' abilities or development potential.’

The Assessment Center Used in Recruitment and Selection

Assessment Centers are usually used after the initial stages of the selection process, because of the large amount of time and expense in conducting them, and usually follow the initial job interview. Other measurements such as psychometric tests may complement the selection process. They are commonly held either on employers’ premises or in a hotel and are considered by many organizations to be the fairest and most accurate method of selecting staff. This is because a number of different selectors get to see you over a longer period of time and have the chance to see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do.

Assessment Centers are seen as one of the most effective ways of identifying top candidates who'll get on well with others and fit in with the organizations culture. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's ‘Recruitment, Retention and Turnover 2009 Survey’, 34 per cent of employers now use assessment Centers when recruiting managers, professionals and graduates. This figure will inevitably grow as organizations seek to make more accurate selection and promotion decisions.

The most common type of Assessment Center exercises include:

Assessment Center Exercises

During each exercise, a group of observers will rate you on a range of set indicators, using a prescribed performance scale. Results are then cross compared against the same indicators, which are measured in other tests. Following test completion, observers meet to discuss the test results and reach a group consensus about your ratings.

Assessment Centers may be conducted by HR personnel within the employer company or by outside consultants. They are highly structured in their design, application, and assessment procedure and are specifically adapted to assess factors such as your level of skills, aptitude and compatibility with the organization's culture. Each test measures a range of indicators within these factors.

In Tray Exercises
If you are asked to do an in-tray exercise, you may be asked to assume a particular role as an employee of a fictitious company and work through a pile of correspondence in your in-tray. These tests commonly measure job skills such as: ability to organize and prioritize work; analytical skills; communication with team members and customers; written communication skills; and delegation.

In Tray Exercises

You will be judged on how well you can: handle complex information, determine priorities, make decisions within time limits, display sensitivity to potential problems and communicate clearly. Try to imagine that you are at work doing the described duties, rather than just completing a test, but make sure that the reasons for your actions are clear and documented - even if this is just a note in the margin.

Presentation Exercise
These presentations need to be kept fairly short as the same assessors will usually observe all of the candidates in order to make sure that the assessment is fair.

Presentation Exercises

You will usually be given a topic or possibly a choice of topics in advance and will also be told the duration of the presentation, usually around ten minutes with five minutes at the end for questions. You can also expect to receive a list of the presentation equipment that is available, usually an OHP.

Group Discussion Exercise
Group exercises involve candidates working together as a team, to resolve a presented issue.

Group Discussion Exercises

These exercises commonly measure interpersonal skills such as group leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and group problem solving skills. Group exercises may range from 'leaderless group discussion' formats to problem solving scenarios.

Competency Based Interview
This may be either a panel or with one interviewer, or sometimes a series of interviews with different assessors. Interviews at this stage are likely to be more in-depth than those you experienced during the first stages of selection and could be with someone from the department to which you are applying or even with a potential future colleague. Questions may refer back to your first interview, to assessment center activities or to aptitude or personality test results.

Role Play Exercise
You will usually be asked to assume a fictitious role and handle a particular work situation. Role Plays usually use professional actors who are clearly briefed about their role and how to respond when you take a particular approach. A role play exercise allows the assessors to see if you can play the role that is necessary to address the situation they have created.

Role Play Exercise

You may need to make a conscious effort to overcome your natural responses in these exercises. For example, the assessors are looking to see whether you can exhibit sensitivity or toughness in those situations that require it, not whether you are a naturally sensitive or tough person.

The Assessment Center Experience
While the Assessment Center process is intensive and commonly viewed as stressful, it does provides additional opportunities for those who feel that they are not able to demonstrate their abilities fully during an interview. Assessment centers also enable you to obtain a first-hand idea of what the employer expects, and will provide opportunities for you to interact with other participants during group exercises.

Many candidates underachieve on the day as they are unsure of what to expect. At the very least you need to have good background knowledge of the sector, the organization and its products and services. Creating the right impression when everyone else is attempting to do the same can be difficult. Just remember that the observers are usually looking for candidates who show evidence of being team players and fully commit to the tasks they are set. Be adaptable in your thinking and recognize other candidates' good ideas but remember that talking people round to your point of view will demonstrate good communication skills provided that it is done in a positive and inclusive way. Above all, remain positive, team oriented and focused on the task.

You may also be interested in Psychometric Tests Introduction, Personality Questionnaires, How Personality Profiles are Used, Aptitude Tests, Aptitude and Ability Tests - Speed versus Power, The Assessment Center, Why are Selection Tests So Widely Used, The Growth of Psychometric Testing and What You Can Expect on the Day.

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