The Secret to Success
Assessment Centres are now increasingly being used by employers for recruitment. This is because research has shown that an assessment centre is the most accurate method of predicting the job performance of an applicant. They also give you, the applicant, and a much better chance to get to know the employing organisation. You should not be nervous of assessment centres. They are usually much less daunting than you expect and very often applicants really enjoy themselves. Bear in mind that the employing organisation is itself on show and they want to make a favourable impression on you. You should also have enhanced confidence in your potential new employer, assessment centres are very expensive to run and it is indicative of their commitment to getting things right that they are holding the centre at all.
The assessment itself will consist of a number of different exercises, probably a structured interview, and some psychometric tests. There are different types of interview and test; however, here are some of the more common exercises that you are likely to encounter
Group Discussion Exercise
Typically you will be given a problem, which you are asked to solve. Firstly on you’re own, and then through a discussion with your fellow group members. You must come to an agreement on the answer. Often you are asked to rank a list of actions in a set priority. What the assessors are most likely to be looking for is your ability to influence others, your team working skills and your interpersonal skills. This guide cannot give you any of those, but if you bear in mind the following points you may avoid some obvious mistakes
Don’t bully other group members.
If someone says something daft don’t show your frustration. Don’t talk over other group members, ask politely to intervene. Encourage quieter members of the group for their opinion. It should be your goal to bring others around to your opinion, but don’t be afraid to conceded where you can see others have a valid point. Offer to take notes and if there is a flip chart in the room write the various points on that. It will give you control. Suggest that someone watch the time.
You either have presentation skills or you don’t, so if there is a presentation required then this guide can’t help you with the delivery. However, again there are some common mistakes that you can prevent. If you’re given a time limit, you probably will be, stick to it. You will be marked down for finishing too early or going on too long. Everyone should rehearse; however, if you are given a free choice of subject, choose carefully. Ask others if your chosen subject is interesting and unless specifically asked to do so, avoid work-related subjects. A day in the life of a store manager is sure to send your audience to sleep. Humour always goes down well but be careful and make sure it has wide appeal
These are usually a package of business related memos and paperwork that you are asked to prioritise. There is little advice that can be given as these vary considerably. The main point is to make sure you allocate your time properly. Read through all the information quickly once and then pull out the obvious priorities.
These usually involve getting a task performed with you organising a group of people. Again it is difficult to predict what may be included as these tasks vary considerably. General pointers; always check what skills you have available, listen as well as speak, treat every member of your group with courtesy and look after the weaker members of your group.
All these exercises are designed to highlight your competencies. Competencies are the buzzword of HR functions in the 90’s yet different companies have differing views on what competencies are and which ones to use.
Typical competencies are:
Leadership. This is a common one for all management roles and will be measured in group discussions and task performance exercises. There will also be some judgements made from the personality tests.
Influence. This is important for all sales jobs and roles involving negotiation, for example buying. It is usually measured during group discussion exercises and presentations, however can also be assessed during the interview.
Interpersonal. This is important in most jobs but especially relevant to HR, most management positions and any role involving negotiation. This will be measured in the group discussion and also during the interview. Many assessments measure this throughout the course of the day, perhaps at lunch. Beware; you are on show from the moment you arrive.
Team Working. This is often over used but certainly relevant when people are expected to produce results working as a team. As you would expect, it is measured in the group discussion exercise.
Communication. This is vital in any role that requires training others and will include written communication, presentation skills and the ability to impart information. It is measured during your presentation, interview and through any written exercises. Your application letter and CV may also be judged.
Time Management. Superstore managers must have first class skills in this area and it will be measured by your performance during in-tray exercises.
Organisational Skills. Almost all jobs require a degree of organisational ability; however, it may be left off the list if other competencies are deemed more important.
There are dozens of other competencies, but well run assessment centres are not usually looking for more than six competencies, although it has been known for employers to try and assess 15-20. This is not realistic and usually means the employer hasn’t quite grasped the purpose of the assessment, or has not adequately prioritised the competencies required.
In summary the key to getting through the assessment centre is probably the same as any other selection process. Be prepared, be enthusiastic and be happy!!! Make it look as though you have enjoyed yourself. You probably will. Don’t be nervous either, it’s not just you on show but all the other candidates as well as the employer themselves.
Finally whatever the outcome of the assessment centre make sure you ask for feedback. The assessors will learn a lot about you during the period of the assessment and in almost cases they will be happy to share it with you.
This seems obvious but recruitment consultants and employers complain bitterly about no shows and last minute cancellations. Don’t commit to go to an assessment centre unless you are serious about going. Cancelling an interview at the last minute is one thing – the interviewer can always re-arrange their diary. An assessment centre cannot be cancelled and a lot of resource will have been committed. If you have to cancel, make sure you give a week’s notice minimum. Any less than that will damage your reputation.
If you are joining a retail company then go and have a look at some stores (at least two) and don’t rely on memory. You will almost certainly be asked what you thought of the store and if the company is a plc then get hold of a company report. You will not be expected to understand all the financial minutiae but it will give you an idea on how the company sees itself. Also try using the Internet. Another useful tip is to check the share price. You can only do this on quoted companies but any serious newspaper will give you a listing.
Get an early night.
If it’s a morning start then make sure you get an early night the day before. You may be in a classroom type environment and if you are tired it will show.
Give yourself enough time to get there.
If you are not sure how long it will take then either rehearse the journey or give yourself enough time to arrive 45 minutes early. Do not go into reception until 15 minutes before your appointed time. Your assessors may not be ready for you and may not like the intrusion.
You will need to understand the culture of the business holding the centre to work out appropriate dress, however, smart-formal will rarely offend. You could also call the company beforehand and ask for some guidance.
Once you arrive do try to make an effort to get on with people around you.
This includes the receptionist, the caterers, the assessors, and especially the other applicants. In most jobs teamwork, interpersonal skills, and the ability to get on with colleagues are critical. These are competencies that will be assessed.
Listen carefully to all the instructions for various exercises.
If you don’t understand something, do ask. Frequently you will be briefed on safety procedures. Don’t look bored, even if you are. Show your enthusiasm for the day and the company.
Think of some intelligent questions before you go.
There will probably be a question and answer session.
Say “Thank You”.
At the end of the assessment centre thank the assessment centre manager for the day and tell them you enjoyed it. Flattery always helps