What are assessment centres?
Who uses selection centres?
Generally large organisations, in both the public and private sectors. Some of these include:
|The smaller the organisation, the less likely it is to use selection centres - they are very expensive to run!
Why hold assessment centres?
- They are one of the most reliable methods of assessing candidates. Interviews, or any other method, taken alone, may be as low as 15% accurate. However, when scores from a number of different selection exercises are combined, their accuracy can rise to over 60%.
- They are generally accepted as a fair method of selection, providing equal opportunities for all candidates and selecting on merit
- They are designed to provide selectors with as much information as possible about candidates
- They assess what candidates will actually do if selected: not just how good they are at interview!
- They offer a thorough, in-depth assessment: most candidates, even if rejected after a selection centre, feel that they have had a fair chance to show what they can do
How will I know if an organisation I'm applying to uses assessment centres?
Usually, the selection procedure will be outlined in the employer's brochure. You will never have a selection centre sprung upon you unexpectedly: at the very least, the letter inviting you will tell you what to expect.
Large organisations may book a venue such as a hotel or training centre for the selection centre, which may last two days and and involve specialised staff such as psychologists, whereas smaller organisations may just run a day of exercises at their office. According to Personnel Today magazine assessment centres are most popular with service companies (e.g. retailers and banks), followed by public sector organisations with the lowest usage being by manufacturing companies.
The costs of running an assessment centre are high, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of staff time: a number of middle and senior managers may have to be withdrawn from their jobs for several days to take part. This is why they are many run by large organisations which can absorb the high costs involved more easily
How do assessment centres fit into the recruitment process?
Public sector employers may follow a different pattern - invitation to Civil Service Fast Stream assessment centres, for example, is dependent on reaching the required standard in the online reasoning tests and the supervised e-tray exercise, but no interviews are held before the assessment centre.
Quite a small percentage of candidates gets to the selection centre: typically, five to ten per cent of the original applicants. So if you have got this far, you have already done well!
What is being assessed at an assessment centre?
Each exercise at an assessment centre will assess one or more of these competencies in order to build up a complete picture of each candidate's abilities in relation to the job applied for.
Computerised methods such as psychometric tests are more objective and don't suffer from observer bias, but observational are much more effective for assessing personal attributes and personal competencies.
Below is an assessment centre form based on a real example used by a retailer looking for trainee retail managers.
PLACE THE MOUSE CURSOR OVER ANY UNDERLINED TEXT IN THE CHART BELOW TO GET TIPS.
What happens at an assessment centre?
Where do people fail?
Source: Association of Graduate Recruiters
The secret of doing well at an assessment centre (or for that matter, an interview) is to try to enjoy it! It will be demanding, but will also be fun and the candidates who put the most in will get the most out of it.75% is on how a candidate comes across rather than what they say. Presentation, firm hand shake, communication etc, are of key importance.
Major retailer about graduate assessment centre participants
Assessment centres usually last for one or two days. During this time a group of candidates - typically 6-8 people - will take part in a range of tasks, both individually and as a group, designed to assess the competencies that the employer requires. The group exercises (and some of the individual exercises, such as presentations) will be observed by assessors noting the skills and competencies displayed by candidates. At some centres, there will be one observer assigned to each candidate.
Assessment centres usually take place at a hotel or at a company training centre. If an overnight stay is required, the employer will arrange accommodation and meals for candidates. The evening meal will usually involve the group of candidates and representatives of the company, both selectors and possibly recent graduates. You are not being formally assessed at this time, so don't worry - but at the same time, be sure not to drink too much and try and remember what your granny told you about table manners.
Are candidates competing against one another?
No: everybody, or nobody, in a group might be successful. There are normally no quotas and everybody is performing against a standard.
Who are the assessors?
Managers from the company, who have been trained in assessment. There will probably be a mixture of managers from the HR/Graduate recruitment function and line managers for whom the eventual graduate recruits will be working.
What is the most important part of an assessment centre?
Candidates are assessed on their performance across all the exercises and there is no one most important part. If you feel that you have performed poorly on one exercise, you may well compensate for this by doing well in another.
Most common activities used at assessment centres according to Employment Review
Apart from interviews, an assessment centre may include the following:
The interviews will be similar to the first in some respects: a conversation with one or two interviewers. You may be interviewed by more senior members of staff: senior personnel and/or specialist line managers. Points from your first interview may be probed in greater depth.
are designed to test your numerical, verbal and/or spatial abilities and are timed so that you have to work quickly: it is quite normal not to have enough time to finish all the questions. Work through the tests systematically, do as many questions as you can and don't panic. See our Psychometric Tests page for more details and lots of practice tests.To access assessment exercises, visit our partner Graduates First. Graduates First provide assessment exercises, aptitude tests and other tools to job seekers, students and graduates. Kent students register using your Kent email address at www.graduatesfirst.com/cp/kent/login.aspx to get access to a portfolio of free tests and tools.
You will be given a selection of letters, memos, reports etc, in either paper or electronic format, similar to that which somebody doing the job might find in their in-tray or email inbox first thing in the morning. You will have to read through each item, decide on the action to be taken and the priority to be allocated to it and possibly to complete certain related tasks such as summarising a report or drafting a reply to an email. This exercise tests skills related to the job in question, particularly analytical and decision-making skills. Again, time constraints will be tight.
See our In-Tray Exercises page
take a variety of forms: you may need to:
- Discuss a general topic, e.g. “Identity cards should be compulsory in the UK”
- Debate a work-related problem and come to a joint decision.
- Complete a task, e.g. constructing a puzzle.
In most cases, you will not be competing against other members of the group: the entire group may be selected or rejected. The assessors will be looking to see how individuals function as members of the group, and how they respond and react to one another.
Think about the skills and personal qualities that will be required in the job. For some types of work, the assessors may be looking for very assertive and dominant people: in most areas it's likely that teamwork, co-operation and the ability to listen to others will be important.
- Teamworking Skills page includes a comprehensive set of tips on how to perform well in group exercises.
- Example Case Study
- Marketing Business Game
- Balloon Debates
may be on a topic you have been asked to prepare in advance or may be impromptu speeches. Generally, candidates are given up to half-an-hour to prepare their topic. Try to:
- Speak clearly and confidently.
- Keep within the allotted time.
- Give a structured talk with an introduction and conclusion
- Maintain good eye contact with your audience
- Note down key points to keep yourself on course during your speech
See our Presentation Skills page for lots more tips.
The social side
Assessment centres may involve one or two nights away from home. Accommodation and meals will be provided by the employer, either in a company training centre or in a hotel. In either case, this will normally involve at least one evening meal with other candidates, recent graduate recruits and the interviewers. Although this is not a formal part of the selection procedure, you will be under observation (it has been dubbed "Trial by Sherry"!), so remember:
- Do ask intelligent questions
- Do appear interested in the work and the organisation
- Don't tell dubious jokes, or regale everyone with an account of the last Rugby Club pub crawl
- Do remember you will have to be up early and at your sparkling best the next day
- Don't drink too much!
Who makes the final decision on candidates?
At the end of the assessment centre, all the assessors will discuss all aspects of the candidates' performance. The observers will rate candidates and give the evidence upon which their ratings are based; this is then likely to be discussed by the group as a whole before a final decision is reached.
Is that it?
Usually, yes - the assessment centre is the last stage in the selection process and will be followed by a job offer or rejection. If there are any problems - perhaps you have been offered a job with one employer while still waiting to hear from another - then ask to see a careers adviser.
If I don't get through, will I be told why?
Most employers are happy to provide feedback on candidates' performance at selection centres, if the candidate requests it - so don't hesitate to ask.
- Second Interviews These may be more in-depth than a first interview.
- Example Selection Centres See the timetables for two typical selection centres.
- Case study The type you might get at an assessment centre.
- Business game example of the type used at assessment centres.
- Balloon debate again type you might get at an assessment centre.
- Teamworking skills Interactive exercise and tips for group work exercises in assessment centres.
- Making a presentation
- In-tray and e-tray exercises
- Employer Aptitude Tests