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Assessment Centre Advice - Your Questions Answered

Psychometric Test Preparation by    Jeremy Kin; organisational psychologist, assessor and coach at JobTestPrep; gives invaluable Assessment Centre advice.

JobTestPrep    Why the setting of an Assessment Centre?

Jeremy Kin    Past research has shown that Assessment Centres are good at simulating real workplace scenarios. In particular, they can induce real stress and they show how people interact with both superiors and subordinates.

As an Assessor, what is your role at an Assessment Centre?

Given the above, my role is to assess candidates in four main areas:

1. Cognitive skills – this includes candidates abilities at coming across intelligently, planning  ahead, seeing the full picture, self-expression, creativity, fluent thinking, procedural thinking and being aware of the consequences of their actions.

2. Working style – whether candidates are serious, energetic, reliable, independent, initiative-taking, task orientated and competitive. (Here Jeremy points out that different traits are valued in different positions).

3. Interpersonal capabilities – whether candidates are cooperative, generally easy to get along with, empathetic, good listeners, compromising and respectful of their superiors. Whether candidates are critical of others, and if so, if it is done in a constructive manner. How do they cope with criticism?

4. Managerial capabilities (if relevant) – whether the candidate is assertive, dominant and able to make decisions. Whether the candidate shows strong leadership skills and the ability to motivate others

In your opinion, how do people usually slip-up on an Assessment Day?

Firstly, stress – when candidates let stress manage them instead of managing the stress they feel. Secondly, in their approach – when candidates become angry about the situation, get easily offended by the psychologist or other people in the group, thus disrespecting the situation usually because they think an activity is stupid and not indicative of anything. Thirdly, passive or aggressive behaviour.

Is there anything a candidate could do at an Assessment Centre that would be an immediate red-flag?

Being disrespectful to the situation or the psychologist. This is apparent when candidates roll their eyes, laugh inappropriately or answer their phones during Assessment Centre activities. Don’t be offended by the psychologist’s behaviour! - It is often intentional to see your response.  

What really impresses you?

It depends on what the role is that I am assessing for. In general, calm, task-orientated candidates who take the day seriously and are respectful to others. Furthermore, determination – when candidates keep trying even after they fail personally or the group fails.

Do you have any Assessment Centre Advice – particularly, about candidate interaction with the psychologist?

The psychologist is your manager for the day. Approach the psychologist as you would your manager in real life.

How should candidates go about introducing themselves?

In terms of non-verbal communication - sit straight, look others in the eye, be confident!
What to say - start with biographical info, then your education (what/when/where?) and then go on to your work experience.

Do you have any advice for candidates who are requested to give a presentation at the Assessment Centre?

In terms of non-verbal communication - don’t put hands in pockets; look your audience in the eye; try to be confident.

Be aware of your time frame - (Tip! If appropriate, appoint someone in the group to watch the time for you and let you know when to move on – this shows the assessor that you have taken time into account).

Be clear! – Your presentation should have a clear structure. Introduce your topic in a nutshell, present the problem, present your answers, summarise and leave room for questions.

Do you have any advice for the Group Decision-Making exercise?

In the Group Exercise, be sure to express your opinion and be willing to really listen to others’ opinions. Moreover, if after assessing the legitimacy of someone else’s opinion you deem it to be better than yours, you should be willing to accept their opinion. If, however, you think it’s not - try and convince the others that your opinion is the more suitable.

Can you give any advice for the In-Tray Exercise?

The big issue around in-tray exercises is prioritising! I recommend splitting the tasks into three – very urgent, important and can be postponed. Start addressing the most important things. ‘What is most important depends on your earlier differentiation’, explains Jeremy.  For example, if you decided that your priority is a meeting regarding budgets an hour from now, this makes all items to do with budgets critical. This means that an email about your son’s birthday, or important company issues that are not about the meeting are now not your first priority.

If you have two urgent matters and have to decide what to prioritise, you have to make a decision that you will be able to explain later. It is important that you are aware of your decisions and that you can explain them. My last piece of advice here is that while it is important that you take care of critical matters, less critical matters can and should be delegated to others.

Take a full-length free in-tray exercise examples.

How can candidates prepare for an assessment centre, is there such thing as Assessment Centre Practice?

Know the job you are applying for and be aware of the skills that you will need so that you can best play to your strengths. Be familiar with the tasks used at your specific Assessment Centre - knowledge is power! (Tip – try and integrate some de-stressors before or during the Assessment Centre. This could be having a cup of coffee, talking to someone from the group or reading your favourite novel – whatever works for you.)

JobTestPrep offers a real simulation of an Assessment Centre – that is face-to-face practice. This is great at reducing stress and giving you an awareness of how the real day is likely to pan out.

Do you look for different things at a Graduate Assessment Centre?

 I look for graduates who show potential - someone motivated to succeed, who is energetic and task-orientated. I would expect graduates to have the ability to learn new things, accept criticism and be respectful to managers (i.e. the psychologist). Most other things come from experience.

Can you give an example of where someone really stood out at an Assessment Centre?

There was a time when the group was requested to build paper planes to fulfil certain criteria. Someone offered to do a Quality Assurance check for the group at the end. This indicated broad-thinking, and that the candidate was task-orientated.

And when did someone stand out for negative reasons?

The group was requested to build a bridge and they forgot to build a platform for the cars to reach the bridge. When asked why they didn’t build a platform, instead of taking responsibility for their planning failure, the group made the excuse that they weren’t asked to do that – it exhibited narrow-mindedness.

Do you have any other Assessment Centre Advice?

Yes! Approach all Assessment Centres knowing that you are the only person who is responsible for the impression you make. Don't make excuses like the psychologist wasn’t nice, the other people in the group were aggressive, I sat in a bad place, etc. Regardless of all environmental factors, you and only you are responsible for your behaviour at the Assessment Centre.

About the author: Jeremy Kin M.Sc. Organisational Psychology, is a former Assessment Centre Assessor with a major talent assessment company. He is a JobTestPrep Assessment Centre Coach, running simulation Assessment Centres for groups. Jeremy can be contacted via the comments section below.

~ JobTestPrep Team ~