This article is a Q&A with Jeremy Kin. Mr Kin is an MSc organisational psychologist, assessor and coach at JobTestPrep. Listen to him give his invaluable Assessment Centre advice to a JobTestPrep team member:
Why are Assessment Centres used?
Past research has shown that Assessment Centres are good at simulating real workplace scenarios. In particular, they can induce real stress and show how people interact with both superiors and subordinates.
As an assessor, what is your role at an Assessment Centre?
My role is to assess candidates in four main areas. Let me break them down for you:
One is Cognitive skills. This includes the candidate’s ability at coming across intelligent, planning ahead, seeing the full picture, self-expression, being creative, fluent thinking, procedural thinking and being aware of the consequences of their actions.
The second area I explore is the candidate’s working etiquette. I look to see if the candidate is serious, energetic, reliable, independent, initiative-taking, task orientated and competitive. But! It’s important to remember that different traits are valued differently depending on the position you are applying for. So, be sure to research the position before attending the Assessment Centre
Next, we have interpersonal capabilities. Whether the candidate is cooperative, easy to get along with, empathetic, a good listener, compromising and respectful of his or her superiors. … Truthfully, I am really focusing on the candidate’s criticality of others and, if there, how it is used in a constructive manner. Meaning, how do they cope with criticism?
If it’s relevant, the last category I look into is managerial capabilities. Is the candidate assertive, dominant, capable of making decisions? Does he or she show strong leadership skills and the ability to motivate others?
In your opinion, how do people usually slip-up during an Assessment Day?
Stress is a big one. Many candidates allow stress to manage them instead of managing the stress they feel. Secondly, their approach or passive or aggressive behaviour. You have to realise that Assessment Centres can last for hours. As the hours’ pass, candidates become angry about a situation they deemed stupid. They become easily offended by the psychologist or other people in the group. Always remember to not take anything personally and breathe.
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 the role I am assessing. In general, I look for calm, task-orientated candidates who take the day seriously and are respectful to others. Furthermore, determination – when the candidate keeps trying even after he has failed personally or during a group exercise.
Do you have any Assessment Centre advice – particularly when a candidate interactions 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?
Firstly, in terms of non-verbal communication – sit straight, look others in the eye, be confident!
As for 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?
Don’t put hands in pockets. Look your audience in the eye, confidence is the key! Also, be aware of your time frame. I’ll give you another tip. If appropriate, appoint someone in the group to watch the time for you and let you know when to move on – this also shows the assessor that you have taken time into account.
And, of course, 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 the Assessment Centre assessor is looking for is differentiation. For example, if you decided that your priority is a budget meeting an hour from now, this makes all items to do with budgets critical. This means that an email about your son’s birthday or other important company issues are 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 is that while it is important that you take care of critical matters, less critical tasks can and should be delegated to others. You should take advantage of websites such as JobTestPrep who allow you to take full-length in-tray exercises.
How can candidates prepare for an Assessment Centre? Is there such thing as Assessment Centre practice?
Know the job you are applying for and being aware of the skills that you will need so that you can best play to your strengths is a start. You can also become familiar with the tasks used at your specific Assessment Centre – knowledge is power as the saying goes. Another tip is trying and integrate some de-stressors before or during the Assessment Centre. This could be as simple as having a cup of coffee, talking to someone from the group or reading your favourite novel – whatever works for you.
My company, JobTestPrep also offers a real Assessment Centre simulation, conducted face-to-face. This is a great way of reducing your stress by giving you the awareness of how the real day is likely to pan out.
Do you look for different things at a Graduate Assessment Centre?
Not entirely. For graduates, I look for 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 – or in this case, the psychologists. Most of the other things come from experience which the graduates will learn on the job.
Can you give an example of where someone really stood out at in an Assessment Centre?
There was a time when the group was requested to build paper planes to fulfil a 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 out of pipe cleaners and forgot to add a platform for the cars to reach the bridge. When asked why they didn’t build a platform, instead of taking responsibility for their failed planning, the group made the excuse that they weren’t asked to do that – which exhibited narrow-mindedness.
Do you have any other Assessment Centre advice?
Yes! Approach your Assessment Centre day knowing that you are the only person who is responsible for the impression you make. Don’t make excuses like the psychologist isn’t nice, the other people in the group are too aggressive, I felt awful. … Regardless of all environmental scenarios, it is you and you alone who are responsible for your behaviour at the Assessment Centre.
Jeremy Kin, MSc organisational psychology, was formerly an Assessment Centre assessor for a major talented assessment company. Currently, he is employed as one of JobTestPrep’s Assessment Centre coaches, running simulation Assessment Centres for groups. Mr Kin can be contacted via the comments section below.