Assessment centres are fairly old school in terms of job interview practice. Though, the game has changed for recruiters in the way they run the show.
The idea behind an assessment day style interview is to gather the best applicants under one roof, in order to make an effective comparison of their suitability for the job. Think of it as The Great British Bake Off of job interviews. (Though, unless we tell you otherwise, baking isn't on the agenda).
The thought of having your every move scrutinised by a panel of judges like an X Factor auditionee isn’t the most appealing way of spending your morning. Though it's a great way to see what your new surroundings might look like, find out more about your potential new employers and to make yourself stand out from the competition.
So, here's what you need to know.
If you're invited to an assessment centre, commit to it. Think of it as a wedding invitation. Assessment days are very expensive to run, your place on the day could cost the company up to £800. So, respect that they have taken the time to invest in you, and bring your best game.
There will most likely be several different types of exercises planned to assess your skills, personality and how you work within a team. Four of the most popular...
- Take the stage. You'll be asked to present yourself, and perhaps a short message to the interviewer and your co-competitors. Sure, you'll be nervous, though so will everyone else in the room. A few pointers on presenting perfectly...
- Beginning, middle and end – Keep it structured. Nobody wants to watch a waffler. Summarise what you have to say, follow up with some detail then close with an overview of the best bits. Give the rest of the room the opportunity to ask any questions at the end.
- Body Language – it's not just what you say but how you come across when saying it. If you're nervous, use body language to feign confidence.
- Gesture with open arms as you speak to avoid clamping them to your sides or clutching a sheet of paper.
- Stand with your feet firm on the floor, slightly apart. A stance strong enough to exude confidence, though not enough for the splits.
- Smile. Even if you're not feeling, it crack a smile as you speak and you'll find that your voice relaxes.
- Make eye contact. That piece of paper isn't going to hide you. Focus your eye contact on the assessor, though try to meet eyes with each of your compadres too.
- Tailor the message – your presentation needs to appeal to the audience in front of you, so tailor the message accordingly, for example, your presentation to a general manager would be positioned differently to a chief executive.
- Visual Aids – these may be limited but use any you have to your advantage, for example, if you have a flipchart and pens make use of colour and add pictures or diagrams to make the presentation more interesting.
- Stick to the time limit - it is called a time limit for a reason; the assessors are looking for you to deliver your message in the allotted time. This shows organisation, the ability to communicate clearly and time management.
- Add humour – A great way to get your audience on side and a great confidence boost for you. Use any pauses for laughter to take a deep breath and plan what you are going to say next. Keep the humour light and non-controversial.
In this exercise you are generally confronted with a problem to solve or a point you need to discuss. As a group you will be given a brief by one of the assessors and time to make some notes, you will then be asked to come to a collective agreement on the answer. During this exercise, the assessors will be looking for you to demonstrate various skills such as, how you influence the team, your interpersonal skills and your ability to make decisions. Here are some points to remember when doing this exercise:
- Read the brief carefully – Don’t skip through it and jump straight in, make sure you understand it and digest it before giving your opinion.
- Stick to the time limit – As with every exercise, you'll be timed so ensure someone watches the clock to avoid running over which could mean no decision is made. You don’t want to be rushing at the end and force a decision.
- Take up a prominent role early – Be first to speak and be enthusiastic, get involved as much as possible, suggest that someone takes notes and if they're confident enough, offer to present back to the assessors.
- Involve everyone – Not everyone will be getting involved so it is important to bring in quieter people by asking for suggestions but be careful not to bully anyone or come across over-powering.
- Be collaborative – Seek acknowledgement and agreement, try to lead the team in a collaborative manner.
- Don’t waffle – Be concise in everything you say and be aware of anyone else doing the same, if they do, don’t cut across them, wait for an appropriate time to intervene politely.
- Agree with valid points – Although you want to bring people round to your opinion if someone makes a valid point it is always better to agree than become argumentative.
- Stay calm – If someone is trying to dominate the discussion or someone says something silly don’t get frustrated or annoyed, stay calm and focussed on what you want to achieve.
IN TRAY EXERCISE
The name of this exercise gives it away, imagine you have come back from a 2-week holiday and your in-tray is full of items which need to be actioned. Hey, we've all been there. This exercise is about your ability to plan, organise and most importantly prioritise your workload. The main thing to remember is to keep your cool, you will be presented with a large amount of business material which at first may seem daunting. This is exactly the effect the assessors want to achieve, and some candidates will crumble. Keep your head, dig out your inner admin enthusiast and read through the brief.
- Always have the objective in mind – The material in front of you is designed to throw a few curve balls, meaning it won’t all be relevant to the objective, so focus on what you need to get out of it and not so much on the un-important items.
- Stick to the time limit – Again remember the clock is ticking so use your time effectively.
- Priorities – Some information in there will stick out like a sore thumb as a priority so as you are reading through pull them out straight away, for example a health and safety issue would be far more important than arranging a meeting for 4 weeks' time. You may have to look at the work and ascertain whether it's of high or low importance and is urgent or non-urgent, so think logically.
- Diarise – You may have the option of using a monthly diary to plan out when your workload is to be completed, USE IT….
Are you a born leader? If so, this is your chance to prove it. In this exercise you will be asked to perform a task where you are managing an individual, usually the assessor. This will test your ability to influence, motivate and lead people as well as your ability to communicate effectively, plan and organise, manage time and work in a team. As with the In-tray exercise it is difficult to predict what may be included, but here are some tips to point you in the right direction:
- Situation, action and outcome – you will be given a situation which will test your leadership ability, you will be required to put some actions together to resolve the situation to a suitable outcome.
- Stay in control – Particularly if you are managing the assessor. You may find they try to knock you off track, so the trick is to remain in control of the situation without being confrontational or emotional.
- Listen and speak – Being a good manager is about being a good listener, don’t just talk at individuals, listen to what others have to say you may find they will make some great suggestions which will help you achieve your goal.
- Stick to the time limit – Again this is massively important, break down your allotted time and set the group tasks to achieve at each stage within the time restraints.
There are of course plenty of other exercises which could also be asked of you, namely, ice breakers, role play, behavioural event interviews, verbal and numerical reasoning, biographical interviews and psychometric tests so it is important you find out well before the day and do as much research as you can.
ON THE DAY
You’ve done the preparation, you’ve rehearsed the route, you’ve pressed your suit and you’ve had an early night... it's time for the big day. The key point to remember with assessments centres, is you are going to be assessed from the minute you walk through the door till the minute you walk out, so it is important to remain professional at all times. This includes breaks, lunch, chats in the corridor and even toilet stops.
Don’t stop being enthusiastic and eager as the assessors are looking for those attributes just as much as they are looking for the skills to do the job. Whenever you get chance during the day, network with both the other candidates and the assessors.
What Am I Being Assessed On?
The end game is to see how your skills, personality and ideas match with the role and the business. Though, to give you an idea, assessors will be focussed on:
- Interpersonal skills
- Team Working
- Organisational Skills
- Time Management
- Leadership Qualities
- Influencing Skills
Map It Out
Being late gives a potential employer a terrible impression. Even worse, it can affect the quality of your assessment - hot and flustered isn't a good look.
- Ensure your People Pod consultant has mailed you the full address details of the venue and telephone number.
- Carry out a dummy run before the day of interview at a similar time of day so that you can gain a true understanding of the time its going to take.
- Find out where you can park or flag a taxi.
- If you need any special arrangements, again check that the transportation that you have chosen will allow for this.
- Fill up your tank the day before.
- Programme your sat nav and check for traffic delays several hours before you leave.