Published on December 6, 2008
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to Succeed at an Assessment Centre Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre Assessment centres or selection centres are used by a number of organisations to select people for jobs. They are very often called ‘development centres’ when used internally, to identify people with potential for development or promotion. Depending on the job, they can last from half a day to three days or more. In the early part of my career I (successfully!) attended a couple of assessment centres as a candidate. The first time was when I took the quantum leap from sales representative to marketing associate. Since my move into HR, I have designed and run dozens of assessment centres and so I hope the following ‘inside information’ will be useful. WHAT WILL HAPPEN? The event will usually be run by a chairperson who will facilitate a series of group exercises and tests and will manage the timetable. They’ll be observing the way everyone works together, and getting an overview of the ‘group dynamics’. Then there are the observers. They will have been trained and briefed before the meeting and will have read your CV thoroughly. Each observer will be allocated a person or people to observe, and they will take copious notes and ‘mark’ the performance of the candidates. Part-way through the assessment observers may ‘switch candidates’ so that a better-balanced view is obtained. After the assessment centre finishes for you, then the real work of the chairperson and observers begins! The chairperson then facilitates a process by which each candidate is individually evaluated, against the performance standards, which were set beforehand. The objective is to try to make the selection process as scientific and objective as possible. These meetings can last for many hours, and even into the early hours of the morning! Their decision will be based on what they have learned about you during the assessment centre. So how can you outshine the other candidates, and demonstrate that you’re the ‘best match’ for the job? • Get lots of sleep beforehand and try to arrive refreshed. Assessment centres will burn up your adrenaline reserves… and more! It’s highly likely that, just as you’re starting to relax, you’ll be handed a mammoth task with a tight deadline to see how you respond under pressure. At the first assessment centre that I attended as a candidate, we were all given a marketing case history at 10.00pm (straight after dinner) with a deadline for a report of 8.30am the next day. • Observe the performance of the other candidates. You may be asked to rate their performance. Be prepared to give a factual and analytical summary of their contribution. Don’t be afraid of criticising other candidates and Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre don’t be afraid of praising other candidates; but make sure it’s based on facts. You may be asked to rank the performance of all of the candidates (including yourself). • If you’ve been invited to join everyone the night before the assessment centre, don’t think the assessors are off- duty. They will probably be assessing your social competence over dinner, in the bar, over breakfast … • Think through the qualities the assessors will be looking for and how you can demonstrate them such as: leadership, interpersonal skills, ability to handle stress, verbal and written communication, flexibility, negotiation skills, problem-solving, commercial acumen, decision-taking, initiative and creativity. • Don’t try to suppress other candidates in an attempt to make the assessors notice only you. You will come across as overbearing and insensitive. ASSESSMENT CENTRE EXERCISES Assessment centre exercises measure you against aspects of the job. For all of the exercises make sure you understand the chairperson’s instructions or the written brief. If you don’t understand, ask! Not listening and not reading instructions thoroughly are the two biggest mistakes made by candidates. These are common exercises: Presentation This is the most common exercise. The assessors will be looking for you to communicate your message effectively, for you to project yourself confidently and for you to know what you are talking about. They’ll also be trying to gauge how much work you have put into the exercise and how seriously you took it. Sometimes you will present to a panel of recruiters alone, but some organisations include other candidates in the audience. If you are asked to sit in on other peoples’ presentations, try to think of a couple of searching (but not intimidating) questions. Also take some notes on how you rate the performance of the other candidates. There is a separate factsheet, which tells you how to put together a presentation. In-tray / In-box exercises You are given the ‘in-tray’ or email ‘in-box’ of a senior manager and have one hour to ‘get through it’ – otherwise you’ll miss your plane! You’ll be asked to write on each item what you would do with it, or write a reply to letters, phone messages or emails. Don’t take any actions until you have scanned everything – they may have laid traps and have probably ‘buried’ some important items, like a resignation letter or a product recall near the bottom! Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre Familiarise yourself with the organisational structure and the briefing instructions first. QUICKLY scan and sort everything and prioritise: A (top priority), B and C. Start with the A’s Resignations and other ‘people’ issues are top priority, A’s. Wherever you can, make a note that you would make a telephone call, or send an E-mail. If you do write memos, write key messages. Sales or negotiation role-play You are asked to sell a product or negotiate a deal. Ask ‘probing’ questions: How? Why? When? Where? What? and Which? are best for gathering information. Listen to the answers and try to match the needs of the customer with what the product does! To give an example, one of the all-time favourites when recruiting new salespeople is for the interviewer to say, ‘OK sell this fountain pen to me’. Unenlightened candidates immediately start prattling on about style, design, gold nibs and good ink flow. The smart ones ask questions like, ‘Do you use a fountain pen?’, ‘What qualities are important to you when you’re choosing a new pen?’, ‘What would you expect to pay for a fountain pen?’ And then go on to match the product’s features and benefits to customer needs. People who do badly in these exercises do so because they’re too busy putting over their own viewpoint, based on assumptions, rather than asking questions to find out what the ‘customer’ wants! Business simulation This may be paper-based or computer-based. You are split into small groups and over a series of rounds, compete with other groups to develop, manufacture, market and distribute products. Play to win! Think strategically. Aim to establish a long-term viable business with a robust product portfolio. Invest in research for new products in the early rounds – products don’t last forever. As you get results back at the end of each round analyse the performance of the competitors – you may be able to undercut them or market your product to a niche. (See also the interpersonal skills aspects of the next section.) Group discussion (interactive skills) You are given a problem to solve as a group. Common problems are simulations where your group has been stranded at sea, in the desert or on the moon. Being detected is the first priority, followed by food. Also work out which items you have, that can be used as signaling devices. Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre Formulate your own ideas quickly and sell them convincingly to the group. Suggest that the group needs a structure and timetable to work to; and propose one. Don’t steamroller other people’s ideas, listen attentively. If someone isn’t contributing, draw them into the group by asking for their ideas. Five minutes before the end suggest that you need to summarise your decision and take control, or suggest that someone takes control, of whatever needs to be done. Recruitment tests and evaluations Some organisations use tests and evaluations in their selection process. Before inviting people to interview, the recruiter identifies personality traits, skills and knowledge, which would be held by the ideal candidate. During the selection process candidates are asked to complete ‘tests’ to evaluate whether they possess these qualities. The extent of the testing can vary from a short five-minute form-filling exercise through to a whole day, involving a battery of tests and evaluations and an interview with a psychologist. I cannot stress too strongly that there is no need to get anxious about the tests! Take them in your stride, do your best and be honest. Personality questionnaires: As their name implies the questionnaires aim to gain an insight into your personality. Usually there is no time limit for a personality questionnaire, but you are advised not to over-analyse your reply and to move quickly from question to question. Don’t answer questions as you think you should. Be honest to yourself, otherwise you’re defeating the object. Also, some personality questionnaires have an ‘in-built’ evaluation which checks to see how (honest) consistent your answers have been. The most commonly used personality questionnaires are the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) that claims to be the most widely used one in the world; the SHL Occupational Personality Quotient (SHL OPQ); the Sixteen Personality Factors (16PF); and one by Thomas International. There are many others. Skills and aptitude tests: Unlike personality questionnaires, skill and aptitude tests are designed to test you against standards. The most common ones are numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning tests. Numerical – Identifies the ability to pick out and manipulate key information from tables, graphs and semi- technical reports. Verbal – Identifies the ability to pick out information from reports and then make objective decisions based on the information in the text. Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre Abstract – Tests the ability to think flexibly. The test measures the ability to recognise order in the midst of apparent chaos, to focus on certain aspects of a task and to ignore irrelevant detail. Your score in the tests will be compared against ‘norm’ tables to see how you have performed, compared with previous groups of people who have taken the test. Assessment centres usually incorporate at least one interview, and sometimes you will be interviewed by a number of different people. If you’re applying for a line management job you might be given an overview (hypothetical or real) of the team you’ll be taking over, and some of the management issues you’ll be faced with, and asked to give a short presentation on how you would handle them. Think and read about strategies for handling poor performers, do some reading on leadership skills in advance. For a strategic marketing job you may be asked to carry-out a market analysis and write a marketing plan showing how you would launch a new, or re-launch a failing product. Brush up on some of your analytical tools like SWOT, PEST and Force-field analysis (Google these expressions if they don’t mean anything to you) . An assessment centre is a tremendous opportunity for you to show what you can do. Be positive, be prepared to play the game and use every opportunity to show that you have the qualities needed for the job. Please see below for information about my books and other factsheets. Good luck Malcolm Hornby Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
Get That Job Career Development Fact Sheet 6 How to succeed at an assessment centre A few words from the author My Books These tips are from my books for career planners and job hunters. I wrote the first book in ’93, since then thousands of people have used the tips to plan their lives and get new jobs There’s more good advice in my other slideshows and at my website, visit www.hornby.org A couple of words about copyright If I have used your material Much of the material that I use in my writing and my presentations is obtained from my research, surfing the Web. It is not my intention to rip anyone off and so if I have used your material without your permission, please let me know and I’ll sort it. Want to use my material? I’m flattered and am happy for you to use my slides and factsheets at work, at college or in your job hunt, etc provided it’s ‘not for profit’. If you want to use my material in a commercial situation please get in touch as I’m happy to write for websites journals, newspapers etc or to licence my material. Written by Malcolm Hornby Chartered FCIPD MCMI career coach and author of Get That Job, Published Pearson ISBN 0-273-70212-2 © Malcolm Hornby www.hornby.org
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