What is an assessment centre?

What is an assessment centre?

richadr_mcmunn_An assessment centre is a number of activities that are arranged together to test your responses. They are typically based on competencies or behaviours that the organisation who holds the job, feel are important for their staff to have, together with requiring you to demonstrate certain skills. Some of the activities are tested over one or two days (usually in one venue), whilst others may be computer based tests that you access via the internet, either before or after the assessment centre itself. The most important aspect of an assessment centre is that it tests and measures your performance against the skills, knowledge and abilities required for the job. For example, there would be no point in me asking you to “Please enter the room opposite where you will find an elephant and pair of pyjamas. I want you to get the pyjamas on the elephant” – if fitting large and unusual objects into tight, unforgiving clothing were not part of that job. Important note– assessment centres are there to measure performance in a role that is similar to one required in the actual job.

 What should I expect?

Assessment centres   Assessment centres can be run at any level and for any length of time. However, their complexity and format should replicate the job. For example an assessment centre for a senior manager or director may be held over two days, whereas an assessment centre for a more junior member of staff may be one afternoon. When you arrive at an assessment centre full details of the programme will be given to you and you will be aided by helpers to take part in a number of activities. These may be in different rooms, with varying observers. For some activities you may be on your own and for others you may be with other applicants. For some activities you may need to collaborate and in others you may be adversaries. In this book I will be covering the range of typical activities, namely:

  • psychometrics
  • in-tray exercises
  • group activities
  • presentations
  • workplace report
  • interviews (personal and media).

These are all individual types of activities and they are woven together to form an assessment centre. Depending on the job you apply for, you could be asked to undertake one or all of these. There may also be multiple tests of the same activity (such as two different group activities or varying psychometric tests). Also there may be combinations of activities to test certain skills, for example, when testing your level of decisiveness this could include the results from your psychometrics, a group activity AND the interview. As mentioned above all activities are designed to test critical aspects of the job, and in most cases your behaviour will be numerically rated against competencies.

 What are competencies and how are they used?


  Let me take you back into the dim and distant past, a past where computers were new technology and good organisational skills could take you a long way. If you were looking for a capable administration officer it was easy to select staff because an employer only had to put in the advertisement ‘Must be able to use a computer and type at 30 words per minute’ and already the number of people applying for the job more than halved. In a way it was a great selection tool because it meant that any employer could whittle down their application list even further by asking the applicants to take a computer typing test on the day of the interview. Would that put you off? Well it would if you were unsure about computers and typing. Another similar request could be ‘Must be able to type at 30 words per minute.’ Now that is actually not very fast typing, and I am sure that everyone reading this book could actually type at faster than that already, but back then, a simple measure like this was sufficient to short-list effectively, and narrow down the number of applicants to a more reasonable half dozen. So why are we not using these measures today? Well, I gave you a hint in the last sentence above. Such is the amount of technology in our homes and schools, the gadgets that we use, and quality of training programmes, these no longer become good measures for selection. The truth is that most people today applying for an office job can type at 30 words per minute or more, use a computer proficiently, and if that is the case, then we need to look at different measures for streamlining our selection. The answer to this conundrum came in the form of competencies, and the logic to using them is fairly simple – we are able to train you to use a computer, use all manner of software, maintain files and databases, but (and here is the BIG BUT) we cannot train you to have the right attitude, ethos, and values that fit our organisation, and these manifest themselves in the behaviour we want you to exhibit. Let’s just be clear about this – assessment centres aim to measure our observed behaviour in addition to any skills or qualifications we may hold. Recruiting a new managers is very expensive, typically around £3,000 – £5,000 from advertisement through to the end of their induction. It is a very expensive mistake to employ a candidate that does not fit into the organisation or wish to honour its values. One careless member of staff can do irreparable damage to a company and therefore all organisations needs to know that their managers exhibit the right set of behaviours that dovetail with the way their business operates. But how do we test and measure those attitudes, values and ethos? This is where competencies come into their own! Competencies are simply statements of behaviour that the organisation is expecting. Some of these behaviours could be around dealing with other people and others could be practical. For example, competencies for a project manager could include:

  • Be able to motivate and influence others
  • Identifies priorities
  • Identifies key areas of risk
  • Allocates resources appropriately
  • Manages their own and other’s time
  • Has a ‘can-do’ approach.

I hope you will agree that these are just some of the areas that would be typically considered necessary for a project manager to have and therefore any organisation would want to test their candidates against. They are crucial for the job of Project Manager and the final one is essential for BabyMaxPro as it has set its sights on international growth which it hopes to achieve through high levels of customer care. Copyright Karen Mannering. All rights Reserved.