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Assessment centre: how to prepare and succeed

Assessment centre: how to prepare and succeed

Are you taking part in a multi-round selection procedure which also includes an Assessment Centre? Find out what to expect, how to prepare for an Assessment Centre and how to make a good impression.
Assessment Centres (AC) are an objective, efficient method that is increasingly being used to select the most suitable candidate for a job. The job is specified by a number of criteria against which the competences of each AC participant are assessed.
In an Assessment Centre a group of assessors monitor the following:

  • capabilities
  • skills
  • potential
  • reactions, interactions and behaviour of AC participants  

A main advantage is the possibility of comparing and evaluating several candidates at once while, at the same time, the presence of several assessors enhances the objectivity of this special diagnostic method of staff selection.
Where can you encounter an Assessment Centre?
The method originated during WWII, when the Americans were exploring methods of selecting Secret Service agents. Nowadays, Acs are used to fill a whole range of jobs. Candidates applying for sales jobs or call centre jobs are those who most commonly encounter an AC. The reason is verification and identification of optimal behaviour models (sales skills, leadership preconditions, teamwork, etc.).
 
ACs are also used to fill jobs with higher skill set demands (e.g. managerial and key positions, specialists, etc.) and an increasing number of companies have started using this method. Usually Acs are employed in the second or third round of the selection process. This means that only the best candidates for the job take part in the AC, which makes the process more effective and less costly. Internal candidates applying for a promotion or a different role within the company may also be invited to participate in an AC.
In addition to selection procedures in the form of an Assessment Centre, there are other types of interviews. Read about them here.
What to expect in an Assessment Centre and how does it work?
An AC is usually a one-day event, or ran as a half-day, mini AC. If it is a one-day event, there will be several short breaks and a one-hour break for lunch, or snacks are prepared.
 
The number of candidates always depends on the type of job. If it is a managerial job, there are approximately 6 candidates in attendance, while for a sales job 8 to 10 participants is more typical. The number of assessors/observers depends on the number of candidates. The assessors are either the company's internal employees (HR professionals, managers) or external professionals hired by the company for this purpose (an AC specialist, an occupational psychologist, etc.).  
The AC method enables hiring companies to:

  • thoroughly examine capabilities and skills
  • identify strengths and weaknesses
  • compare performance
  • compare behaviours       

Participants perform a variety of tasks. These include simulations of common job or workplace scenarios they would be likely to face in the role. This tests the candidate’s ability to handle such situations more accurately than traditional interviews. Candidates’ actions and behaviours during the tasks in the Assessment Centre will determine whether or not they are then hired.
 
Individual methods (e.g. a presentation, a case study, role playing, tests of capabilities and knowledge) are mixed with group methods (e.g. a group discussion, a game for managers, a case study for a group, a team game, etc.). If an excellent command of a foreign language is required, it is possible that the AC will be conducted in that language. Psychological evaluation methods are also extremely valuable.  
How to deal with psychological tests?
The most important thing – don't be afraid. These types of assessments usually include personality questionnaires that should indicate your personality traits, characteristics, reactions in certain situations, etc. What will help you succeed?Always respond truthfully and openly. If you pretend to be “better” and place yourself in a different role, be assured that a good psychologist/HR professional will recognise this from the test. The tests often include so-called ‘lie scores’ which measure the tendency to mislead. Psychological evaluation should be primarily used to highlight areas for improvement and support professional development.
Examples of AC situations:
1. Individual tasks (these may also come in the form of an assignment to be completed at home)
Prepare a presentation on any topic. The time for the presentation is 8 to 10 minutes, a computer and a projector will be available.  
2. Group situation “Drawing”
Furnish your newly built house with as many pieces of furniture as possible and in as many rooms in the house as possible. The group which has best furnished the house is the winner. (What matters is the number of pieces of furniture and furnished rooms). 
However, the group may only speak to each other at the beginning of the task when each member is allowed to say no more than five sentences. Then you have to use only one pencil for all and start drawing. Communicating or speaking, even to yourself, is forbidden!
You have 3 minutes to complete the task.
At the end of an AC, the candidates usually provide feedback and opinions on the other participants – their competitors. Be fair and do not be afraid to tactfully express your opinion.   
How to prepare for an Assessment Centre

  1. Do your homework and find out as much information about the company and the job as possible. This will increase your chances of success.
  2. Be active and involved, assert yourself, but not at all costs. 
  3. Act naturally, do not pretend to be someone else, but do not be afraid to draw attention to yourself by promoting a good idea. The key to success is highlighting your strengths and advantages.

Final advice


  • Be punctual and sleep well before an AC.
  • Do not pretend to be what you are not. Be yourself. Openness, helpfulness and a positive mood is the key to success.
  • Everything depends on what kind of person the company is looking for. This means that the winner is not always the most assertive person or the person who was the first one to finish a test.
  • Participation in an AC is a great experience, enabling you to get to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. Personal comparison with other candidates is also a valuable experience. 

TIP: Now that you know what to expect from the Assessment Centre and all your ducks are in a row, the only thing left is to make a good impression. Find out how to properly dress for an interview.