Assessment centres

Assessment Centres are an alternative method of recruiting to the usual interview structure. They have gone in and out of favour – when ARE they the best solution to a recruitment need, and what should they consist of?

In an ideal world, when recruiting for positions we would have the opportunity to "try before you buy" and see an individual actually at work before you hire them. This is often impossible and even if you look at employing people as temporaries it means you can only select from the pool of candidates that are immediately available. An assessment centre aims to replicate some of the key tasks and let you see how people deal with the scenarios you put them in.

Assessment Centres can be used for almost any kind of job – and in fact are also used to identify training needs and for long term career planning. Some of the big four accounting firms put prospective partners through an assessment centre prior to their promotion. They need to be professionally run by qualified individuals, preferably psychologists or at least professional recruiters who can demonstrate a track record in the area.

The format was originally designed to recruit defence personnel as it enabled mass assessment in a real life pressure situation. Eventually the corporate world picked up the method and it became "the right way" for many large companies throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Still in use today in some of those pioneering companies, the methodology has changed along the way and is now used on a much broader scale by many types of organisations.

Assessment Centres operate on the principle of a "cross reference" system - there are multiple assessors, evaluating against multiple competencies in multiple exercises. The key is defining the right competencies and behaviours beforehand so that the exercises will facilitate the relevant behaviour. Benchmarking existing employees who are regarded as above average performers is one way of doing this, but for a start up operation it is a bit more difficult and requires more research and planning to identify the right skills. Once you know the behaviours that you are looking for it becomes a matter of designing the exercises to easily identify them and candidates are each measured objectively against the same criteria. Some regular "behaviours" sought would include Team Play, Customer Focus, Influencing, communication skills and Leadership.

Generally Assessment Centres are a half-day affair but it depends on the structure and exercises. It is very important that candidates know what they are likely to be faced with prior to the day otherwise it could come as a total shock and they are unlikely to perform to their full potential! All attendees should be given the same opportunity to demonstrate on the day whether or not they can do the job. As a rule, there are at least three or four different sessions such as Group discussion (which lets you see how the group interacts, who takes a natural lead etc), a Role Play, which might focus on team related activities, an ability or psych test, and a structured interview. Most professional assessors operate a standard rating scale against each candidate for each exercise, and then the team of assessors consolidates their findings at the end of the session.

The session can also be used to promote the company and the day might incorporate a tour of the premises or an induction style video – the requirement to "sell" your company, as THE place to work should never stop!

Advantages of an Assessment Centre

  • It is proven to be more effective in predicting on the job performance because it simulates real work situations
  • Candidates are given a much more realistic perspective on the role and company
  • All candidates are measured objectively to the same criteria
  • Cost of hire is reduced because the "hit rate" is higher
  • Candidates feel more satisfied that even if they are not successful they have been given a "fair go"
  • Feedback is much more detailed and relevant to the task and can even be used to assist in designing training

 

The disadvantages?

Some could say it could be unfair to the candidate that they have to be at their best on the day or they lose out. Two things there, usually they only have a one-hour interview and secondly there is no reason for them to muck it up if they have been given a thorough briefing and know what to expect. 

Definitely an approach worth considering!

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