Just last month, the CIPD’s People Management magazine reported that one of the big audit firms has resumed its full graduate recruitment programme. Perhaps this is a sign that the professional and managerial job market is on the move again.
If this is true, we will start to see more work going into running assessment centres. John Sponton and Stewart Wright identify three purposes for assessment centres in their Managing Assessment Centres Pocketbook:
Finding the best candidates
Evaluating readiness and skill sets objectively
When job roles and responsibilities are changing
More than just efficient
If you are designing an assessment centre, you have a big job. You need to create exercises, schedule activities, secure and brief assessors and do a raft of other tasks. These are well set out in the Pocketbook.
In all of your focus on efficiency, one thing is easily overlooked: the messages you give the candidates. A good assessment centre will not only allow you to assess the candidates, it will allow the candidates to assess your organisation and the role you want to fill. Everything you organise will tell them about your organisation.
So how can you design your assessment centre to fully reflect the values, culture and priorities of your organisation? This has to be more than a few opening remarks and some posters. Your exercises and the way that you evaluate them must be linked not just to the job requirements, but to the way you want the successful candidate to act, once in post. Here are two examples.
School Head Teacher
In recruiting a head teacher, many schools include observations of how candidates interact with pupils in formal and informal settings. Assessors are looking for a style that accords with their school’s values. Many will even include pupils in the assessment process and, when they do, they typically find pupils’ comments insightful and often in accord with the far longer observations of the governors.
Professional services firms take in large numbers of new graduates and all are competing for the brightest. However, academic talent is only a starting point. Consultancies look for a complex combination of team and leadership skills, and the ability to follow a lead, whilst also thinking independently. Consequently they provide complex team activities with multiple observers.
What about Being a Candidate?
Whilst you can expect interviews and formal reasoning tests at many assessment centres, there is often little you can do to prepare for the assessment itself. The following are important:
- Practise your interview techniques and think about answers to the obvious questions
- Make sure you have researched your prospective employer
- Think about what questions you have for the assessors
- Get your travel plans right
Sometimes you will be asked to prepare something specific. If you are, you can be sure that this will be important to the assessors, so don’t leave it to last minute and then rush it. Remember that this is your chance to really distinguish you from other candidates.
Perhaps what is most important for you is what is most important for the assessment centre. The organisation wants to show you its values, culture and priorities. You should aim to show assessors yours. If they cannot see a fit then, no matter how well qualified you are, you will not get hired. And if there is no fit, then why would you want the job anyway? Within months, you would be unhappy.
So, here’s the deal
Assessment centres are good for candidates and good for employers. When they are well designed, they give employers the best possible insight into candidates’ performance under realistic conditions, and they give candidates the best possible idea of what it would be like to work in the organisation.
Given the cost of recruitment, promotion or redeployment, it is best to invest a little more to get it right.
Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy
As employer …
As candidate …