Assessment centres

Interviews are a key part of the selection process, but only provide limited evidence of candidate abilities in the workplace. For this reason, most employers now use a mix of techniques to help them identify the right people - assessment centres and aptitude tests can help employers’ understand candidate abilities and strengths.

What happens at an assessment centre?

The format is usually a one or two day event, staying at a hotel, training centre, conference centre or the employer's premises. This enables the company to see several candidates together in a short space of time and to observe them in a more relaxed atmosphere as well as performing in more formal interviews and tasks.

Typically, an assessment centre comprises mixed activities, an interview and a selection of aptitude tests. A group of observers use the activities and tests to identify individuals possessing the skills that the organisation needs.

What it means for you

It will be very demanding. Most students enjoy the experience and even if you are not successful, you should get some useful feedback and experience.

Group exercises would be observed by a number of assessors, usually with one assessor being assigned to one or two candidates. The assessors are briefed to look for certain skills, competencies, or qualities. For example, common traits which observers may be looking for in a group situation could include:

  • participating enthusiastically in discussions
  • being willing to take leadership
  • thinking problems through
  • being able to listen and communicate effectively
  • being flexible enough to change direction and to accept different views.

However, it is very dangerous to make assumptions about these skills and qualities, since you may be entirely wrong.

For example, candidates applying for a marketing or sales job may assume they need to be brash, aggressive or dominant etc. in a group situation. The observer, knowing that team work is vital, may be briefed to look for someone who contributes to a group session by:

  • encouraging comments
  • analysing situations
  • summarising
  • giving direction to the discussion.

Individual exercises include:

  • in-basket exercise where you have to deal with specific pieces of information
  • extracting information from a document and writing a report
  • drafting a letter in response to information you have been given.

In these type of exercises common skills the observers may be briefed to observe could include evidence that you are able to:

  • assimilate information
  • prioritise
  • make effective decisions
  • work quickly and accurately
  • communicate in writing
  • work under pressure.

To practise activities and tests, visit the SHL students' web site. SHL are market leaders in developing and running assessment centres on behalf of organisations. Their site also contains useful information about assessment centres.

Students using a laptop at a careers  fair