Assessment Centres for first timers

Assessment Centres for first timers

Mention the term Assessment Centre (AC) to job seekers, whether they are graduates or experienced professionals, and witness the apprehension creep across their faces. There is an inherently daunting aspect to this kind of assessment, but it doesn’t need to follow through on its stress-provoking promise.

The Assessment Centre experience can be a great opportunity to showcase a business and demonstrate why it is an employer of choice for top talent to want to work there. Recruitment these days is a two-way process, and an AC should be an attractive shop window for an organisation.

This isn’t an easy feat to achieve, given that an AC typically involves multiple, trained assessors observing behaviour displayed by candidates in complex organisational simulations. The ultimate aim being to rate performance on competencies and behaviours deemed critical for the role.

Given JSB’s experience of working with many organisations to design, deliver and evaluate effective Assessment Centres, we’ve outlined some key nuggets for those exploring or employing this technique. Assessment Centres are a great opportunity to showcase a business


Part 1: The Groundwork

Conduct a thorough Job Analysis

First things fi rst, if you’re recruiting, there must be a position to fi ll. This vacancy presumably has particular responsibilities attached to it. This is the basis for a thorough and detailed Job Analysis. A Job Analysis is the assessment of knowledge, skills and characteristics needed for the successful completion of the job’s tasks and expectations. This can be completed by interviewing managers who will oversee the position or by observing high performers currently in the job. This Job Analysis should be used to create a job description, which will outline the relevant roles and responsibilities.

In addition, there should be a clear understanding of the structure of the role ie in graduate schemes, job rotation is common practice where graduates will serve 6 months to a year in different departments of an organisation.

Get a clear sense of purpose for the role

It’s important to identify how this role fi ts into the overall organisational strategy in terms of business impact. For example, the role will help increase sales, develop new products or deliver services to clients. This is crucial in clearly articulating the purpose behind what you are doing. This purpose should permeate throughout the entire undertaking, as it is the fundamental reason for the AC and wider recruitment process. This big picture framing will help gain buy-in for recruitment using an AC with managers, peers and key stakeholders.

Establish a Competency Framework

The Job Analysis is a very important aid in the development of a Competency Framework for the roles in question. A competency is simply an observable behaviour, characteristic or quality which may divide into sub-themes depending on how complex it is. Therefore, the ideal candidate will demonstrate an abundance of key competencies which are identifi ed in line with the organisational values.

Design relevant, effective assessment exercises

After all that preparation and thought, it is fi nally time to think about what the Assessment Centre will actually look like. Take time to consider the type of activities, exercises and assessments you can run – and how they will measure the competencies you have defined. This is a key area we can help you with. The Competency Framework would inform the tasks, exercises and assessments that candidates on the AC are put through.

The method of assessment should allow you to observe the quality of the desired competencies in each candidate. If it does not, then it serves no purpose. If this means no interview or PowerPoint presentation, then so be it! The point here is to follow the system and have faith in the quality of the Job Analysis and Competency Framework.

Conduct a robust interim check

So far, we have completed a Job Analysis which has laid the groundwork for a competency framework, which in turn has allowed us to decide which activities are to be included in the AC. A very important point regarding best practice is to ensure that you measure each competency at least twice when deciding on the exercises that will be built into the AC. A scoring system can also be introduced which allows assessors to objectively measure each competency. This will also allow criteria for success to be set ie successful candidates will score above 70%.

Attracting a pool of talented candidates

Let’s now turn our attention to attracting top talent to the Assessment Centre, as this will determine the success of the entire endeavour. When thinking about attracting candidates; when, where and what are key issues to consider. When will you begin advertising? This decision must take into account initial screening of CVs/applications and time for initial steps ie telephone interviews, psychometrics and if dealing with graduates, term dates. Where is the best place to advertise? Should you set up a stall at University career fairs, advertise through recruitment agencies, post positions on LinkedIn or off er the position internally fi rst?

What information will be given out? It’s important to be clear about the job role, career development opportunities and the organisation as a whole. These decisions will vary depending on the organisation as well as the job role, hence a tailored approach is important here.


“Chance favours the prepared…” –Louis Pasteur


Part 2: The Main Event

Set the candidates up for success

Just as the designers of the AC need time to prepare, so too do the candidates. So, in order to receive optimal performance on the day, we would suggest at least two weeks of preparation time for any presentation, pre-work or research. This means joining instructions being sent out, along with information for preparation and the Competency Framework against which they will be assessed.

On the actual day, candidates allow time for self-reflection as well as materials where they can document thoughts regarding their performance. They should also be clearly informed about the next steps ie when they will fi nd out about the decision, and how.

Get your AC team in order

Assessors should be appropriately chosen, briefed and ready to welcome and interact with candidates, with the intention being that they have maximal exposure to them. This is especially the case when assessors are line managers to future employees. From a logistical point of view, having a co-ordinator on the ground looking after all candidates and assessors, ensuring they’re in the right place at the right time is crucial for the smooth running of the day. Facilities need to be carefully thought about, as the number and size of rooms as well as equipment needed will be dictated by the activities to be held.

Make time for the assessor wash-up

Assessors will be making some critical decisions regarding scoring of candidates. This should formally be discussed and accumulated during the assessor wash-up where the lead assessor will conduct a debrief. Collectively, the group should come to a decision regarding the successful and unsuccessful candidates. This is an important activity. Ample time should be allocated to this, with all concerns, opinions and scores being discussed and debated. Many would try to lump this on to the end of the AC day, but we feel that it requires more time than this to do the candidates justice. Ideally, it will be a diffi cult decision as there will be plenty of quality candidates, hence a lot to deliberate.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are fi guratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fi tted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment fi nds them unprepared or unqualifi ed for that which could have been their fi nest hour.” –Winston Churchill


Part 3: Next Steps

The decision The crucial next step is how and when candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, are informed. Successful candidates should be informed fi rst in order to confi rm that they are willing to accept the off er for the job.


should be given to all candidates, particularly unsuccessful ones, as it is helpful for their development. They will want to know why they have been unsuccessful, hence these points should be teased out during the assessor wash-up as well as expanding on points from their self-assessment.


Also, how about welcoming successful candidates with an induction/starter pack with a twist? It will essentially be a well done and welcome pack with chocolates, gift vouchers, a book, maybe some champagne, along with information about the organisation (values, history, people, services, mission, etc) and anything else that may be useful for their fi rst couple of weeks.


Though it is mentioned here last, evaluation is something that should be built into the process from the outset. There are several checkpoints along the way that will help you assess the eff ectiveness of your AC strategy. For example, what is the rate of applicants who sent in CVs that actually made it through to the AC? This will allow you to gauge the quality of talent that you are attracting. Of course, the most obvious measure will be the number of candidates on the assessment centre that meet and exceed criteria/standards of success. Taking this a step further, how many positions were fi lled? If this is a diffi cult decision because there are a number of good prospects, your AC has been a success.

“The future depends on what you do today“ –Mahatma Gandhi


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