Job Interview Types: Assessment Centres - what to expect

By: Lisa Spiteri

Interviews can be a stressful experience but being asked to attend an assessment centre as part of the interview process is likely to render even the most confident candidate to a bundle of nerves. However, having an understanding of what you’re likely to face at an assessment centre will mean you’re better prepared and more in control of those nerves.

What is an Assessment Centre?

The term ‘assessment centre’ sounds intimidating and gruelling in itself, the kind of place that will make or break a candidate. So the first important point to make is that an assessment centre is actually a process, not a dedicated facility. You will most likely be invited to attend the company’s offices or a local hotel or conference venue. There will even be refreshments!

Recruitment can be an expensive process for businesses, both in terms of time and money. Increasingly, organisations are looking for more effective and efficient ways of identifying the most suitable candidates. Assessment centres tend to be used after the initial selection process, and means that a number of candidates can be assessed at the same time.

You’ll be asked to complete a series of tests and exercises, which can often include psychometric testing, to measure your mental skills and capabilities. Every test or task you’re given will have been designed to reflect key aspects of the position for which you are applying, so you will be expected to demonstrate how your particular skills are suited to that job, as well as inter-personal skills. It’s easy to wax lyrical on your CV and lay claim to a very compelling set of skills and abilities. Depending on the amount of interview experience you’ve had, it’s also relatively easy to develop a script for the traditional interview setting. The assessment process is an effective way of going beyond that, a more tangible way for employers to assess candidates’ skills in action. It also creates a very level playing field for all candidates and will quickly identify those who should or shouldn’t progress to the next stage of the interview process.

Pressure to perform

There is no doubt about it, attending an assessment centre will be stressful. Depending on the job you are applying for and the level of seniority, you’ll be put under pressure for anything between half a day to three full days and you’ll be faced with a variety of challenges, from written tests to role play. Remember, no job is ever stress-free, so being expected to perform under pressure is part of the assessment – can you still function effectively, will you get on with those around you and conduct yourself in a professional manner?

Typical examples of what you might be asked to do include:

  • Develop a new revenue stream for the organisation. Working in a team, you’ll be given limited time (usually 40-45 minutes) in which to develop an idea that compliments the company’s offer and sectors, and then 10 minutes in which to pitch your idea.
  • Demonstrate your telesales skills by trying to sell your assessors a particular service over the phone. The aim, needless to say, is to secure a sale before the end of the call and to deal effectively with objections from the assessors. It all has to happen with five minutes!
  • Review several products, choose the most appropriate one and pitch it to your client. You’ll be given 10 minutes for client profiling, 20 minutes in which to choose the product, plan your pitch and decide on cost, deals and any extras, and then 10 minutes for the client pitch.

Who are the assessors?

It will most likely be members of the HR department and relevant line managers. They will be assessing you against a range of job competencies – including logical thinking, creativity, team work, time management, leadership qualities, negotiating skills – but also observing you generally to decide if you are the right ‘fit’ for their business culture.

Be prepared

If you’re asked to attend an assessment centre do as much homework as you possibly can. Familiarise yourself as much as possible with the organisation – website, reports, social media activity, whatever you can source – so that you really understand the culture. Your On Target consultant will also be able to give you lots of valuable insight into the company and the job for which you’re applying. Worried about tests? There are plenty of psychometric tests that you can try online. And on the day, concentrate on one task at a time. If you feel that the last one didn’t go so well, put it behind you and focus on what’s next – that’s the beauty of assessment centres, there is always opportunity to shine on another exercise.

Finally, try and relax, be yourself and allow your personality to come through.

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