Candidate Assessment Centres and Tests

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Candidate assessment centres and tests by Candidate Tips

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Assessment Centres and tests are feared by most candidates, and we have met many candidates that will not go through with the selection process once they catch wind that they may be tested. Yet there are things you can do to put yourself in a great position to get the role. It is all about your preparation and your approach.

Introduction to Assessment Centres and Tests

The use of psychometric tests and assessment centres has become increasingly extensive and complex in recent years. Essentially, assessment techniques including ability, aptitude and personality questionnaires, and assessment centre exercises, are the use of objective forms of measurement to improve the quality of selection decisions. In the wrong hands, they sometimes measure items that are irrelevant to the role. Hence, the use of Occupational Psychologists for setting them up in the first place.

The following are basic definitions of the various forms of tests available:

Ability Tests

Whether you like it or not, assessment centres and testing candidates is here to stay. Get wise to them and practise them to ensure you score as well as you can.
A valuable part of the assessment are ability tests. These are typically ‘psychometric’. That means they will compare you to a norm group and measure where you would be against a population who have previously undertaken that ability test. They may form part of an assessment centre, or be stand-alone tests. They commonly include:

  • Numerical and verbal reasoning – ability to manipulate numbers readily and accurately or understanding words and ideas. Found to be usually conducted by half of all surveyed organisations. However, also limited to small groups of employees such as administrative and clerical staff. Only of limited importance in the overall selection decision.
  • Abstract reasoning – ability to reason without requiring the use or words or numerical calculations.
  • Spatial ability or reasoning – visualise two or three-dimensional figures when their orientation is changed.

Ways of improving test scores

  • Go back to basics – general maths, percentages and charts are regular features of such tests.
  • Puzzle books – have some fun. Many puzzle books require similar mental processes to these tests.
  • Practice on the Internet – there are lots of sites out there with free and pay sites. Do them faster and faster to improve your speed and overcome what psychologists call ‘practice effects’.
  • You can use this site to practise these types of tests. ‘Practise effects’ are they are called can account for up to a 17% increase in your scores. You can find free practice aptitude tests here.

Personality Inventories

Internal factors that make one person’s behaviour consistent from one time to another, and different from the behaviour other people would manifest in comparable situations. Found to be used by six out of every ten employers. There has been some growth in their use over the past ten years. Most commonly used for higher-level jobs, but increasingly being used through all layers of an organisation. There are a number of main players in this area, and they largely use the same 3 to 4 psychological models. These inventories can range from 20 questions through to nearly 300 questions,

Advice for Personality Inventories

  • Be yourself – there are no right or wrong answers and it is in your interest to obtain an accurate profile. If you are not honest, you may end up with a job you are not really suitable for. In addition, these tools often have ‘social desirability’ factors that seek to understand how much truth you were telling through the consistency of your answers.
  • Go for ‘gut feeling’ or immediate response in answering.
  • Again, trained assessors should only use these. Properly administered and interpreted, these are the most reliable tools in the assessor’s kit. These are specifically designed and validated by psychologists to provide a measurement of one or more facets of the person’s ability or natural ‘type’. To be ‘psychometric’, each test is measured against a ‘norm group’ to compare the individuals performance against.
  • Be warned, emotions can run high. Testing is often also seen as unethical – the idea that you can find out things that the candidate may not, for innocent reasons, want you to know. In the hands of the untrained, they can be more misleading than helpful.
  • You can practice these types of inventories on this site. You will find a personality inventory and a cultural fit profile.

Assessment Centres

The main purpose of this approach is to use multiple techniques and trained assessors who pool data on the candidates in order to reach a consensual decision.
Assessment centres combine interviews with a range of other assessment activities. As well as raising the validity of the selection process, it gives the employer far more ‘rounded’ information about the candidate. Groups of employees are put through a series of tests and/or group exercises with normally about four to eight participants. Typically candidates are brought together for a set period of time during which they complete various exercises and psychometric instruments. The main purpose of this approach is to use multiple techniques and trained assessors who pool data on the candidates in order to reach a consensual decision.

Where a range of selection tools and techniques are employed over a concentrated period of time has become the most rapidly growing selection technique. Over 40% of employers use such techniques. Most often used for managers and graduates and by large employers.

What Should You Do at Assessment Centres?

It very much depends on what they are measuring. And, unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will get that information in advance. So here are some general rules:

  • Don’t compete – it is unlikely they are measuring your ability to compete. Rather, your ability to co-operate and be a team member.
  • Be nice to all – positive and professional at all times. Other candidates may fall into the trap of reacting negatively to situations. Don’t let that be you! Other candidates may see you as a threat and be less than co-operative towards you. Rise above it. Usually the assessors are well trained and will notice your professionalism and resilience.
  • When you think it’s all over – there is often a social side to assessment centres (in the bar, over dinner, and so on). Remember, it is unlikely that the process has now finished and you are being watched by managers in how you interact with them and other candidates. Split your time between the two groups.
  • Be constructive in group exercises – often set-up to provoke conflict, never criticise other candidates without offering solutions.
  • Never panic – some exercises are set-up so they cannot be completed. Those who panic will soon be taken out of the selection decision.
  • Discussions – don’t clam up and don’t talk too much. Remember that ‘how’ you say things is often as important as what you say. Remain balanced despite antagonism from others.
  • Group exercises – in group exercises, make sure you work with others rather than on your own.
  • Airplay and leading – quite often we see candidates fighting for leadership in a group exercise. Never be that person unless you have been asked to lead by the assessor. However, you also must never be the wall-flower, or the assessors will have no evidence of mark you against. There is a balance position that you will do best to occupy.

As you may now realise, assessment centres and tests are simply tools for the employer to find evidence of whether you will fit the role or not. Practice and preparation are the keys to your success. Approach each one with an open mind knowing that the other candidates are likely to be nervous about the situation, follow the assessors instructions, and be yourself.

To continue this pathway, now go to presentation skills for assessment.

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