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The Recruiter’s Guide to Assessment Centres

What is an Assessment Centre?

An Assessment Centre is typically included later in the recruitment process and involves a group of candidates participating in multiple assessment exercises. The candidates are observed by a team of trained assessors who evaluate each candidate against several pre-determined, role-related behaviours. Decisions are then made collectively by pooling the shared data of the assessors involved.

What is the purpose of an Assessment Centre?

Well-designed and facilitated Assessment Centres provide significant benefits to organisations seeking to hire and retain the best talent; The breadth of information gathered, observing candidates in different exercise contexts, combining data from multiple sources, and use of standardised conditions and assessment criteria, results in fairer and more accurate selection decisions. Ultimately, an Assessment Centre can provide a more legally defensible selection system for recruiters and better hires for organisations.

What are the key features of an Assessment Centre?

Standardised and job-related assessment criteria

Robust Assessment Centres should be underpinned by assessment criteria that reflect the qualities that are important to performance in the role. This is usually expressed in behavioural terms (often called competencies) and lists examples of behaviours (or behaviour indicators) that might be observed if a candidate possesses the desired quality or skill. Assessment criteria may also include more technical skills where these are important to performance in the role.

Multiple candidates

Assessments Centre usually involve many different candidates being brought together for the assessment days. This centre can be in a physical location as used in traditional assessments or via a Virtual Assessment Centre utilising technology platforms.

A variety and combination of assessment exercises

To gain a complete understanding of a person's range of capabilities, one exercise is often insufficient to develop anything like a complete picture of the candidate. As such, use of multiple exercises, often taking different forms, is a key feature of an assessment centre. Another feature of most Assessment Centres is simulation, whereby exercises are designed to replicate situations an individual would encounter in the job for which they are being considered. Organisations may, however, opt to vary more superficial features of the exercise to help level the playing field, especially when internal applicants are involved in the process (for example, the exercise might be set in a fictional organisation in another industry sector to avoid those with in-house knowledge gaining advantage).

Assessment method examples:

The following are often used as part of the Assessment Centre to assess a candidate using various methods. They all perform different roles in the Assessment Centre process and offer different perspectives on candidates:

Presentations

These assess how well a candidate uses verbal communication skills to impart information to a broader group appropriately and distinctively. They may focus on the candidate’s ideas or proposal related to a specific real-world topic or follow a case study exercise, whereby a candidate is provided with large amounts of information and asked to present back key findings and recommendations.

Group discussion

These typically assess how sophisticated a candidate's listening skills are and how quickly they can become an effective part of a group discussion. They also typically tap into the interpersonal behaviours that are important to the role, such as collaborating with others.

In-tray/e-basket exercises

These exercises assess how quickly a candidate can identify the correct actions to focus on and how effective they are at prioritising. They typically involve a candidate being presented with new requests and information in real time, much as they might encounter when managing emails or verbal requests in the role.

Written analysis

Using a work-based issue, a written analysis exercise can identify how well a candidate can analyse a written problem and provide an effective and clear written solution.

Interview

This typically involves a single or panel of interviewers asking questions of the candidate. These questions will often relate to key competencies required for the role. It is also an additional way to assess a candidate’s communication skills.

Psychometric testing

This involves a standardised assessment of cognitive reasoning, personality or motivation. These assessments can be purchased from test publishers or, in some cases, organisations invest time developing their own tests.

Team of assessors

To avoid the difficulties associated with one-to-one interviews, teams of assessors are essential. Ideally, candidates should be observed by different assessors across the various situations in which they are asked to perform to aid objectivity. The team of assessors all need appropriate training in the behavioural assessment process and its application to the exercises that are used during the assessment. And finally, it’s often helpful for the assessor group to be supplemented by specialists, such as occupational psychologists.

What are the critical processes associated with an Assessment Centre?

To conduct an Assessment Centre efficiently and professionally, it's essential to make sure that critical processes are in place.

It is essential that this starts with identifying what the Assessment Centre should measure, which involves analysing the role to identify the competencies that are important to performance.

It's also essential to measure each competency using multiple, different exercises. This will ensure that each competency is measured reliably and consistently. There are usually at least two assessments that test candidates on each area, and there should also be discrete exercises to avoid unfairly advantaging or disadvantaging a candidate.

One of the most critical processes associated with a successful assessment centre is to ensure that all assessors are consistently trained and understand the importance of a best practice approach to assessment. For example, the ORCE model outlines how assessors can approach this process in a fair and robust way. This involves them observing the candidate, recording what they see and hear (but not their personal judgement), then once the candidate has left the room, they should classify the evidence collected and evaluate the candidate against the assessment criteria.

Assessors should complete their evaluations independently, including any report form before the final evaluation session.

As a final part of the assessment centre process, there should be a complete integration session involving all assessors to summarise and evaluate the behavioural evidence obtained. This should focus on generating feedback for candidates, rather than overriding the data collected throughout the day, which can impact fairness and introduce bias to the process.

Candidates should be invited to the centre and given the opportunity to understand what this will involve and to state whether they need any reasonable adjustments to participate. There should also be a clear statement of the intent of the Centre, how data will be stored, by whom and rights of access to that data by any individual.

Following the Assessment Centre, feedback should be offered to candidates, whether successful or not, to support their development. Always remember that even an unsuccessful candidate can become a promoter of your organisation based on their experience post the Assessment Centre.

How to implement an Assessment Centre

Several stages are associated with implementing an Assessment Centre, and these stages must be followed logically and sequentially to ensure the most effective, well-planned outcome.

Pre-planning the Assessment Centre

At the outset, it’s vital to establish the organisational/department/functional need for implementing the process. Once you've done this, you need to develop a commitment amongst relevant stakeholders to implement the process. This group includes board members, senior leaders, managers, and potential assessors. Finally, you need to establish clear objectives for the process in the pre-planning phase and initiate a clear organisational policy for the Assessment Centre.

Developing the process for the Assessment Centre

To give yourself the greatest chance of success through the Assessment Centre, you need to ensure that a rigorous job analysis is conducted and that a clear set of competencies and behavioural indicators for the assessors are developed at the outset. Once you have established the outcomes of the job analysis and what you need to measure, it’s vital to identify and devise appropriate exercises from the range of assessment methods that will best assess these areas and ideally, which simulate critical elements of the role for which you are hiring. These should also be designed with fairness in mind, for example, making sure the exercise will not advantage or disadvantage candidates from certain backgrounds. Once you have these exercises, you can design the process for the Assessment Centre, integrating the exercises you’ve chosen to measure the range of defined competencies. You should then prepare the format, timetable, and logistics for the Assessment Centre process itself. Finally, you will need to design and implement the training to be provided to assessors, facilitators and role-players involved in the process.

The Assessment Centre

If possible, pilot the centre initially using a diverse pool of individuals to ensure the components operate effectively, reasonably and the entire process works according to the timetable. Any additional testing that can be done at this will provide invaluable learnings.

Post Assessment Centre

It's vital to ensure that you make decisions according to the outcomes of the Centre and offer feedback to candidates. As part of an overall Assessment Centre strategy plan, it’s also essential to set up procedures to review and monitor outcomes, the objectivity of assessor ratings, and use this to support continuous improvement of the overall Centre. This would include validation to examine the relevance of the process to actual work performance, as well as tracking metrics related to diversity and inclusion and gathering assessor, hiring manager and candidate feedback.

What is a Virtual Assessment Centre?

A virtual assessment centre is a fully online version of a traditional Assessment Centre. As opposed to a physical Assessment Centre, a virtual assessment centre utilises technology to offer candidates an opportunity to participate remotely in a range of activities associated with traditional Assessment Centres.

What are the key benefits of a Virtual Assessment Centre?

There are several key benefits associated with Virtual Assessment Centres. They are cost and time efficient, especially when sifting high volumes.

They are more environmentally friendly as they reduce the need for printing large quantities of information and reduce the carbon footprint associated with travel to a physical location for the assessment.

There are no geographical boundaries which opens the possibilities to attract candidates from different parts of the globe and different time zones.

They promote diversity and inclusion. Using data analytics and tightly defined criteria minimises the risk of bias and reduces the possibility for adverse impact against certain candidate groups, which ensures a much fairer process.

They require minimal scheduling. Many digital assessments can be completed by the candidate in their own time, eliminating the need to align calendars or the admin time required to manage diaries. Likewise, even for timetabled sessions it is possible to leverage technology to automate much of the scheduling process.

They enable data driven decision making and offer the ability to utilise machine learning to help refine scoring over time to optimise prediction and fairness.

How to optimise the Virtual Assessment experience

When considering the use of Virtual Assessment Centres as part of your recruitment process, these top tips might be helpful for you to maximise their effectiveness:

  • Interactive home pages on digital assessment platforms could give the candidate further insight into your organisation and make them feel better equipped to perform.
  • Creating video content with employees talking about their organisation's culture offers a unique opportunity to introduce your organisation to the candidates.
  • Building opportunities for face-to-face interaction into relevant exercises to help build rapport with candidates and ensure the process feels more personable.
  • Providing support for candidates and assessors is critical and needs to include good upfront advice and high touch support for candidates.
  • Designing assessor guidance and training that suits the needs and concerns of the people involved is imperative to achieving good results.
  • Clear instructions and intuitive design, so even if you are not very digitally savvy, you would still very quickly know how to complete the tasks at hand.

The Future of Assessment Centres

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in almost every industry, and nowhere is this truer than in Human Resources Management. It’s highly likely that, just as we will begin to work in a more hybrid way, so will we begin to recruit that way too. But, as you plot your course through assessment centres and their role in your future recruitment strategy, several learnings are worth remembering.

Research suggests that an applicant's perception of an organisation is significantly predicted by how useful and easy to use they perceive the online recruitment and assessment tool. Unintuitive and complicated systems or unexpected technological challenges can reflect poorly on potential employers with candidates. So, it's crucial to spend as much time assessing the technology as it is using it.

Studies show that candidates perceive online asynchronous interviews as an acceptable method of selection when used within an extensive selection process where face-to-face interaction can be expected later in the process. So, consider how both on and offline recruitment can work to your best advantage.

And finally, selection methods must be fair to all candidates. This means ensuring that all candidates have guaranteed access to the necessary level of technology for the required amount of time. Importantly, it’s also ensuring that they have access to a quiet space for the expected period and are comfortable using the technology in question.

As with all assessment centres, it’s vital to ensure that the processes and tools that you use accurately reflect the skills and capabilities for which you are hiring. Do this, and Assessment Centres, whether they be face-to-face or virtual, will continue to play a vital role in helping you recruit the right people.

Want to learn more about our virtual assessment platform? Request a personalised demo with one of our expert team here.


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