Assessing the assessment centres

Assessment centres are a way of recruiting that goes beyond simple face-to-face interviews. They allow recruiters to compare the performance of lots of candidates at the same time, in real-world situations. In this article we’re taking a closer look at how assessment centres work, and their advantages and disadvantages for both employers and prospective employees.

What's an assessment centre?

Assessment centres are structured evaluation sessions used by an employer to assess whether someone is right for a job. They usually involve a group of potential employees doing a combination of exercises, tasks and assessments, designed to test different aspects of their qualifications and experience. That could be technical and interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, adaptability and decision-making, for example.

Assessment centres are more in-depth than face-to-face interviews and allow prospective candidates to show a wider range of practical skills.

What happens at an assessment centre?

Typically there will be a group of around eight to ten potential employees in each assessment centre. The employer will use a range of methods to see different aspects of a candidate’s performance. This includes:

·       individual and group exercises

·       group discussions

·       role plays

·       written tests

·       presentations

·       psychometric tests

Assessment centre activities often simulate real workplace situations or scenarios that are relevant to the role. For example, candidates might be asked to take part in a project, solve a business challenge or role play customer service situations.

The sessions will ideally be run by trained assessors, who might be a mix of HR consultants and line managers. They’ll observe candidates’ behaviour, performance and responses during the exercises, then use a scoresheet of predetermined criteria to rate each person. This is something that’s crucial for candidates to remember – and that they’ll also be observed when they arrive and in breaks between tasks. So they should also use this time to showcase their interpersonal skills with other attendees, as this could mean the evaluators rate them more positively.

How long do they last?

Anywhere from half a day to two days.

What are the advantages of an assessment centre?

for employers

Because they use several different types of assessment methods and activities, assessment centres give employers a more rounded and comprehensive view of people’s skills. That means they can be better than interviews when it comes to predicting how someone will actually perform once they’re in the job. It also makes it more likely that they’ll find the right person first time too.

Assessment centres can also help identify candidates with the potential to become good leaders, which is great for succession planning. And they can help recruiters be more objective as well. That’s because they use standardised criteria and trained assessors, which helps take the subjectivity and bias (unconscious or otherwise) out of hiring decisions.

for jobseekers

The objective evaluation we mention above is beneficial for candidates too, of course. Assessment centres also give them the chance to showcase skills more effectively than traditional interviews. Being put into a simulated job situation can also give them a truer picture of a role, and what working for a company will really be like (for better or worse!).

Recruiters also give candidates constructive feedback (something we know is very important to jobseekers) about how they performed in the assessment centre. So even if they don’t get the job, they can use this to identify things they can potentially improve for the next position they apply for. And the assessment centre itself may well identify other strengths they didn’t realise they had, like problem-solving, communication or leadership.

What are the disadvantages of an assessment centre?

for employers

While assessment centres do have lots of advantages, they also need careful planning, the right resources and trained assessors to make them effective. That means they just might not be viable for smaller organisations.

Assessment centres aren’t suitable for all types of job either. For example, if a role has limited interaction with others or is highly technical, an assessment centre might not be the best way to fill it.

for jobseekers

Just like traditional interviews, some people will thrive in assessment-centre environments, while others will find them challenging and nerve-wracking. Some might even drop out before this stage if the prospect really is too daunting. And others might not perform well under such strict observation.

Getting ready for assessment centres can involve a lot of time and effort too. And if someone has a busy schedule, taking time off to prepare for and attend a two-day assessment centre simply might not be possible.

Need some help with recruitment?

Whether you’re an employer who’s thinking about including assessment centres in your recruitment process, or someone looking for a new challenge, we can help. Get in touch to find out more.

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Written by

Aimee Pope

Since graduating with illustration in July 2022, Aimee now works in our head office as our Marketing Executive. She specialises in digital marketing, campaign delivery and content creation.

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