Assessment Centres

What Are Assessment Centres

An Assessment Centre is a method used by companies to assess candidates for a job. At Assessment Centres, candidates undertake a series of assessments designed to show assessorsthat they possess the personal and technical skills for the job. Assessment Centres are used to supplement interviews and obtain information about the qualities of candidates, which the more traditional methods do not so readily elicit.
Exercises are carried out in the presence of trained observers who through a continuing exchange of views are able to build up a picture of each candidates' social and intellectual skills and any strongly held attitudes, likes and dislikes. The candidates are usually observed over a period of 1-2 days whilst conducting exercises designed to show social and intellectual skills and the more general outlook of the candidate.

There are three components to Assessment Centres:

  • The candidates - the applicants for the position.
  • The exercises - group/individual exercises, psychometric tests and interviews.
  • The assessors - trained observers assessing candidate's skills.

What are observers looking for in Assessment Centres?

  • Social Skills
  • Intellectual Ability
  • Attitudes

Social Skills - The social role each candidate takes or tried to take - includes the candidates sensitivity to others, tact, aggressiveness, hostility, friendliness, withdrawal, reaction when contradicted or criticised. It also involves the extent to which others listen to the person, ignored or shouted down the individual, the way the person tries to influence others and the amount of respect the individual engenders.

Intellectual Skills - The quality and quantity of the individuals contribution in terms of clarity of thought, ability to express ideas logically and forcibly; the quality of analogies and generalisations, ability to apply both knowledge and experience in discussion, flexibility of thinking and the weight carried in argument or discussion.

Attitudes - These are provoked in discussion but are much more difficult to detect in interview. The 'fair minded', the 'staunch authoritarian', the 'one problem, one solution person' all come to the surface at some time or another during an assessment centre day. The fair minded individual will be able to examine a topic in a fair and honest manner, seeing arguments for and against a decision. The staunch authoritarian will want to dominate any argument and ensure that only their view is carried. The one problem - one solution individual will tend to see an issue from one perceptive with only one solution. The best attitude to have at an assessment centre situation is to be open minded, to assess all sides of an issue and to present an argument in a logical frame which makes sense to the group as a whole. 

An employer's checklist of skills, abilities or competencies against which they are rating you on each of the exercises and interviews may often be stated explicitly in their recruitment information, or given to you at the assessment centre.

If they don't give much of this sort of information, the following is a fairly typical list :

  • problem solving
  • team/ group skills
  • communicates successfully
  • handles complexity
  • commercially aware
  • drive / energy
  • independent minded
  • capacity for development working relations
  • able to influence / persuade
  • technical understanding
  • initiative,
  • enterprising approach

Assessors will keep detailed notes of your performance, grade you against each competence and each exercise and look carefully at your overall performance.
Remember that even the best candidates won't do everything perfectly - if you feel you have made a slip, get over it and carry on regardless. All is not lost!

There are three parts to the structure of an Assessment Centre:

  • Group Activities - examine individuals response in a group situation
  • Individual Exercises - measure individuals abilities, skills and personal traits
  • Panel/One-to-One Interviews - assess an individuals suitability to the job


Group Activities

Group exercises examine how individuals respond in a group and/or problem-solving situation. Usually a group would consist of 6 - 8 candidates and a number of assessors would observe from a distance. The following are some of the skills that are being assessed:

  • Communication Judgement Reasoning Persuasiveness Problem solving

There are four main types of group activities

Topic of General Interest - A topic of general interest is given to the group to discuss for 3 - 4 minutes. Then several other topics are introduced until 5 - 6 topics have been discussed. This type of task is used to unfreeze an unfamiliar group or to see how candidates can "think on their feet".

Assigned Role Exercises - Assigned role exercises are used to assess negotiating skills, persuasiveness and ability to compromise. Assigned role exercises are exercises in which each person has an individual brief perhaps competing for a share of a single budget or where each candidate is given one fictitious individual who has applied for promotion and in the group, a decision has to be made as to which of the five or six fictional applicants is to be promoted. The assessors watch the promoters' skills in pushing their particular applicant forward. The quality and structure of the argument is the most critical factor of the exercise.

Unassigned Role Exercises - Unassigned role exercises assess tolerance of uncertainty, ability to provide one's own structure and to adjust and be flexible in changing circumstances. Unassigned role exercises include running a simulated business, in which decisions must be made rapidly, with incomplete information. A group task is set where everybody has the same brief to study, which may be examples of problems at various levels. As a group, the participants agree in which order of priority to discuss the various problems and then are asked to reach conclusions within a given time.

Team Practicals - Team practicals assess negotiating, teamwork and analytic skills as well as problem solving ability, leadership skills and sometimes creativity. Team practicals are far more physical and can take place indoor or outdoors. A typical exercise may be for the group to be provided with various materials (e.g. string, rubber bands, beer mats, drinking straws and uncooked spaghetti). The task may consist of constructing a bridge over a one-metre gap. The outdoor version of this exercise may have planks, oil-drums and ropes and involves bridging an actual gap or river.

Tips for effective group work

  • Participate actively in the group
  • Listen to what others have to say
  • 'You can't be assessed if you can't be heard' - try to speak clearly
  • Contribute early, even a few words
  • Be friendly and co-operative but defend your point of view
  • Never try to win by putting others down
  • It's the quality of contribution that's important, not the quantity

Assessment centre advice

Please note:  Careers Advisors can help you prepare for an Assessment Centre: Book your appointment here for a 30 minute consultation.

If you have an upcoming appointment to discuss your Assessment Centre please ensure you have:

  • Read through the links above.
  • Followed the Useful Links and Videos 
  • Bring in any relevant information with you on the day of your careers appointment about the assessment centre that you have received from the prospective company.