Succeed and achieve in test and assessment centers.
Imagine that you've just succeeded in your first round interview with an industry-leading organization. Now you've been asked to attend an assessment center, where you'll be tested on your communication, problem solving and teamworking skills.
You've never attended an assessment center before, and it sounds quite intimidating. So, how do you prepare for these tests and scenarios to ensure that you put your knowledge, your experience, and your skills in the best light?
In this article, we'll look at assessment centers: what they are, how they work, and how you can prepare for them thoroughly.
Assessment centers were developed during World War II, when there was a desperate need to find people capable of certain types of leadership. Companies then began adopting this process for recruitment. Their popularity increased, and now there's global interest in their use.
The term "assessment center" can be misleading; often, they aren't actual "centers." Rather, they're a series of tests, activities, and simulation exercises that organizations use to select the right person for the right role. Usually, several assessors monitor your performance throughout the course of the assessment, which can last anything from a few hours to several days.
Some organizations use assessment centers after an initial interview, to see how candidates will react in situations that might occur in the role that they've applied for.
For example, if you're applying for a management role in a customer call center, you'd likely go through role-playing scenarios where you'd have to manage an unhappy customer over the phone. You might be tested on your ability to multitask, or on your ability to lead a virtual team. And you might be asked to come up with a plan detailing how you'd increase customer satisfaction with each call.
Alternatively, if you're applying for an IT position, you might go through several troubleshooting scenarios. The organization might also test your ability to coach non-IT professionals, and assess your ability to solve problems effectively.
Assessment centers are useful, for you as well as for the organization.
First, this testing process allows organizations to see how you'd react in an environment similar to the one that you'd be working in. The tasks, activities, and problem scenarios you'll face should all mimic real situations; and your ability to work through these gives interviewers an in-depth look at whether you're right for the role.
Assessment centers are also useful for screening groups of potential candidates, all at one time.
This process also benefits you – going through this sort of assessment helps you get a good sense of the knowledge and skills that you'll need in this role. It also serves as a realistic "job preview," which allows you to see whether you're likely to enjoy the work and the organizational culture. You can then decide whether you and the organization will be a good fit.
The good news is that much of the time, the recruiter will tell you in advance about the competencies and skills that the organization is looking for. This means that you can do several things to prepare.
Think carefully about what the organization is looking for, as well as how you can demonstrate the qualities it needs most. Conduct a Personal SWOT Analysis, or work through the Your Reflected Best Self or StrengthsFinder exercises, to gain a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. If you're weak in an important area, take steps to strengthen these skills before your assessment.
Group exercises are common at assessment centers, but, in many cases, you won't be competing with the other candidates for the role. Those assessing your performance are measuring you against predetermined standards, so being overly competitive often isn't the best strategy.
Most assessment centers will involve another interview, so it's important to brush up on your interview skills. Research the organization, and come prepared with several good questions to ask your interviewer about the company and the role.
Last, it's important to pay attention to your image. Arrive well-dressed and looking presentable, and have ready all of the materials that you might need.
During your assessment, you'll be issued numerous instructions in many different formats. It's incredibly important that you listen, that you understand these, and that you follow these instructions closely.
As part of this, work on your active listening skills, so that you better understand oral instructions, and don't risk missing vital information.
The assessment activities that you encounter will vary, depending on the organization or role that you're applying for. However, there are some commonly used activities that you can prepare for in advance.
With the inbox/in-tray assessment, you'll take part in a "real life" scenario. You'll be presented with material, or tasks, that you'd normally see in the role that you've applied for. You're given time to study the material, and then you're asked to explain, or demonstrate, how you'd deal with each item.
Inbox/in-tray assessments are useful, but they can be intimidating to recruits, especially since you're given a strict time frame to complete them.
Role-playing exercises are common at assessment centers. These can be one-on-one sessions with an assessor, manager, or even an actor, or there might be group role-playing activities.
Role-playing exercises are often designed to put candidates in stressful situations, where it's essential to think on your feet. This means staying relaxed and confident under pressure, listening actively, and practicing slow, clear delivery.
When role playing, it's important to immerse yourself in the role that you've been assigned. You'll often get some time to prepare, so use this time to plan how you'll work through the scenario.
Before your assessment, it may help to practice with a friend or colleague. Try to anticipate the types of scenarios that you might be asked to participate in; these scenarios should be specific to the organization or role that you're applying for. The more that you prepare, the more comfortable you'll feel.
It's possible that you'll have to take one or more psychometric tests during your assessment. These tests are designed to evaluate objectively specific knowledge sets or technical skills, personality, logical or verbal reasoning ability, problem solving, or judgment.
To get practice with these, you can go online and take some sample psychometric tests; these tests will give you a good feel for the sort of tests you might be presented with during your assessment. (You can find practice psychometric tests here.)
Many, if not most, assessment centers will ask you to make an individual or group presentation. So, make sure that you work on your public speaking skills in advance, to make sure that you deliver a great presentation.
Begin by taking our test to find out how good your presentation skills are, so that you can assesses your current strengths and weaknesses. Next, learn good presentation skills, with our article on speaking to an audience.
Last, even the most prepared presenters feel nervous before they speak to a group. Manage presentation nerves by making sure that you stay hydrated before you speak, practice deep breathing, make eye contact with key decision makers, and visualize your success.
An assessment center is not always an actual place, as its name suggests. It's a series of tests, mock scenarios, and exercises, that recruiters use alongside interviews. These tests determine which candidates will best fit the role that they have applied for, and will best fit with the organization.
You can prepare for an assessment center by brushing up on your interview and comprehension skills. You can also practice for role-playing scenarios and presentations beforehand.
Keep in mind that you may not be competing with other people in your assessment, in which case you're measured against a predetermined standard. Do your individual best, be a good team player, and make sure that you show how well you work with others.
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Tolley, H. and Wood, R. (2011) ‘How to Succeed at an Assessment Centre: Essential Preparation for Psychometric Tests, Group and Role-Play Exercises, Panel Interviews and Presentations,’ London: Kogan Page.