Win the assessment centre

Win the assessment centre

Ok, so you’ve got through an interview or two. And then you’re given details of your (probably) final hurdle – an ‘Assessment Day’ where you will be watched and compared to other participants. Don’t groan quite so loudly. Yes it probably will be dreadful and you may have to take a day off to attend. But it’s also your final chance to show what you can do, and to prove definitively that you are the perfect person for the job.

The first thing you should do is ask what is going to be involved on the day, so that you can prepare as far as you can.

On the day itself, listen carefully to all the instructions and ask questions if you are unsure about what to do. Although you are in competition with other people attending the centre, don’t be aggressive and watch out for any non verbal signals you may be giving off.

Whatever level of job you are going for, a large measure of ‘people skills’ will be expected. Ensure that you participate and get involved in all the exercises remembering that the assessors will at the very least probably have headings on their clipboards such as ‘teamwork’ ‘communication’ ‘listening’ ‘initiative’ and ‘motivation’.

Try to be yourself, and remember that if you feel you have not done well on a particular exercise, don’t give up. It’s your overall performance that counts.

Here’s an idea of some of the things you may be faced with. Get your mind around these, plan your approach, and get ready to win. In a thoroughly nice and very charming way of course.

Psychometric Tests

Use of psychometric tests by employers, particularly as part of a wider assessment programme, is growing rapidly.

Psychometric tests fall into two main areas – occupational personality questionnaires (also - wrongly - known as personality ‘tests’); and abilities testing.

Personality questionnaires

Essentially, personality questionnaires attempt to give an insight into an individual’s personality, with personality being defined by one of the market leaders in personality profiling as “a person’s typical or preferred way of behaving, thinking and feeling”.

There are several really good personality questionnaires on the market with scientifically proven levels of reliability and validity. ‘Reliable’ in the sense that over time they will give basically the same results and ‘valid’ in the sense that, with careful interpretation, they can be used to predict probable patterns of behaviour and therefore likely levels of success in certain job roles.

You won’t be able to ‘practise’ on the better, reputable questionnaires. They are kept under lock and key and are administered, and can be interpreted, only by trained, licensed practitioners.

Don’t panic!

If you are faced with one of these questionnaires, don’t panic! They are actually quite fun to do and are usually untimed.

Most of the tests give a long series of statements against each of which you have to give a response, usually choosing from ‘strongly disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘unsure’, ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’. It’s that simple.

Some of the more sophisticated questionnaires ask you to chose between a number of statements (usually four) presented at the same time. You have to say which one of the statements you ‘most’ agree with and which one you ‘least’ agree with. These are known as ‘forced choice’ questionnaires and usually can only be processed and analysed by computer.

Things to remember:

  • The best way to answer both types of test is by not dwelling for too long on each response and giving your answer from a ‘work’ point of view.
  • There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, and no ‘scores’. You therefore can’t do ‘well’ or ‘badly’.
  • Try to avoid using the ‘unsure’ category, if there is one.
  • Don’t try to manipulate your responses! You will just get yourself in a muddle and the more sophisticated tests have clever ways of identifying where attempts have been made to mislead.
  • Psychometric tests are never used on their own – or shouldn’t be - to judge suitability for a specific job. They are generally used along with other assessment methods (interviews, abilities tests etc) to give a more rounded view of each candidate and how they might fit in. Additionally, some organisations may use aspects of a personality profile to indicate areas for development on appointment.
  • Ask for face-to-face feedback after completion. If not forthcoming, ask for written feedback instead. You will probably be quietly impressed with the accuracy of your ‘personality profile’.

Abilities testing

Because of the (to an extent inevitable) subjectivity of the interview, many employers are now using ‘abilities tests’ as a means of injecting some objectivity into the selection process.

There are many different tests available, but the main categories are: verbal, numerical, diagrammatic, mechanical, spatial, clerical, dexterity and sensory. Of these, the most commonly used are:

  • verbal comprehension: requires you to evaluate the logic of given statements
  • numerical reasoning: requires you to interpret data from statistical tables
  • diagrammatic reasoning: asks you to recognise logical sequences within a series of diagrams or symbols

If you know you will be asked to sit an abilities test (or maybe more than one) do not worry unduly!

Stay ahead

As with the psychometric test, there are a number of things you can do to stay a step ahead of some of the other candidates. These include:

  • Ask for a practise paper (or two) in the subject you know you will be tested on. This won’t always work or there may not be time but it’s worth a shot.
  • Visit (amongst others) and look at the ‘practice real tests’ section
  • Remember that as part of the test administrative procedure there will be a couple of example and practise questions just prior to the start of the test so you will have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the sort of questions you will be facing.
  • During the test watch the clock (most tests are timed to the split second); don’t get bogged down on any one question; leave anything too complex and move on. Stay calm! After the test, ask for feedback and how your score compares with other candidates and other people, similar to yourself, who have sat the same test.

Simulation Exercises

Simulation exercises are designed to imitate a particular task or skill needed for the job. Clearly these will vary with the type of job being applied for and its level of seniority. Some will be team based.

One of the most common simulation exercises is the Group Exercise where a group of candidates will work together to solve a business problem. You may or may not be given a specific role to perform. Whatever the situation, remember it is your behaviour and style that is being assessed as much as if not more than your ability to contribute towards solving the problem. Continue to ensure that you display a variety of interpersonal techniques and skills throughout the exercise, communicate your ideas and opinions clearly, influence others with your powers of persuasion, and, where appropriate take control to demonstrate your leadership abilities.

Not much to worry about then.

After the assessment

Whatever happens, after the assessment, always ask for feedback on how the assessment team collectively viewed your performance. Use it to learn a little more about yourself and – perhaps – to do better the next time.


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