Some companies run a series of extended selection procedures, called assessment centres, each lasting one or two days or sometimes longer. Usually, these are after the first round of interviews and before the final selection but they can be used as an initial selection process. They are commonly held either on employers’ premises or in a hotel and are considered by many organisations to be the fairest and most accurate method of selecting staff. This is because a number of different selectors get to see you over a longer period of time and have the chance to see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do, in a variety of situations.
Assessment centres typically include a number of elements:
• Social/informal events, where you could meet a variety of people, including other candidates, the selectors, recent graduates and senior management. This is presented as an opportunity for you to find out about the organisation and to ask questions in a more casual setting. These events may appear informal and not part of the true assessment procedure but you should behave in a way that reflects well on you. You should certainly avoid any excesses of food, behaviour and, especially, alcohol.
• Information sessions, which provide more details about the organisation and the roles available. Listen carefully, as the information provided is likely to be more up to date than your previous research. If you are unclear about anything, ask. It is useful to have a question prepared for these sessions but make sure that the answer has not already been covered. Asking inappropriate questions just to get noticed will not impress the selectors.
• Tests and exercises designed to reveal your potential. Selectors at assessment centres measure you against a set of competencies and each exercise is designed to assess one or more of these areas. Don’t worry if you think you have performed badly at any stage; it is likely that you will have the chance to compensate later on. Also, remember that you are being assessed against these competencies and not against the other candidates so, rather than trying to compete against them, make sure that you demonstrate the qualities the organisation is seeking.
You could also ask if your careers service delivers aptitude tests or runs presentation skills workshops. Researching employer files for information about exercises used in the past is also a good idea.
If you have a disability that may affect your performance in any of the exercises mentioned, you should discuss the matter with the employer before attending the assessment centre. ‘The idea is to get additional information from candidates that you can’t test at an interview. We analyse how people handle tests under pressure and their ability to talk through problems. We’re looking for potential.’ (Recruitment partner at Price water house Coopers)
You are still likely to encounter either a one-to-one or panel interview at assessment centres. These are likely to probe any weaker areas that may have emerged at a first interview. Interviews at this stage are likely to be more in-depth than those you experienced during the first stages of selection and could be with someone from the department/division to which you are applying or even with a potential future colleague. Questions may refer back to your first interview, to assessment centre activities or to aptitude test results. You should be prepared to be challenged on your answers but keep calm, consider your answers and avoid being defensive. You may be asked many of the same questions that you were asked at the first round. Treat this subsequent discussion independently – don’t assume that your interviewer is familiar with the answers you gave at an earlier stage.
PSYCHOMETRIC / APTITUDE TESTS
Aptitude tests These are timed tests, taken under exam conditions, designed to measure your intellectual capacity for thinking and reasoning, particularly your logical/analytical ability. Increasingly, organisations are using these tests at a much earlier stage in the selection process and you may not be tested at the assessment centre itself. The tests are designed for specific roles and are meant to be challenging but you won’t be expected to have prior knowledge or experience of the role for which you are applying. Accuracy is more important than speed. Most tests are multiple choice and designed so that very few candidates both finish and get the correct answers. Sample questions may arrive with your letter of invitation.
If English is not your first language or if you are dyslexic, you are advised to declare this before the test, as the organisation might be able to allow you extra time or grade your results more appropriately. Test materials can be adapted for the visually or hearing impaired but you need to alert the assessors to your circumstances in advance.
Practice tests are available on a number of websites (see chapter 6 ‘Information sources’ at the end of this booklet) and may also be available through your careers service. Whatever your prior test experience:
• careful attention to the instructions;
• ask for clarification if you don’t understand something;
• work as quickly and as accurately as you can;
• skip over any questions you get stuck on;
• make sure that you record your answers in the correct boxes;
• get used to working without a calculator (you may not be allowed one) and revise basic mathematical operations if you haven’t done numerical work for a long time.
Personality inventories These assess your personality and how you might react in different situations. They are not usually timed, have no right or wrong answers and are often used to see if you would fit into the company culture and can identify a working situation that would suit you. You cannot practise for these tests but you should answer honestly and avoid trying to second-guess ‘correct’ answers.
In these exercises, you are given a set of papers relating to a particular situation and asked to make recommendations in a brief report. The subject matter itself may not be important; you are being tested on your ability to analyse information, to think clearly and logically, to exercise your judgement and to express yourself on paper. ‘The exercise was very time-pressured and I made the mistake of reading all the information given before starting to write anything down. I got the impression that not all the information was supposed to be relevant and that they were testing our ability to sift through written material to extract the most important things.’