A Candidate’s Guide To Assessment Centres

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24-03-2014

8 min read

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A full day interview? That’s long! What will I be asked? What am I supposed to do? Can I check Google for answers?

These may sound like silly questions, but they are important ones! For those who have been applying for jobs, especially management trainee positions, here are some commonly asked questions by candidates prior to attending assessment centres.

Read also: Who To Hire And What To Develop: The Talent Assessment Approach

 

1. Do I have to be there the whole day?

I remember when I was first called to an asssessment centre many moons ago for my first corporate job in a management trainee programme. The email invitation stated the time as “9am-5pm”.

I was fresh (and naive) at the time, but thankfully something prompted me to call the human resources (HR) department to clarify the timing.

“Did you mean I can come any time between 9am and 5pm?” I asked. I could hear the frustration on the other end of the line, “No! You are supposed to come before 9am. It will finish at 5pm.” Thinking back on it now, the HR woman probably wondered if she made a mistake shortlisting me!

So in short, yes, you have to be there the entire day or whatever the length of time stipulated by HR personnel. And do factor in time for heavy traffic, a late bus or wrong turnings. Being late is a big no-no! And a no-show without a call, is even worse.

 

2. Can I look up case studies on Google to prepare?

Some help from the G-guru may not totally be in vain. There are many samples of ability tests online, including verbal, numerical and logical tests.

While I doubt you will get a question that actually does come up in the assessment, practising online can help you become more familiar with the question formats.

You may be surprised at how different cases and questions can be. That is mainly because the cases and questions in your assessment centre are customised and linked to particular areas that are being assessed.

 

3. Can I get someone else to do the online test?

Definitely not. Some of you may receive various URLs through emails inviting you to complete ability tests or personality questionnaires. While it is possible to get someone to answer ability tests on your behalf without the knowledge of HR, I strongly detest this notion because of the following repercussions:

  • When you are found out, you may be sacked or lose the job offer, depending on the stage of recruitment you are at.
  • Your reputation will be tarnished and this will affect your chances of getting future jobs. Do remember that while we HR people may appear “boring”, our circle is small and our influence is great and lasting. Word can get around.
  • Your job may require high verbal, numerical or logical skills that you may not possess. Your ability tests’ score carries a weight in the hiring decision, and is often based on job requirements. If you are hired based on your supposedly high numerical test score, you may find yourself in a wrong job fit as numbers may not be your strong trait after all.

This might interest you: Are You Fit To Climb The Corporate Ladder?

Here are some tips for completing your ability tests:

  • Find a quiet place.
  • Make sure you are fully alert.
  • Visit the toilet first before you start.
  • If tools such as pencils, paper and a calculator are required, prepare these. Note that some tests will request for you not to have any of such tools in hand. So be honest!
  • Time yourself well. Don’t spend too long on one question if you are stuck. Don’t main tembak (guess) either.

 

4. How should I dress?

Nothing short of office attire. For the ladies, it may be more practical to wear pants as some assessment centres may require candidates to move around.

Come in a jacket, but be ready to have to put it aside, depending on the activities. This means that whatever is under the jacket should be very presentable as well.

Some assessment centres are very professional in nature, focusing on case studies, role-plays and group discussions. However, do not be surprised if some activities require you to be more hands-on, up on your feet or down on your knees. It is difficult to predict what it will be like, so it would be wiser to dress comfortably, professionally, yet practically.

Read also: Tips For Dressing Up From College To Corporate World

5. Should I pretend to be someone else?

No. Assessors are trained to know when you are “faking” it. So, not only should you be yourself, but be at your best.

 

6. What kind of personality should I portray in online questionnaires?

What is more crucial to the assessor is to find out if you are someone who knows yourself well.

Most good tools would have an in-built mechanism to track if you are consistent in your answers, or to see if you are trying to manipulate the system.

 

Here are some tips on how you can best take a personality questionnaire:

  • Read the instructions TWICE. Be very clear of what’s expected of you.
  • Find a quiet venue. You may have to lock yourself in a room and have your housemates’ cooperation to keep the volume down for an hour or so. One questionnaire usually takes between 20-40 minutes to answer. If you are completing this together with your ability tests, then set aside 20 minutes for each ability test as well. Some tests may be shorter or longer, so do read your emails very carefully before you begin.
  • Make sure you are not interrupted or distracted during this time. That means turning off your phone (not just putting it on silent mode), no TV, no friends, no radio, no emails, no Facebook. Zero interruption. Close all chat windows, programmes and sites that may be a distraction to you.
  • Make sure you are alert and can stay seated for the next 40 minutes without needing to go get water, stop for a toilet break or anything else.
  • Never over analyse the questions in a personality questionnaire. There are no right or wrong answers. The only right way of answering the question is to be spontaneous and honest.
  • Think in the context of work. When you feel like a typical Malaysian and think that the answer is “it depends”, then the answer should be skewed towards how you would behave when you are tasked with something to do, not when you are home relaxing.

 

7. What should I say about my previous job?

At no time, be it during interviews or tea breaks, should you ever bad mouth your previous employer. This automatically sheds a very negative light on you. Not your previous employer, but you!

You can sit on your pity-pot with your family and friends, but never with your potential future employer. Not even when they ask why you are leaving your previous job. Be honest about the situation, but practise sharing this part of your experience without being bitter nor gossiping.

If you have never worked before, think how you’d want to position your experience in university.

 

8. Should I compete to be the best in the room?

Yes and no. You need to stand out. But not at the cost of being seen as kiasu, inconsiderate and overly competitive.

While most employers would want to assess how driven you are to succeed, they also want to ensure that it is not done at the cost of belittling others.

Also, if you are offered the job, you wouldn’t want to start on the wrong footing with the rest of your comrades who will be your support group in the years to come.

So, no, don’t compete. But yes, focus on standing out!

Recommended reading: 5 Soft Skills You Need To Stand Out From The Crowd

9. What is usually observed and are you only observed during activities?

Assessment centre activities and observation will differ according to organisations and positions. That said, common behavioural indicators and competencies that assessors look out for include:

  • Taking initiative.
  • Leading and influencing.
  • Teamwork and participation.
  • Business acumen.
  • Strategic thinking.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Conflict management skills.
  • Communication skills.
  • Listening skills.
  • Humility.

 

Officially, assessors will observe you during the activities. However, the assessors do not go “off duty” during tea breaks and lunch. So, continue to be at your best throughout the day.

 

10. What else can I do to stand out?

  • Think about your introduction! It should be strategic, impactful and short. Name, qualification, hometown and an interesting fact about you should suffice. You don’t need to delve into details like your birth date, pets and hobbies (unless it is very, very unique). Generic hobbies like travelling, listening to music, singing, reading and playing the piano are not exciting enough to leave an impression. Instead, think about things that your listeners (both assessors and other candidates) would be keen to ask you more questions about and would help project you in a good light. Think of this as your elevator speech.
  • Read up on the organisation and current news. It is not uncommon for assessors or hiring managers to ask for your thoughts on the latest trending news or what you think about the organisation. This will come in handy during your networking efforts too.
  • Be ready to network. Make an effort to get to know the non-candidates in the room. These include your assessors, hiring managers and centre managers. Prepare a few professional conversation openers to start off the conversations.
  • Be on time for all your cases. You will be given a schedule. Keep to it strictly, unless informed otherwise.
  • Throughout the day, project confidence through your dressing, body language, words and volume.
  • Ask questions! Asking questions often makes you look more intelligent than otherwise. Of course, don’t ask questions that you can answer yourself. So do think through your questions before asking them. But make sure you ask.
  • Justify. For every opinion you state during the exercises or tea breaks, make sure you are able to back them up with reasoning, research or experience.

 

There is so much more you can learn about assessment centres – the why’s and what’s. But for a start, remember these guidelines.

All the best!


Who to expect in an assessment centre

  • HR or Centre Manager
    The person who is coordinating the entire assessment centre’s schedule and activities.
  • Management representatives
    Management staff who have special interest in the recruitment. It would be good to find time to network with them.
  • Line Managers
    Potentially, your future manager is in this group, scouting around for their next management trainee. Be respectful, network and be professional.
  • Other candidates 
    These individuals may turn out to be your future colleagues. So, build good relationships with them.
  • Assessors 
    Trained individuals who are tasked to observe and document everything you do and say throughout the day.

What can you expect in an assessment centre

Here are possible activities on that day, and it usually revolves around three to four activities.

  • Group discussion and presentation
  • Role-plays
  • Case studies and analysis presentations
  • In-trays
  • Simulations

 

For more information on our assessment offerings, email people@leaderonomics.com and click here for more articles. 

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