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Testing the X-Factor: How to run a winning assessment centre

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There are many advantages to hosting a candidate assessment day. It allows you to look at and evaluate applicants in a more natural, relaxed state than a formal interview setting would allow, and the chance to directly compare how they stack up against each other.

Assessing candidates during a one-day event can also be cost-effective, removing the need to devote numerous hours and days to conducting individual interviews.

However, you can only reap these benefits by ensuring that your event is extremely well-planned and executed: there is no ‘quick-fix’ formula for success. Here are some tips on ensuring that your organisation’s assessment event runs smoothly and gets the results you’re after..

ID the end-goal from the start

The first step towards running a winning assessment event is to develop an internal role profile setting out the skills and qualities you want from your ideal hire. This should set out very clear information about the kind of person you’re looking to single out.

For example, if you’re seeking a client-facing sales professional, you’ll want to identify candidates who are friendly, extroverted, and slightly combative – “killer instinct” is a large part of a salesperson’s success.

For a more introverted role, i.e. something that’s predominantly desk-based and reliant on specialist knowledge, these qualities will be less important – and you’ll want to examine other areas.

With the dream candidate profile in mind, you can then design your assessment day activities to ensure that you test the desired skills and personality traits for the vacant position.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail…

Many promising assessment days are let down by a lack of forethought and planning. Once you’ve worked out the type of person you’re looking for, it’s important to take care of the logistics so that nothing unnecessarily impedes your search.

Attention to detail is vital in delivering an effective assessment day. Forgetting important things like nametags is a common mistake and can make organising and communicating with fifty-plus individuals a nightmare – ultimately leading to a very impersonal, chaotic event.

Making sure that your visitors are properly taken care of will not only make the day run more smoothly, it will also make your candidates feel more welcome – so make sure your venue is equipped with adequate heating, lighting, and well-stocked with a healthy tea and coffee supply to keep everyone alert.

Don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to facilitation, and make sure you have enough support staff on hand to manage the attendees. This isn’t about policing them as much as it is about being a good host and making sure events go to plan. Candidates will not want to work with a disorganised bunch of people in a poorly equipped environment.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so allow a couple of days for assessing large numbers of candidates and offer alternatives – you could risk losing a dream candidate who couldn’t make one of the planned assessment days.

Test the right things, not just any things

When devising your assessment activities and tests keep in mind the internal role profile you developed at the start. But also remember that an assessment day is a two-way process and as much about the candidates weighing up the hiring organisation as vice versa.

Kick-off events by introducing yourselves: get a member of senior staff to present on the company and the role: this reveals how important the role is to the company and gives you a chance to sell your organisation, motivating attendees to compete.

Then try an icebreaker to calm candidates’ nerves ahead of more demanding trials: if they have a chance to ‘gel’, it’ll be easier for them to work together during the day’s events.

With everyone introduced and at ease, you can get on with some key activities and tests. The classic “Balloon Debate” group role-play is designed to test persuasive ability in a hypothetical situation where participants imagine that they are held in a rapidly sinking hot air balloon. In order to save the collective, one person must be sacrificed – and the group must work together to determine who goes.

Another test aimed at assessing a candidate’s salesmanship involves splitting the group into pairs and making them talk together about their lives and ambitions, before presenting an argument to the group in their partner’s favour.

Not only does this assess the candidates’ ability to influence and persuade, but it also highlights their listening and collaborative skills.

The critical thing to remember about assessment days is that every activity should be geared towards identifying – and attracting – your ideal hire. And do sweat the small stuff: it’s those little details that will make a big difference to candidates and their impression of your organisation. It’s a two-way process, after all!

Want to have a chat with us to see how we could help you hire graduates? Then contact us today.

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