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Career Futures Series

1. Assessment Centres
Extended selection procedures with interviews, assessed tasks and assessment exercises for small groups of graduate level candidates

The advice in this publication is designed to help you plan your job search strategy. Think about what you have read, turn it into action points and implement them. Good luck!

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Futures Team University of Central Lancashire Revised September 2011 V2

Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................. 3 What does an Assessment Centre involve? ................................................................ 3 - Social or informal events ........................................................................................... 3 - Organisational and information sessions .................................................................. 3 - Psychometric Tests - Group exercises .... 3 4

- Presentations ............................................................................................................ 5 - Role play.6 - In-tray exercises ...... .6 - Written tests ...... 6 - Interviews ....... 6 Assessment centre example : Lloyds TSB ........ ...7 Further help and information.. 8 Appendix 1: Case Study ... .9 Appendix 2: Interview with a Client ...10 Other Career Futures Publications..... 11

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Introduction
Many employers particularly those who recruit graduates use assessment centres as the final stage of their recruitment process. They bring together a number of candidates either at an employers premises or a hotel. Assessment centres can last anything between a few hours up to two days during which you will complete a number of exercises, tests and interviews that are calculated to evaluate your suitability for jobs within that company. You will be assessed against a list of competencies the essential skills, knowledge and personal attributes required for the job. Assessment centres are considered by some employers to be the fairest and most accurate way of selecting staff. Unlike application forms where you write about yourself or interviews where you talk about yourself, they give the selectors a chance to see a sample of your actual behaviour when working with others on problem solving tasks. They can see you being yourself in a variety of situations and over a longer period of time than in a single interview. From your point of view a poor showing in one area could be compensated by an excellent display of your skills elsewhere. Usually you will be one of a group of perhaps eight candidates being considered for similar areas of work. You are not in competition with the other candidates in your group. Indeed your ability to cooperate with them is one of the things being assessed. All of you, or none of you, may get the offer of a job. Assessment Centres are expensive to run both in staff time and in accommodation costs so if you have reached this stage in the selection process, you can be sure that the employer is seriously interested in offering you a post (only 5% to 10% of original applicants get to this stage).

If you have a disability which could have an impact on your performance in any of the exercises or activities involved, discuss this with the employer prior to attending the assessment centre. It would be a good idea to see the Case Study in Appendix 1.

What does an Assessment Centre involve?


This varies from one organisation to another but will include a number of elements such as:

- Social or informal events


Here you may meet other candidates, the selectors and senior management. This is an excellent opportunity for you to find out about the day to day activities of the graduate training scheme. Although these events may be billed as informal and not a part of the assessment process, you are under observation so behave in a way that will still reflect well on you - avoid any excesses of food, behaviour and alcohol.

- Organisational and information sessions


At these sessions you need to concentrate on the information or instructions you are given. Information about the company could be more up-to-date than your previous research, so do listen carefully. If you are unclear about anything, ask.

- Psychometric tests
There are three types of tests: ability, aptitude and personality Ability tests are timed, taken under examination conditions and are designed to measure your intellectual capability for thinking and reasoning, typically with words, numbers and shapes/abstract symbols. The tests are normally designed for graduates and are meant to be difficult. It is more important to get the right answers than it is to finish, but most tests are designed so that few candidates will both finish and get all the answers right.

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If English is not your first language or if you are dyslexic, you are advised to declare it before doing the test. For some tests the organisation will be able to allow extra time, or use different norm tables'. Alternative format test materials and administration instructions are available where appropriate e.g. for visually impaired people and deaf applicants but you will need to alert the assessors to any necessary adjustments in advance.

Aptitude tests examine how you would perform in a specific role. For example if you applied for a Computer Network Engineer vacancy the employer could create a fictitious network and ask you to identify future problems within the system. Personality tests are used to assess if you have the personal qualities for the job. Different roles require different attributes. The tests are not usually timed. Each question has a numbered scale normally from one to four and you select the number that best fits how you feel. They are often used to help ensure you are put into a working situation which will suit you. Pay attention to the instructions. Answer honestly. Dont try to guess 'correct' answers.

Practice is well worth the effort because you will become more familiar with the types of questions, more confident and be able to work faster. Whatever your experience: Pay careful attention to the instructions Ask for clarification if you dont understand the examples Work as quickly and accurately as you can Skip over any questions you get stuck on If you havent had recent practice in basic numerical operations such as finding percentages, now is the time to do some revision. Many employers suggest looking at GCSE Maths booklets to help you. For the more difficult numeric tests try http://students.efinancialcareers.co.uk/numerical_test.htm Use Psychometric Success practice tests for free http://www.psychometric-success.com/ SHL are the largest UK test producer the site contains practice tests and more advice on how to prepare for them http://www.shldirect.com/ For a more detailed information on Psychometric Testing see the Futures Psychometric Assessment booklet

- Group Exercises
The group exercises can take a variety of forms. You may be asked to discuss: A general topic such as, should the government crackdown on supermarkets that sell cheap drink Work related problem specific to the industry youve applied to, possibly as a case study. You are given a brief, documents based on a real-life business situation and a time limit. Case studies are often used in banking, accountancy, business and management consultancy assessment centres. Completing a task set e.g., building a tower out of paper

The exercise is used to assess your communication, problem solving skills and your ability to work in a team. You are competing against other group members. Usually a number of selectors will be watching the

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group and theyll be making notes about the input of each of the candidates to the exercise. Often the notes relate to key competencies that they believe are important in the job you are being considered for. So, for example, if team skills are important they will be making a note of the way you interact with others in your group: Innovation - contributing ideas, introducing concepts, making suggestions, suggesting ways forward Building developing a suggestion made by another group member Disagreeing constructively reasoning and questioning group thinking when you feel it may be taking you in the wrong direction Bringing in asking for input from other members of the group who you feel may have a valuable point of view on something (so it helps if you can remember things about group members, particularly strengths or specialist knowledge they might have) Summarising taking stock about where the group is up to, what has been agreed so far and what needs to be done next Encouraging quieter members of the group to contribute. Challenging dominant individuals who try to take over the group. Drive for results and time management its all too easy to get bogged down in the detail of the task you are working at. Stay focused on the objective of producing a group answer in the allowed time and make sure that someone is keeping time or offer to do it yourself If youre naturally quiet speak up. If youre naturally aggressive listen to others

There are some behaviours to avoid too: Attacking people or ideas, especially if you do it in an unreasoned or emotional way Blocking or shutting people out. If you think that someone doesnt have something useful to contribute, then rationally question their ideas. Maybe the selectors are coming to the same conclusion as you

- Presentations
You may be asked to prepare a short talk and deliver it to the other candidates and the selectors. The way you come across is more important than what you say. The organisation wants to know whether you can put information across effectively. You may have a designated subject or be given a free choice. It can be worthwhile to have already prepared a brief presentation on a subject you are keen on - but avoid talking about your year out, your degree or anything where you are likely to become submerged in technical jargon or be the third person of the day to talk about that topic. Remember too that you could be asked supplementary questions, so it will need to be a subject where you have further knowledge. Structure your talk carefully - introduction, middle then summary Pitch the level to the audience, keep it clear, dont give too much detail Talk from notes, not a full script Make eye contact with all members of the group A welcoming smile is good for both you and the audience Talk to them, not at them

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Keep to time. Remember your nerves may make you speed up on the day Speak clearly, dont gabble or mumble Try to vary the tone of your voice Use humour - appropriately Body language - be conscious that hands are not in pockets, keep your head up and avoid slouching, etc. Practise in front of the mirror or video camera if you have access to one Try to get someone to listen to your talk beforehand so you know if you have any annoying habits, e.g. um..., err..., or repeating words too often. Use visual aids flipcharts, OHP or PowerPoint effectively. Dont use too many or put too much information on them. Talk to the audience, not the visual aid

Students with disabilities, and deaf students, will have to inform the employer if adjustments are needed e.g. alternative equipment, services of an interpreter or lipspeaker. It is a good idea to let the interpreter/lipspeaker see the presentation before the interview. It will be helpful to you and the employer to make the employer aware that the use of interpreter or lipspeaker will affect the length of the presentation because of the time lag. This is especially important where the length of the presentation is part of the assessment criteria.

- Role play
Not many students will encounter this at an Assessment Centre used by organisations like the Police, some consultancy firms and some sales companies. Role play is usually related to the type of job youve applied to. An example often used is; an assessor will play the role of a complainant and you will be given the role of Custom Service Manager you are assessed on your interpersonal skills and how successfully you deal with the problem.

- In-tray exercises
You will be given an in-tray containing letters, emails, phone messages, reports etc either in paper or electronic format with 30 minutes to an hour to work through them. You have to prioritise, decide on what action needs to be taken and deal with each situation. A good example can be found on The Civil Service Fast stream. http://faststream.civilservice.gov.uk/How-do-I-apply/Example-e-Tray-Excercise/

- Written Tests
As part of the Assessment centre some employers also use particular tests to assess the ability of candidates to perform pieces of work that they would encounter in the job. These could include writing a business letter, responding to an e-mail, producing a spreadsheet or writing a short essay on a given topic.

- Interviews
You are likely to encounter one-to-one and panel interviews. Both sorts of interview are likely to probe any doubtful areas that may have emerged at a first interview, so it is worthwhile reflecting back and thinking

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about how to handle them. Equally, if there were good points, the interviewers may want to check those in more detail. A one-to-one interview is likely to be much more in-depth than any you experienced at the first stages of selection. It could be with the company psychologist and/or a technical interview with someone from the department/division to which you are applying. It could also be with the person with whom you would work if you got the job. A panel interview could consist of a senior manager, personnel representative and a department manager. Questions may refer back to your performance at first interview, at the assessment centre or in aptitude tests and you may be challenged about these. You could face questions in some detail about your technical knowledge and also about aspects of your degree, where these are relevant to your application. It could also be worth reminding yourself about any dissertation - content, methodology, findings, impressions etc. Whatever the type of interview, the same principles apply: Be prepared to be challenged on your answers. Watch the AGCAS video Why ask me that? Keep calm, dont become too defensive. Offer evidence to support your statements. Dont be daunted by the number of interviewers. Concentrate on the person asking the question but include the others with glances. Consider your answers. Dont rush in. Give yourself breathing space if you need it.

For a more information about interviews see the Futures booklet Succeeding at Interviews.

Assessment Centre example: Lloyds Group PLC, a major banking group


TSB ASSESSMENT CENTRE
Preparation Read the company recruitment brochure and visit the web site. Visit a local Lloyds branch. Research into the company and the banking industry Find out more about the companys products, services and its competitors Draw up a list of your main strengths, which you feel may be applicable for the area to which you have applied Consider some areas for improvement and think how you could address these Practice giving presentations to your friends or family. Plan your journey carefully so that you arrive in plenty of time for the start of the assessment centre.

What to Expect The assessment of 12 candidates by 6 assessors - usually managers or senior managers. You may be asked to complete verbal and numerical reasoning tests. You will take part in group discussions, one to one interviews, presentations and written exercises Dont worry if one part goes badly you can make up for it in other parts. The assessment day is very intense, but it provides you with a real insight into the type of activities you may be involved in if you are offered a position with us.

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How to behave Be yourself - we are not testing your ability to act or assume different characteristics - undertake all the exercises as yourself, just how you would react to different situations. Listen carefully to the instructions given to you at the start of the day, and always read thoroughly all information you are given. Try to contribute in all of the exercises as the assessment centre may be the last opportunity for you to demonstrate your key strengths. Remain focused and motivated for the entire day. You will find it tiring, but we will be assessing your level of motivation throughout the day.

What you will learn How you react to different situations - you may identify strengths that you were not aware of before! As much information about the company as possible - after all, recruitment is a two-way process. Not only do we have to find out whether you are right for Lloyds TSB, you also have to find out whether Lloyds TSB is the right company for you. What current Management Trainees think about their experiences and progress on the programmes. The Trainees are a valuable source of information. Much more about the type of work that you may be involved in once you are recruited.

Qualities Sought Excellent interpersonal skills. Strong communication skills - both written and oral. Time management. Sound decision-making. Enthusiasm and self-motivation - and the ability to motivate others.

Competencies Sought Two different assessment centres are used depending on which programme you have applied to. They will assess some of the following competencies: Providing excellent customer service Team working. Persuasiveness and influencing Managing change effectively Self-motivation Planning. Leadership. Analysis and interpretation of data.

Further Help and Information


Assessment Centre DVD, available in the Futures Centre Assessment Centre video on futures website www.uclan.ac.uk/futuresondemand Reference books on Assessment Centres in the Futures Centre Futures Award module on Assessment Centres see Futures for further details Presentations on How to prepare for an Assessment centre are run throughout the year details from Futures Individual careers interview to discuss the Assessment Centre

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Appendix 1: Case Study


Graham was in his final year of a degree in management. He had extensive

experience of retail work and he wished to apply for graduate retail management training programmes with large employers in the retail sector.

He is a visually impaired person and disclosed this on application forms, both in the monitoring section and using his ability to manage his studies as an example of meeting challenges.

He was called for interview, was successful and was invited to an assessment centre.

Using the university careers team support and the organisation Blind in Business which advises companies on adjustments for applicants who are visually impaired, Graham was able to identify the parts of the assessment centre for which he would need adjustments: psychometric tests, a group exercise based on written materials and an individual exercise for which he would have to read quickly a large amount of information. Blind in Business negotiated with the employer and enabled them to make reasonable adjustments to achieve a level playing field. Materials were

enlarged and he was given some extra time to complete the preparatory reading.

With adjustments, Graham was able to concentrate on demonstrating his abilities and the company was put at ease knowing what to expect and that it had made an appropriate response. He was offered and accepted a

management training position with the company, confident that they would be responsive to him as an employee.

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Appendix 2: Interview with a Client


Instructions to Candidate You are now part of the team currently undertaking the audit of Great Manderley NHS Trust. This is your first day at the Trust. The Audit Manager spoke to you yesterday saying that she would meet you later today. However, she has, in the meantime, made an appointment for you to interview the Estates Manager. Members of the Audit Team have compiled a series of notes (attached) and outlined some of their concerns. The Estates Manager is expecting to meet a person from District Audit. The meeting is scheduled to last no longer than 15 minutes.
Notes for the file Great Manderley NHS Trust, June 2008

INITIAL REVIEW OF THE STAFFING AND MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENTS COVERING THE ESTATES STAFF
I have looked in the following areas: The Estates staffing numbers and the general management of these staff (see attached Appendix B). Sickness and absenteeism levels for this group of staff. This is the following on from some work commenced by a senior member of GM Trust Management Team (see attached Appendix C). STAFFING I obtained these figures from the HR department who say it is difficult obtaining up to date figures from the Estates Manager because staff constantly leave and new staff join. The Estates Manager is responsible for recruitment. Also, he signs attendance records, sickness absence forms and authorises overtime. SICKNESS I was passed these figures when talking to the Assistant to the CE. She is very concerned with sickness and absenteeism levels specifically amongst the Estates staff, but feels these levels may also be common amongst other groups of staff. She welcomed our interest in this area. OVERTIME She is also concerned at the amount of extra hours being worked by most of the estates staff. Can you ask the Estates Manager about this? M. Jones Auditor POINTS TO RAISE WITH THE ESTATES MANAGER Remember, this is primarily a fact finding meeting. You should raise the above points with the Estates Manager when you have the interview. If there are other points you feel appropriate to discuss, please do so. I look forward to hearing about your findings. Chris Smith Audit Manager

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