Why Assessment Centres Don’t Work – And How To Improve Them

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Assessment centres, group interviews, whatever you want to call them, are the bane of a jobseeker’s existence. If I were to rank each kind of interview, I’d rather have a one-on-one, then a telephone interview, and then the group interview.

But we are here to analyse the issues or benefits of assessment centres, and also to discuss how to improve the assessment centre format.

Assessment centres are generally used by companies to cram as many people into the space and to perform as many tasks as possible which don’t directly relate to the job. Afterwards, the recruitment team has to divide the group up into who will go to the next stage and who won’t.

Assessment centres are often geared to the loudest people, as they get noticed by the assessors and end up overshadowing the more quiet candidates. Being louder doesn’t mean that you’re better, but in my experience, it’s the louder ones that get considered whereas the quieter ones don’t – however, I’d bet it’s the quieter ones that would excel in the job. I remember my first group interview I was a part of, where there was a lass that was (for lack of better words) extremely violent, where she would constantly refer to stabbing or killing things. I think that brought down our entire group in the end.

I don’t have a problem demonstrating my capabilities in some of the tasks, but you have to wonder what the point is of listing items that you would prioritise after a plane crash.

The worst part of an assessment centre is the two parts – the group assessment and the individual interviews. For most assessment centres, they will have the first half, where it involves an icebreaker and two-three group-based activities, and then the second half will be the main interview stage. However, some candidates will not make it to the second half of the day. I travelled all the way to Birmingham and had this happen to me. This is also a very bad method, as some may struggle through the assessment centre but breeze through an interview, and vice versa. Giving everyone their own time in the spotlight will be a huge benefit to everyone involved. The best person may have been rejected before the interview, where they could have excelled.

I think the biggest drawback to any assessment centre is down to lack of preparation. There are always mock interviews offered via JobCentre, but never any mock assessment centres – and I requested at multiple times to have a mock assessment to see where I was going wrong with this.

On the other side, if done well, assessment centres can be a good tool to assess the capabilities of a candidate. I’ve had two really good assessment centre experiences – one in Leeds for New Chapter Recruitment, and in Birmingham for Tui. Both of these assessment centres focused entirely on the relevant tasks for the job.

In the case of New Chapter, we had a telephone interview prior to the assessment centre, whereas for Tui, we’d already had the application form, followed by a video of us preparing a tour of the area of our choosing.

Tui did fall into the undesirable factor of splitting the day into two, but the entire first half of the day related to the job and the assessment criteria.

I think, in order for the assessment centre to work, is an example I had while I was doing the very few mocks that were offered. They had a set-up like this:

  • Initial networking.
  • Introductions and icebreakers.
  • Set a presentation task, to do a presentation based on a topic.
  • During the preparation work, call people in for individual interviews.
  • Lunch & networking.
  • Give presentations.
  • Group challenges.
  • Wrap up.

This set-up gives everyone a chance at the interview stage and also demonstrates presentation skills and group skills. It offers an equal balance of individual work and group work, as sometimes in job roles, you do not need to communicate with team members (for example, some call centre jobs rely on you to be able to work alone on matters, and only communicate with the group where needed).

What do you think of assessment centres? Can they be improved? What are your experiences of them, both as a candidate and a recruiter? I want to know!

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