Assessment Centre Design – Where to Begin?


It’s a little premature to be talking about your 2017 Assessment Centres now, right? Wrong. Australia’s leading Graduate Managers are planning for it now.

The trend we see amongst Australia’s leading graduate managers is to get their 2017 recruitment process discussions and planning on the radar now. Yes, in November! The assessment centre is just one component of a much bigger recruitment process mechanism and if you’re going to be ready to deliver a great assessment centre experience, you need to start thinking now.

What does the rest of your recruitment process look like and how will it all fit together? Who can help you deliver it and will it give you the desired outcomes?

Now is most definitely the time to start thinking about next year’s process and building towards the successful delivery of assessment centres. This article will focus on some insider tips for preparing and designing a high-quality event so keep it as a reference point now – while you are strategising your 2017 recruitment process.

An assessment centre is a multi-faceted methodology with several individual components needing to come together to produce a quality outcome overall. When thinking about the assessment centre process and the design of the experience it is about so much more than just “what cool activities can we run?” Before we even think about the actual activities and the endless logistics we need to take a step back and make sure we have 2 more key components correct. They are:

  • What are the desired assessment outcomes?
  • What resources do we have available and how best to use them?

Assessment Outcomes

When planning an assessment centre there is often a huge focus on “what” (activities) will be delivered and “how” (logistics) they will be delivered and while these are indeed critical to success, we should never lose sight of what we need and want from an assessment perspective.

By the very nature of this recruitment stage, the purpose of the assessment centre is to assess, in person, a candidate’s suitability for a role and compare and rank them against their peers and make recruitment decisions based on quality integration or ‘wash-up’ sessions. For this reason, we need to have mapped out a solid process that tells us what we need to assess, how we will assess it and how candidates will be scored and ranked based on their performance.

At the very out-set of a recruitment process we make sure that we know what success looks like. We identify the skills and attributes that a candidate will need in-order to be successful in a role and we design a process that will directly assess those success factors.

In its simplest form this will be a set of graduate competencies and subsequent assessment matrix that maps which competencies will be assessed at which recruitment stage. This then informs us of what behaviours we are looking for at assessment centre and then, and only then, can we think about what activities might best allow us to observe those behaviours and how an assessor might record and interpret what is demonstrated. But before we get to that we shouldn’t forget to look closely at the availability and suitability of our resources too.


Giving due consideration to what resources we have available is a key step to designing and pulling off a successful Assessment Centre.

Knowing your people and room resources is key to being able to plan the event logistics and ensure that the resulting candidate experience is spot on. Many organisations now days have limited access to rooms big enough to run such an event and will need to consider external venues or book internal rooms well in advance. To help with this planning we always establish, at the outset of a campaign, how many candidates will need to attend an assessment centre and then, with consideration given to available venues and people, we can work out how many centres will run over how many days and book all logistics in as early as possible. Once venue/rooms are sorted, we can focus on available people resources.

We always recommend that key personnel from an organisation, those considered to be good brand ambassadors, be engaged to play the important role of assessors and decision makers on the day. By providing a comprehensive training session prior to the main event, we can upskill those people in all aspects of the activities, the assessment materials and the important role of ambassador and decision maker that they will need to play. Never for one second should we forget that as much as we are there to assess the candidates (and their suitability for the role), the candidates are there to assess us as well! Often this is the first face to face time that they will have with the Company so they should (and will!) be assessing the people they meet as potential managers, colleagues and mentors. So, it’s super important that the people we choose are not only well versed in the assessment component of the day (and able to make informed decisions) but also in how to positively reflect the culture, values and expectations of the Organisation.

Once we have a solid assessment approach and corresponding materials, a best practice process and the right resources, we can finally look at designing relevant and engaging activities that, when combined with the above, will produce a candidate experience that sets us apart from other campaigns and companies that a candidate might experience.

Candidate Experience

The assessment centre is arguably the most valid recruitment measure, providing us with highly reliable data on which to make recruitment decisions. But also, on the flip side, it is without doubt the best opportunity to promote and showcase an organisation’s brand, culture, values and graduate program opportunities.

The candidate experience encompasses a few components of its own, not least of which are the activities they will be asked to participate in. With a range of options to consider, we rely predominantly on our assessment matrix and confirmed resources to decide which combination of activities will work best. But in general, the assessment centre should include both group and individual activities to ensure that all candidates, regardless of their behavioural preferences, will have equal opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.

Case Studies, role plays, presentations and even interviews are all common place and the best way to select the most appropriate measure is to think about what most closely reflects the organisation. The activities should be relevant, reflective and a positive representation of the culture, the people and the delivery outputs of that organisation. Wherever possible, activities must be engaging and interactive! The more that we can engage candidates in thoughtful and enjoyable activities the more they will relax, engage and begin to interact naturally and with less awareness that they are being assessed. If we get it right, they are so engaged in the task at hand that they forget they are being assessed and that’s where the truly interesting (and most natural) behaviours of each candidate start to show.

In summary, remember to value the Assessment Centre as a key recruitment stage, a valid assessment point and a critical way to determine which candidates are most likely to succeed in your organisation. Once you have the assessment component nailed, you just need to balance it out with a candidate experience that has each of them walking away having been inspired by the people they have met and the experience they’ve been given. That way, regardless of their individual outcome they will be much more likely to speak positively about your program and your organisation. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising!