Assessment Centre Success: 5 Key Tips

Assessment centres are a customary practice in graduate recruitment processes and are a terrific opportunity to showcase your brand. And while you’re promoting your program and engaging with candidates you’re also completing a multi-faceted recruitment methodology that is a valid predictor of on the job performance.

“Assessment Centres are made up of team and individual based business simulations and interviews that assess candidate competency and cultural fit to your organisation.”

In the last month, we have travelled Australia to assist our clients in delivering over 30 Assessment Centres and recruiting anywhere from 1 to 50 graduates for each of them. In having this direct exposure across the graduate market, we would like to showcase 5 Key Tips that we believe will set your Assessment Centres up for success!

Why do an Assessment Centre?

The Assessment Centre is a critical component of your recruitment process because it allows you to showcase your brand to candidates whilst candidates showcase their personal brand to you.

As Assessment Centres are usually the first opportunity to meet your applicants face to face, it is crucial that you create an experience that excites and engages your candidates. With significant increases in rejections after offer, it is now, more than ever, integral that you establish a connection between your program and the candidates. As such, our tips will help to ensure that you set your brand up for success in the current graduate market.

In addition to showcasing your brand, the key purpose of an Assessment Centre is to observe and assess the candidates against your organisation’s key behavioural competencies, and determine both the skill-fit and their cultural-fit for your organisation. In comparison to behavioural interviews (where candidates are becoming rehearsed and anticipating the desired responses), candidates at assessment centre are unable to predict what will happen or what situation they will be required to react to. This results in greater validity of their demonstrated behaviours, thereby having a greater potential to reflect and predict their future performance.

Our 5 Key Tips

Tip 1 – Consider the changing graduate landscape

It is currently an extremely competitive graduate market where we have recently seen up to (and over!) 50% of candidates rejecting offers.

Previously, employers had the freedom to choose and successfully onboard high calibre graduates with minimal effort but that is no longer the case. We know that graduates are applying, on average, for between 10-12 organisations and many of them are shopping around like never before with multiple offers to choose from. The reality is that they are progressing through multiple processes at the same time and depending on their load, and their success, they may simply not turn up on your assessment centre day, leaving your key stakeholders questioning you as to why.

To ensure that you are minimising the impact of this current competitive market, here are some simple things that you can do:

  • Invite above your normal ratio to an Assessment Centre. Where best practice is 6 candidates for every role, invite 7-8 candidates with the anticipation that a couple may not attend. It is an easy resolution to include an extra seat rather than being left with 3-4 vacant seats!
  • Ensure your candidates are being clearly communicated to with detailed information about the day. They want to know as much as possible about what to expect including detailed information about location and timing of the day. To minimise any of their concerns about turning up on the day, give them as much as possible without giving away exactly what they’ll be doing. Focus in putting their minds at ease and engaging positively.
  • Connect with your candidates before they walk in the door. We are seeing the top employers including a video in their invitation email. A message from a senior leader, a current graduate or the lead of the graduate program can personalise the experience and heighten the candidate’s excitement for the day.

Tip 2 – What do your stakeholders say about your graduate program?

Assessment Centres are the first opportunity for a candidate to come face to face with your brand, culture and people, so it is critical for you to differentiate your brand from others in the market. It’s important to bring your brand to life for these candidates, through banners, merchandise, exposure to senior leaders and to current graduates who have first-hand and relatable experience to share. Establishing a genuine connection with their candidates will increase the likelihood of being able to successfully onboard them on day one.

Here are a few initiatives to be successful:

  • Invite senior leaders and past graduates to attend, but not just anyone! Select those who are enthusiastic and excited about your graduate program. Candidates draw the connection of how valued they will be on your graduate program and with your organisation, through the passion and personalised aspect of your Assessment Centre. Graduates want to have confidence in the opportunities and the importance placed on their development, and the Assessment Centre is the first place that they view the exposure they will have to key stakeholders that will assist their development.
  • The assessors should be members of your organisation that have clear passion and insight for selecting the right fit for your organisation. It is important that they are representative of how you want your brand to be perceived by your candidates. Your assessors are who the graduates will be able to interact with first hand, it’s important that they are diverse and passionate about the graduate program.
  • Train your assessors and brief your stakeholders! Assessors are significant in promoting your graduate program so it’s important that you take the time to train your assessors prior to the day so they know what to expect, how to engage with the candidates, and what their role is in ensuring you are securing the highest calibre graduates. Just like candidates are trying to make a positive first impression, consider what first impression your assessors are making for your brand!

Tip 3 – Fulfil the purpose of your Assessment Centre

Although it is important to ensure your Assessment Centre is fun, interactive, and showcases your brand, you need to also ensure that you don’t lose sight of the overall purpose to assess and identify the candidates with the highest potential for your Organisation.

Your Assessment Centre should be fulfilling the following components:

  • Candidates need to be given the opportunity to showcase their skills and strengths across a range of situations. You will see a wide range of capabilities when observing both team and individual activities and the significance you need to place on particular behaviours should be identified prior to designing your activities. That is, if a role is highly technical, a successful graduate may not need to demonstrate exceptionally strong interpersonal skills as it is not a requirement for their role.
  • The design of your activities needs to highlight the stronger candidates by allowing them to demonstrate the desired behavioural competencies. The goal is to ensure that you are setting the strong candidates up to successfully demonstrate the competencies, and highlight the candidates that are not able to successfully demonstrate these skills.
  • The activities need to be engaging and relevant. By including highly relevant media exerts, videos and articles that bring your brand to life will contribute to candidates enjoying the experience that could easily be dry and tedious.

Watch the below video of the Norman Disney & Young Assessment Centre in the midst of the team activity where candidates are required to devise a business strategy.

Tip 4 – Make sure your candidates enjoy the experience!

Not only are you assessing whether these candidates are the right fit for your company, the candidates are going to be assessing whether they can see themselves joining your company. As already discussed, Assessment Centres are a fantastic opportunity to showcase your brand and generate the desire to join your team. We know that 63.83% (2016, AAGE Candidate Survey) of graduates identify the reputation of the brand being their aspiration for joining the company, so it’s crucial that the candidates enjoy the experience of your Assessment Centre, and translate this positive experience to what they would experience on their graduate journey.

You should be considering the following points that engage and build on your brand for the candidates to connect with your organisation:

  • Refreshments are a great way to allow for candidates to network between themselves and potentially key stakeholders of your organisation. This allows your candidates to demonstrate their personal brand, and relax them to expose their genuine behaviours in the assessment periods.
  • Arranging a site tour allows for candidates to be exposed to the environment that they may be joining. Providing the opportunity where they can witness current work life allows for them to picture themselves at your site contributing to their organisational objectives.

Tip 5 – Every experience is a lesson

The reality for candidates is that they will not all perform to the same level on the day and some will be unsuccessful post Assessment Centre. It is important for you to ensure that you have been clear in outlining the expectations for these candidates because it’s the unsuccessful candidates that will tarnish your brand in the graduate market if not managed well. It is therefore important to put into place measures that will allow for all candidates to fairly and equitably participate in your assessment centre and benefit positively from the experience.

  • In your assessor training, you need to be detailing a legally defensible method to provide feedback against your behavioural competencies. You should be able to respond to all candidates that attended your Assessment Centre on why they were not successful. If you are questioned you must be able to articulate your decisions against the behaviours that your assessors have witnessed and provided commentary on.
  • All Assessment Centre should provide an opportunity for the candidates to gain feedback for their own development and self-awareness. Giving quality, customised feedback is rarely done due to the sheer volume of graduate recruitment. But keeping in mind that many of your candidates have limited awareness on how they present themselves in this type of setting, being able to provide them with relevant feedback paints your organisation in an extremely positive light. Graduates respond with gratitude for this experience in gaining valuable insight to leverage in the future.
  • Allow the opportunity for your candidates at the end of the assessment centre to ask any questions that they may have. You need to ensure that each of your candidates leave your session having full insight into the recruitment process, as well as what they can expect if they are successful in joining your organisation. Remember – there is no better promoter of your brand than your current graduates. Don’t be afraid to leave the room, and allow for the candidates to have an open forum where they can probe your current graduates, and have a greater trust in their development journey.

The SMS Assessment Centre where the candidates had the opportunity to ask the current graduates on a panel any questions, allowing for transparent discussions.

To ensure you can successfully use Assessment Centres as a core component of the recruitment process, you need to be able to foresee factors that will impact your success. Assessment Centres are arguably the strongest predictor of the future performance of your graduates, and effectively leveraging this opportunity to showcase your brand is integral in securing top tier candidates for your graduate program.

We are passionate about the recruitment and development of graduates, and Assessment Centres are a pivotal component of what we love doing. We hope you have enjoyed our insights and take into consideration our tips that we have seen to be the key initiatives and impacts of the current competitive graduate market.

If you’re interested in this topic, or would like to further discuss best practise Assessment Centre Methodology, please contact us at [email protected] We are more than happy to buy you a coffee and have a chat.