Mythbusters: Assessment Centres

I’ve had a few student encounters recently that have highlighted some common misconceptions around jobs, careers and life in general. Welcome to the first post of my new ‘mythbusters’ series, in which I’ll be exposing and challenging popular career myths.

Myth: You need to beat the other candidates to succeed at assessment centres

Employers are recruiting against a standard – there are not normally any ‘quotas’. If you – and your fellow candidates – demonstrate the required competencies, there’s a strong chance you will progress to the next, or final stage. Have a look at chapter 6 of the AGCAS film, ‘At the assessment centre’, which gives a great insight into how group activities/discussions are assessed.

Assessment centres can feel highly charged and very competitive, with candidates jostling for top spot but dominating group discussions and tasks could well get you noticed for all the wrong reasons. Recruiters are not looking for autocrats – they want team players who can co-operate, collaborate and communicate. I’ve seen a number of comments online referring to the ‘testosterone’ fuelled environment of assessment centres, questioning the merits of a selection process which seemingly favours the alpha male, ‘greed is good’ stereotype. In reality though, most recruiters view such behaviour negatively – don’t be tempted to mirror what you see.

There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive; If you’re only interested in self promotion and fail to recognise (or acknowledge) the contributions of the other candidates, your interpersonal and management skills may be questioned. Graduate recruiters are certainly looking for evidence of leadership skills, but you can demonstrate this quality in far more effective ways than simply ‘shouting the loudest’. Consider how you can add structure to group discussions and exercises; if you feel the group is losing sight of the objective, try to steer them back on course. By skilful management of group activities you can demonstrate a whole range of competencies – communication, problem solving, initiative – without undermining your fellow candidates.

Stand out for the right reasons:

  • Introduce yourself and refer to other candidates by name. Not only is it more courteous but it shows you’re paying attention!
  • Volunteer and contribute, but don’t monopolise the discussion or exercise. Encourage others to join in, and acknowledge their input.
  • Try to establish rapport with your assessors but don’t overdo it. You wont score points though brown nosing.
  • Avoid being negative or critical. Companies want team players, not individualists.

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