However, some competencies cannot easily be demonstrated in exercises and the only opportunity to show that you have them will be with reference to your qualifications, employment history or personal achievements. This is why almost all assessment centres retain some sort of interview.
You may find that the assessment centre interview is different from other interviews that you have attended, in that they are usually competency-based interviews.
Competency-based interviews work on the assumption that the best indication of an individual’s future behaviour is their past behaviour.
This style of interview consists of a number of targeted questions that require you to describe a specific task or situation.
For example, suppose that a required competency for the role is ‘Managing Change’. A typical range of questions designed to test for this competency would be:
Tell me about a time when you had to implement changes to an established process? Talk me through your approach to planning the changes? How did you overcome resistance to the changes? What was the eventual outcome? What did you learn from the experience?
As you can see, the questions require you to describe something that actually happened and to do so in a lot of detail.
If you want to succeed at a competency-based interview then you really do need to prepare properly and your preparation needs to be specific to your employment history and personal achievements.
Fortunately, preparation for a competency-based interview is actually easier than for a traditional interview. This is because you can make a comprehensive list of the competencies required either from the job specification or the advert and you can then make sure that you have an example for each particular competency.
The best way to prepare for a competency-based interview is described in depth later in the 'Assessment Centre' eBook. It probably won’t surprise you to know that this preparation involves relating competencies to KSAs and then answering each question in terms of demonstrating as many KSAs as possible.
This can be demonstrated by looking at a particular example in detail.
Imagine that a candidate, let’s call him John, has implemented a project in which the field sales force held their weekly sales meeting using virtual conferencing software on their laptops rather than actually attend a physical meeting at the office.
To take one of the example questions above, “How did you overcome resistance to the changes?”
John could take the interviewer at their word and simply do his best describe the process or he could frame his reply in terms of the Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes that were required to successfully overcome resistance. In reply to the question “How did you overcome resistance to the changes?” John answers in terms of his KSAs, for example:
Knowledge - “I knew that the main purpose of the weekly sales meeting was to showcase new products and to give the sales force the confidence to start selling them as soon as possible. Any new system would have to fulfil this requirement if it was going to be successful as far as the organisation was concerned.
From the perspective of the sales force, the system also had to allow information from individual sales people to be properly disseminated to the rest of the team quickly and efficiently. This involved making sure that the most important issues were dealt with first and that the time given over each item was directly related to its importance.”
This shows that John has knowledge of:
The function of the sales meeting and therefore what criteria the new system would need to fulfil. It also shows that he understands the operational needs of the sales team as well as what the new system needs to achieve if it is to have their support.
This is the trademark of a really effective individual, someone who is capable of seeing what is important to both the organisation and to the sales team members and ensuring that the ‘change’ is seen to benefit all of the parties involved.
Skills - “I put together two separate presentations: The first was for the senior management and described the system in terms of its cost benefits to the organisation. I knew that I would need their support in the first few weeks of the implementation as there were bound to be teething problems.
The second presentation was for the sales force, and was designed to demonstrate how much time they would save during a typical week and how this would translate into extra sales calls and commissions, which could easily net them each another $5000 per year.
I also scheduled a comprehensive review for one month after the system went live, where I guaranteed that everyone who had concerns about the new system would be given a chance to voice them and that any problems would be dealt with as soon as possible.”
This shows that John’s:
Communication skills are well-developed. He can ‘tune in’ to what is important to each group. Ensure that any presentation he delivers is tailored to their needs.
Note that whilst he may be able to demonstrate the necessary presentation techniques in a Presentation exercise, this ability to frame messages in terms of what is most important to the audience is best illustrated by an example like this one.
Attitude – “Most of the resistance came from members of the sales force who liked to go out together for a drink after the weekly sales meeting. They had been doing this for years and it had become important for team morale even though it was ‘extra-curricular’ as far as the organisation was concerned. I realised quite early on that this was the real reason for many of the objections to the new virtual meeting, even though no one was prepared to come out and say so.
I decided that the best approach would be to re-schedule the monthly product training session, which everyone was obliged to attend. I moved this from a morning slot to an afternoon so that it finished at 5pm and everyone could go out and socialise afterwards. This went a long way to overcoming the spurious objections to the new system.”
This shows that John can:
Empathise with people and understand what is important to them even though they may not make this clear by what they say. This is a particularly good example of someone showing a high level of emotional intelligence. Had he not picked up on this, then the implementation of the new system would have been more expensive and time consuming, as the ‘spurious issues’ would have had to be dealt with, and this would still not have resolved the underlying problem.
No doubt John could have forced through the new system without re-scheduling the monthly product training session but by choosing to take a more sensitive approach he has saved the organisation a great deal of unnecessary pain - since many of the objections from the sales force were actually a proxy for the removal of the opportunity to socialise.
It is possible to argue about which aspects of John’s answers’ should be considered knowledge, skills, or attitude. For example, whether the interviewer considers the fact that John scheduled a comprehensive review of the new system, to show either ‘communication skills’ or a ‘pre-emptive attitude’ does not really matter. The fact remains that by answering the questions in terms of his KSAs, John gave himself the best possible opportunity to show that he had the necessary competency that was being assessed.
To summarise, if you take the KSA approach, you are pretty much guaranteed to tick more boxes on the interviewers score sheet. This is because your behaviours will demonstrate that you have the right competencies for the role. Provided that you have planned and practiced this approach in advance, your answers won’t sound contrived and you won’t miss any opportunity to demonstrate conclusively that you have the competency they are looking for.
You may also be interested in:
What is an Assessment Centre?
Who uses the Assessment Centre?
What are the Different Types of Assessment Centre?
What Format Does an Assessment Centre Take?
Who are the Assessors?
What are Assessment Centre Exercises?
What is an In-Tray Exercise?
What is a Presentation Exercise?
What are Group Exercises?
What are Role Play Exercises?