What are Assessment Centre Exercises?

Over the many years that assessment centre’s have been used as part of the recruitment process a core group of exercises have become recognised as the best ones to assess a candidates’ competencies and behaviours. For some for the exercises you may know them by slightly different names and phrases, but for simplicity we have used the term most commonly for each exercise.

The majority of assessment centre exercises you will encounter fall into one of the following categories.

  • In-Tray & Justification

  • Presentations
     This includes such exercises as:

    • Flip-chart

    • Group Exercise

    • Impromptu

    • Prepared

    • Verbal Career

  • Group Exercises 
    This includes such exercises as:

    • Critical Incident

    • Organisational Issue

    • Problem Solving & Simulation

    • Written Output

  • Role-play

  • Media Interview

You may also encounter that several of the above exercises are combined together under one exercise e.g. a presentation exercise or written activity may be combined with a Problem Solving exercise. This can be an exercise undertaken by you on your own or as part of a group. Some Assessment centres also include a ‘Justification’ aspect within an In-tray exerciseMedia Interview exercise or Group Activity exercise. This can be to a single or panel of Assessors.

Any written aspects of the exercises will not involve extensive report writing but used as another method to assess your ability to demonstrate the required Competencies.

You should not make any assumptions or try to read more into it than is actually supplied for each exercise. Assessors will want to see how well you evaluate the information supplied and the appropriateness of your decision based on the scenario. The exercise is not usually designed to test your knowledge of a particular aspect but to assess how well you exhibit the required ‘Competencies’ and ‘Behaviours’ of someone in that role.

How can you ensure that you maximise your final score? The most effective way is through careful preparation and a thorough understanding of how you exhibit the roles Competencies and Behaviours. You must remember at all times to display the behaviours of someone already in that role, rather than those of your current level.

This is going to be most critical as you reach major points in your career:

  • Your first real job

  • Your first Managerial role, 

  • Your first Executive or Director post.

By looking at the opportunities each type of exercise gives you to display certain Competencies and Behaviours will help you identify where best to focus your own preparation. You must always keep in the forefront of your mind that each exercise will test how you will actually behave at that role level if the scenario were a real-life situation. In t your behaviours you must make certain that you:

  • Exhibit the correct level of knowledge, 

  • Display the right type of skills, and 

  • Demonstrate the essential attitudes of the role.

The more you are able to practice the exhibiting the right behaviours the greater your final score will be at the end of your Assessment centre. There are some exercises that are easier to emulate than others but any preparation you are able to do will greatly enhance your success as specific competencies are being tested in several exercises.

You must remember that the scenarios used in any of the exercises will be based on real-life situations. Experience has consistently shown those using Assessment centre’s that those individuals who score well in such exercises will perform well when they are working in the role. In fact the exercises are designed to see how you ‘behave’ in a certain situation and whether or not your exhibit the Organisation’s required competencies for that role.

Such exercises are also excellent at measuring an individual’s capacity to adapt their behaviour to different situations e.g. internal issues, external problems, working alone or within a group.

Obviously, you cannot predict exactly how much information you will be given in each exercise and if it will be sufficient for you to make the ‘correct’ decision. Nor will you know whether it’s based on a ‘real-life’ scenario or a fictitious one. This uncertainty or lack of realism causes many candidates problems are as a result they perform badly.

So you must focus on using displaying the required Competencies and Behaviours for your Role and you can do this by asking yourself three simple questions as you read the brief.

  • What Knowledge..... can I demonstrate to the Assessors?

  • What Skill

  • What Attitude

As with all tests and exercises you can greatly improve your scores through diligent practice, you can't afford to leave anything to chance. You should also keep in mind that if you are applying for a more technical or strategic role you can expect the exercises to reflect this need in the nature of the exercise and should prepare or review your knowledge in this area appropriate to the position you are applying for.

This is extremely important because the exercises are your only opportunity to show the Assessor’s that you can behave appropriately for the role. The research you do as part of your preparation into the Organisation is processes and values will be invaluable when deciding the Competencies your future role requires.

Useful Items to take to your assessment centre
For all of the exercises it is vital that you use your time most effectively and the behaviours you portray illustrate this skill and how it ensures that you achieve the assigned task. So ask if you can take in post it notes, highlighter pens or a calculator to help you efficiently perform the required task. If you can do nothing else make sure that you ask for some scrap paper to make your own notes on.

Whatever method is available to you use it to minimise time wasting activities of continually thumbing through the handouts. For example, you can use post-it notes to jot things down on, and to help you prioritise the items in the in-tray exercise.

  • Several different coloured pens

  • Pencils rubber

  • Highlighters

  • Post-it notes

  • Scrap paper

  • Calculator

Finally, be wary of falling into the trap of making a hasty decision or selecting any answer just to provide an answer. If you feel it is appropriate for the nature of the question to select an answer such as: 

  • ‘None of the above’ or,

  • ‘I’d want to delay my decision till I had more time.’

Then do so if you feel the other answers are inappropriate behaviour for a person in that role and that you would want more detailed information before making a decision. Remember the assessment centre exercises are assessing how well you’d perform in the role not how well you currently work so it is vital that you think and act like someone in the role throughout the day.

For each of the following exercise chapters a certain level of awareness and knowledge is assumed on the general nature of each exercise prior to reading this section. There are a large number of books and websites which provide you with a greater depth of knowledge and instruction, as well as, hints and tips, for each topic area.

As you work through each of the exercise descriptions below you will be reminded of situations you have been involved with or seen, which you will be able to add into your Portfolio as an example of how an issue was dealt with. It will serve to remind you of the correct behaviours to exhibit when you are faced with a similar situation. It is important that you take every opportunity to expand your portfolio.

Similarly, as you work through each exercise description you may see or become aware of new behaviours required in circumstances. As you review your performance you will be able to add the necessary details to your Index cards, which become an evolutionary learning aid, bringing you ever closer to your goal. In this way you will more easily be able to show the assessors that you possess the required competencies and behaviours.

Pass Assessment CEnter