What are the Different Types of Assessment Centre?

The assessment centre process is used for graduate recruitment, management selection and staff development. In all of these cases the process itself is very similar and a candidate for any of these would prepare themselves in more or less the same way.

Having said that, there are really four types of assessment centre and whilst they share many characteristics, there are some distinct differences.

It is worth looking at these in detail because these differences will adjust your mindset depending on which type you are attending.

The four types are:

  1. The Elite Graduate Assessment Centre

  2. The Graduate Assessment Centre

  3. The Management Assessment Centre

  4. The Development Centre


The Elite Graduate Assessment Centre
This type of assessment centre is used exclusively by top-flight management consultancies, Fortune 100 companies and the most prestigious Government agencies. The one thing that these organisations have in common is that being accepted onto their graduate/management fast track programme will change your life dramatically. Starting salaries are very attractive and the training programmes and work opportunities offered are invariably world-class. In short, once you have been accepted onto their graduate scheme, money and career worries will become a thing of the past provided that you can keep pace with what is demanded from you.

There is no universally-accepted agreement of who these elite organisations are, but they have several things in common which mark them out. Their own marketing will focus on how their people are the best and they will make a virtue out of how difficult it is to get onto their graduate scheme. In addition:

They recruit exclusively from top universities*They specify very high academic achievements as a minimum requirementThey make no secret of the high-level of remunerationThey expect total commitment from successful candidates

*The current fashion for ‘embracing diversity’ means that these organisations may now cast the net slightly wider and allow the occasional candidate from a second-tier university. This may be because they genuinely believe that diversity is a good thing or it may be because they feel that they need to be seen to be doing something to attract a more diverse range of candidates.

Not surprisingly, the competition for these graduate placements is intense. There are typically several dozen applicants for each place on offer. This is true even when the world economy is booming and these organisations are recruiting at their maximum level. During hard times, these elite organisations tend to cut-back dramatically on their recruitment as most of them are heavily reliant on other organisations being economically successful enough to fund expansion, mergers, acquisitions, etc.  

The one thing that epitomizes the Elite Graduate assessment centre is the fact that there are a large number of very similar candidates for each available place on the programme. This bears repeating because it is the one factor, which really sets these assessment centres apart from the other three types.

By the time a list of very similar candidates has been through the initial selection process involving CVs and interviews and has been shortlisted for the assessment centre, they are as homogenous a group of people as you could expect to find anywhere.

They are all aged between 21-25 (most will be 21-22)They all have similar degrees and educational achievementsThey have all attended one of a handful of universitiesThey all have a list of similarly impressive ‘personal achievements’*

*In the absence of any full-time work experience the selectors will have been looking at part time work experience, sporting accomplishments, charity work, etc which together make up the list of ‘personal achievements’. These are important because the selectors don’t have any other way of establishing which soft-skills the candidates have, and the best that they can do is to infer these from this list.

The Graduate Assessment Centre
The graduate assessment centre is used by many organisations to recruit their annual intake for their graduate/management programme. Most of these organisations will be household names, but they won’t have the ‘wow’ factor of the elite organisations either in terms of the initial remuneration or future prospects. These organisations are typified by high street banks, public utilities and the less prestigious government departments.

Many of these organisations mimic the marketing messages of the elite organisations, but common sense and experience should tell you that a public utility or insurance company cannot possibly offer the same prospects as an international management consultancy or an investment bank.

Competition is not as fierce as for the elite programmes and the bar is set lower in terms of academic achievement. These organisations typically cast their net much wider and arguably they take the issue of diversity more seriously.

The practical effect of this is that the assessment centre process tends to be more objective that at the elite organisations. To be sure, the candidates are usually from broadly similar backgrounds but there will often be significant differences in their levels of ‘personal achievements’ and consequently in the competencies they are able to demonstrate.

The Management Assessment Centre
Management assessment centre candidates tend to be far more diverse that those attending a graduate assessment centre in terms of age, educational achievements, personal achievements, and work experience.

The management assessment centre differs from the graduate assessment centre in that all of the candidates will have significant full-time work experience. Some may be graduates, some may not, but all of them will be looking to take a step up in their level of responsibility. This could be a promotion from a supervisory role to a management role or it could be a promotion from a management role to a senior management role.

This means that even though the candidates all have significant experience of full-time work and have a track record in their jobs so far, they are all seeking promotion to roles where not only will their responsibilities be greater than they have been, but the nature of those responsibilities will be different.

For example, many candidates who have been in supervisory roles will have spent most of their working day actually producing deliverables as well as a portion of their day in supervisory activities. For most, the promotion to management means that the nature of their work will change so that they spend all of their time managing the activities of others rather than producing things themselves.

Similarly, candidates who are moving from a management role to a senior management role will need to begin thinking far more strategically and be prepared to delegate the ‘tactical’ decision making that they have grown used to making themselves.

In both cases, the assessment centre process is trying to determine whether candidates can demonstrate competencies at the next level up from the one they are used to.

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