What is meant by assessment centre behaviors and KSA's?

We need to consider what exactly is meant by the term ‘behaviours’ and how this can be related to the competencies required for the role. To do this, we need to introduce the concept of KSAs. This term was defined in the Assessment Center Definitions table as: Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Attitudes that are required for competency.

What does this actually mean and why are KSAs important?

If you then break down each of the KSA components and their individual dictionary definitions you get the following:

  • KNOWLEDGE – something that you have learned or discovered

  • SKILL – the ability to do something well.

  • ABILITY – being able to do something, a talent

  • ATTRIBUTE – a quality or characteristic

Unfortunately these definitions make it very hard to decipher exactly how a 'skill', something you're good at, is different from an 'ability', which is something you are talented at. The only difference is 'doing it well', but this is not a very clear distinction and makes it extremely difficult to work out whether things are a skill, an ability or an attribute.

Over the years, other definitions of KSA have appeared. Their overall meanings are very similar but each organisation or author has given the individual components their own personal definition that reflects their particular interpretation.

If you search for KSA definitions using the Internet you will get a multitude of definitions and descriptions as there is no universal definition of either the acronym itself or the individual components.

In the absence a of a universally accepted definition of KSAs, we will use definitions of knowledge, skills and attitudes designed specifically to help you prepare for the assessment centre exercises and take into account how an assessor will be judging you.

In each of the exercises the assessors want to see you exhibit the behaviours that are seen as essential for the job and they will be assessing your behaviours using the following criteria:

  • Knowledge – Do you have the knowledge necessary for the role? This will encompass: technical, procedural and organisational knowledge as well as knowledge of the market, your competitors etc

  • Skill – Can you exhibit the necessary skills at the appropriate level during the assessment day? Skills include things like: written and verbal communication, negotiating ability, analytical ability, judgement, etc.

  • Attitude – Do you show the appropriate attitude to the situation or scenario being played out in the assessment centre exercise. This affects how you interact with others and how you are perceived by them..

Whenever you are considering your approach to a particular exercise you should think in terms of demonstrating the appropriate KSAs. For example, suppose that you are given an in-tray exercise in which you have to deal with incoming correspondence and telephone calls. The exercise involves you reading through a series of emails and prioritising them and then responding as appropriate.

You could approach this exercise in one of two different ways.

Firstly, and this is the approach that most candidates would take. You simply try to do your best with the material you are given. You work through the material systematically and prioritise it and reply as appropriate. In this approach, the material itself becomes the focus of your efforts.

The second approach is fundamentally different. You use each piece of material to demonstrate one or more of your KSAs. You will still need to work through the material systematically, prioritise it and reply as appropriate. However in this approach, demonstrating your KSAs is the focus of your efforts and the material itself is a means to that end.

People who succeed at assessment centres are almost always using the second approach. Because they are using the exercises as vehicles to demonstrate their KSAs they will invariably ‘tick more boxes’ on the assessors forms.

You may also be interested in: What is an Assessment Centre, Types of Assessment Centre, Competencies and Behaviours, Assessment Centre Exercises, In-Tray Exercise, Presentation Exercise, Group Exercises and Role Play Exercises.


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