Hands up who loves the idea of applying for a new job or a promotion and knowing that, in addition to a 1:1 interview and probable tests, you are going to be asked to go through an Assessment Centre?

Don’t panic: best foot forward! Truth be told, this is your best chance to shine, your best prospect for instantly raising your profile, and your best opportunity to get ahead of the field.

Assessment Centres are usually designed by a combination of an organisation and specialist external providers. They are intended to measure individuals against agreed criteria – usually a behavioural and/or technically-based competence framework – in order to evaluate the best fit for a role.

Essentially, they have the slipper and you provide the prospective Cinderella. We’re not the Ugly Sisters, but we can help you put on your best performance and minimise the chances of pantomime. If you are going to arrive at the Assessment Centre with your best foot forward, there are therefore some preliminary steps.

Step 1: find out from the organisation what the Assessment Centre consists of. It will usually be a mix of interview, role–play, psychometric tests, and presentation.

Step 2: Ask what behavioural and technical competences you are being measured against? Whether or not they are prepared to give you the definition of the competences they are using, just having the initiative to ask the question will put you way ahead of the game.

Step 3: If you can get the competence data ahead of the centre, you will clearly see what they are after by looking through the definitions of the competence. Most of these headings will be generic: you’ll see headings such as leadership, influencing skills, communication, strategic thinking and so on. Even where this data is not forthcoming, you can still make a fairly accurate assessment yourself of how these areas are typically defined. Any search engine will point you in the right direction of what defines behavioural competence.

Step 4: Crucially, work out your ‘me’ strategy. How are you going to present yourself at your first handshake, the start up cup of coffee or the ‘get to know you’ introductions? The assessment will, after all, often be your first contact with the organisation.

From the earliest point onwards, be ready. We’d advise you not to try to act your way to success: not just because, ultimately, ’competence will out’ but also bear in mean you’re being assessed for ‘best fit’. You might be able to act a certain part for a day, but could you keep it up if you ‘got the part’? And would you want to? So be yourself – albeit the most polished and well prepared version: in short, the best you can be while still operating within your own personality style and preference.

Step 5: Lighten the load! Assessment centres typically last one day. The assessor team will be made up of both internal and external assessors. To maximise fairness and objectivity as far as possible, a properly designed centre will ensure that each assessor observes or interacts with each candidate at least twice. Think about how the assessors are going to feel. Their timetable will probably include at least 3 interviews, 3 role-plays, and 3 presentations. Followed by a review of all psychometric data and a ‘wash-up’ session to appraise all the candidates. Ask yourself what can you do to make your approach to these assessments different that may – in the nicest possible way – interrupt the ‘losing the will to live’ syndrome the assessors may well be feeling by the end of the day. Be remembered for being you, but also be remembered for being just a little different.

Step 6: A properly designed Assessment Centre will always ensure measurement is against the assessment criteria or set of competences. This should be your focus, not competing with the other candidates – it is not each other that you are ultimately being compared against.

Do not allow yourself to be distracted by what I often observe as the ‘who can we get evicted from the house/island/jungle game.’ Reality TV may be everywhere nowadays, but the format has yet to invade (reputable) assessment centres.

Ask yourself this: if I was an assessor from an importing organisation, would I be content just to take the best of a rum bunch – the organisational equivalent of Kerry Katona or Joe Pasquale?

Hands up who wants that? Do you?

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