How to Organize and Run an Assessment Center
What makes a business successful? Ask this question and the most probable answers would be a sound business proposition and a solid business plan, having enough funding to start and operate the business, and having a viable product or service. Some would even say that investing in relevant technologies is also vital. More often than not, they miss one element: manpower.
A business cannot succeed, let alone start operating, without people. And we are not talking about just any random people called in from the streets and hired to become managers, rank-and-file employees, workers, and even customer service representatives. We are talking about the right people who are the right fit to the organization.
In order to get the right people to drive the organization, there is a need to invest in the recruitment process. For that, the business needs an assessment center that is run properly and effectively.
In this article, I will explore 1) the assessment center and 2) how to organize and run an assessment center.
THE ASSESSMENT CENTER
An assessment center can be easily defined as a physical place where people are tested and interviewed for a job. However, it also refers to the process in which a group of people who are being considered for a position or a job are given a series of tests or interviews. We will focus on the latter definition.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, only one out of three companies makes use of assessment centers when recruiting personnel from a pool of applicants. Many businesses, especially startups that are on a tight budget, are not completely in on the idea of investing in an assessment center. After all, they are supposed to cut costs or put a great bulk of their available funding towards product development and other areas that they deem more important than hiring people.
What they fail to realize is that all those areas or functions will not be accomplished without the right people performing the tasks required.
Benefits of an Assessment Center
You will get a better understanding of the importance of an assessment center if you are made aware of the benefits of having one.
An assessment center will make the results of the selection process objective, fair and transparent. There are many businesses that follow a standard recruitment process – often set by the industry they belong to – when selecting applicants. There is definitely nothing wrong with this plan, but a problem arises when there are aspects that cannot be addressed by the standardized process.
Using an assessment center will yield more accurate results in the selection process, since it allows the business to employ more selection methods, beyond what is in the standard recruitment process. The range of selection methods is broader, increasing the likelihood of the company pinning the right person for the job.
An assessment center will ensure that you will hire the best possible candidate for the job, based on their qualifications, skills, and competencies. This process enables interviewers or the selection panel to have a more objective view when evaluating the existing performance of the applicant, since all the information they need will be provided. They will also be able to predict the job performance of the applicant in the future, just by looking at the current and past job performances of the applicant.
This is a common scenario: more than two people will be applying for a single position. Certainly, the selection process will be easier if there are only a handful of applicants to choose from, but in case of applicants numbering by the dozen, hundreds, or even thousands, the main problem encountered by the selection team is differentiation.
Through an assessment center, it will be easier to assess and differentiate between and among the applicants. Screening those with similar qualifications will be faster, and you do not have to wade through a room full of resumes and application letters.
An assessment center is more cost-effective in the long run. While it is true that the business will have to invest outright on an assessment center, the long-term benefits will outweigh that cost.
Say, for example, that the company does not have a proper recruitment process in place. Instead, it decides to play things “by ear”, and this often results in too many recruitment phases, most of which are redundant and unnecessary.
Recruitment errors are also likely to occur, and this is also going to cost you more money. The worst recruitment error that you can possibly commit without an assessment center is hiring the wrong people for the job. They are incompetent, and they cannot do the job they were supposed to. Thus, they won’t be able to deliver on their tasks, and productivity will go down. This means you will be paying the salary and benefits of people that are unable to do anything in return for your company.
An assessment center can be considered as the first training of new employees or new members of the organization. During the selection process, all applicants will be subjected to a series or battery of exercises. These can already be counted as training for the incoming employees, even if it is still unknown who among them will be selected. Through the exercises, the candidates will have a better insight on their role or their functions when they do get hired by the company.
An assessment center increases the probabilities of longer term placements. A high turnover rate of employees is indicative of many problems within the organization, and it will also decrease efficiency and productivity while increasing the costs of training new people every now and then. If you have a proper recruitment process in place and it has been performed through an effectively run assessment center, you will also save a lot of money in having to perform the selection process repeatedly.
An assessment center will guarantee that your selection is in alignment with your overall business goals and objectives. With an assessment center, you can pretty much tailor the recruitment process depending on the needs of the company. As opposed to simply relying on a standard recruitment process, an assessment center will take into consideration the diversity of organizations, and integrate that into the process.
Having an assessment center will improve the reputation of the company. Businesses may also use assessment centers to build an employer brand. The public, not just the applicants, is likely to be impressed by a company that has a stringent selection process. Even those that have been rejected are still likely to think highly of a company that puts a lot of effort in its recruitment process.
HOW TO ORGANIZE AND RUN AN ASSESSMENT CENTER
When you set up an assessment center, you should not be haphazard about it. You should design the assessment center in such a way that:
- It reflects the brand recruitment culture and philosophy of your organization. What does the organization want to establish in choosing its members? What message does it want to convey to the market by hiring this or that type of person?
- It reflects the human resource or HR strategy employed by the organization. Human resource management is a vital arm of any company, so the HR strategy must be in line with how the assessment process was carried out.
- It clearly presents the skills that are required for the job. This is best demonstrated by the tasks or activities used in the assessment. There should be a clear connection between the job description and the specifications of the person that will be assigned the job.
- The selection process is fair. All the candidates or applicants should be given equal and enough opportunity to shine. You can do this by designing the activities and exercises in a manner that gives the ample time and opportunity to show what they are capable of.
Unfortunately, not all assessment centers are successful. Some complete the process and accomplish people placement, but they fall short of expectations. The employee turned out to be a wrong fit for the job, or it turns out that the design of the assessment center was faulty from the very beginning.
An assessment center can only succeed if it is run properly. Let us take a look at some of the steps that you should take to run an assessment center and make it a success.
Step 1. Choose credible and qualified members for your panel of assessors.
One of the best things you can do is to invite a selection of key personnel from different departments of the business. An advantage of this is their familiarity with the operations of the business. They know what is needed, so they are in a better position to select who will fill that need.
Or the business can opt not to engage its existing key personnel and choose people specifically for the assessment center. If that is the case, it is important that the people to be included in the team be trained in recruitment and assessment, especially when it comes to recognizing competencies and experience.
Getting the perfect balance can be quite tricky, which is why it is frequently advised that you combine internal and external assessors. Get people that are already within the company, and hire new blood. This will ensure that you have people that are familiar with the business and its requirements, and that you also have new people who will lend objectivity and transparency to the recruitment process.
Step 2. Identify the competencies that will be measured.
Competencies are defined as the measurable or quantifiable abilities, behaviors, knowledge and skills that are critical in the success of performing a job. Knowledge pertains to the theoretical understanding of applicants about the job; abilities and skills are their innate capacities to perform the tasks; and behavior refers to a person’s overall conduct or the sum of his or her actions.
Competencies are basically what the job entails or requires from applicants. You can say that the entire assessment center will be founded or based on competencies. They are used for workforce planning and staffing, and assessing candidates for a job and making the final selection. Once selection is over, the company has to implement employee training and development, and competencies will also be used. They will remain in use even after that, since they also play an important role in periodically assessing and managing employee performance.
To identify competencies, a job analysis is called for. This means that you have to consider the most critical functions of the job or position you are trying to fill, and find out what the person has to possess in order to perform those functions.
Once you have identified the competencies, you will have to narrow them down. Limit the competencies to those that are relevant or those that you want to measure. Be realistic about this: as much as you want to measure all the competencies you have identified earlier, that would be impractical, not to mention tedious and time-consuming. By limiting the competencies, you can concentrate on the aspects that really matter.
There really is no fixed number of competencies that you should stick to. The number and level of competencies will ultimately depend on the nature of the job and the complexity of the duties and responsibilities that come with it.
Step 3. Design tests, exercises and activities.
The tests, exercises and activities must match the competencies that you want to measure. It won’t make much sense if the exams and other tests you will subject the applicants to have nothing whatsoever to do in assessing whether they have the competencies that the job requires or not.
For example, you are going to fill up a managerial position in the Sales Team, and two of the competencies you have identified are team building and sales planning. Therefore, the tests should be designed to reveal whether the applicant has these two competencies or not. A written examination or requiring a sales presentation will nicely showcase the applicant’s knowledge on sales and distribution. Observing the applicant’s interaction with a group through simulated exercises will be a good exercise to assess his ability to foster teamwork and lead a cohesive sales unit.
They should be designed to determine present job skills. This increases the predictive value of the assessment center. By using the information acquired on the current (and past, if any) job skills, it will be easier to predict future job performance of the applicants.
You want to give all candidates a chance to shine. To do this, you should employ a variety of activities. Some of the activities you can use include:
- Psychometric tests. These types of tests are useful in predicting future performance. These measure the aptitude of applicants, and involve tests on numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, as well as diagrammatic reasoning. Not only do psychometric tests measure the mental capabilities of an individual, they also give assessors a look at his behavioral style.
Another psychometric test that is slowly gaining popularity is the SJT, or the Situational Judgment Test. It is aimed at assessing how the individual will approach potential situations that are encountered in the workplace.
- Reference checks. This should actually be a must in all recruitment processes. You have to check on the accuracy and veracity of the information indicated on the resume of the applicant, particularly the work experience section.
- Practical examinations or tests. This is similar to the SJT, but is more specific. Provide a scenario that is specific to the position or the job. This is where the assessment center can be even more flexible in designing its tests or exercises, tweaking things to suit the needs of the position and the company.
In the illustration given above, applicants for a Sales Manager position will be made to choose a random item or object from their bags. They will then be required to make an on-the-spot sales pitch; the objective: sell that item to a member of the selection panel, or one of the other applicants.
Another simulation you can apply is a leader-less group discussion. This will display how they do during group discussions, how they interact with others, and how creative and decisive they are with sharing ideas. You will be able to assess if they have managerial or leadership skills.
- Give them a scenario, or provide them with fictional documents. Both should have a problem that needs to be resolved. They will then give an oral presentation on how to solve that problem. This type of test will demonstrate the applicant’s oral communication skills (which is important in being a manager and being in the Sales Team) and to assess the level of their confidence and professionalism.
- This involves the candidate and the selection panel meeting face to face. All recruitment processes have an interview phase, and this is where the assessors can ask pretty much anything they want to the applicant.
There are instances when exercises are designed to provoke the competitive spirit of applicants. Remember that you want to let your candidates shine, but it should not be to the extent that they will negatively affect the performance of the other candidates. As much as possible, try to avoid group exercises, especially if they pit candidates against one another.
Step 4. Establish a timetable, and follow it.
This is especially important if you will have to deal with multiple applicants. Plan out a schedule for the assessment center so that you and the applicants will not waste time, money and other resources.
Once you have a timetable, make sure that you stick to it. Cancelling and rescheduling can be very stressful, not to mention wasteful. Therefore, you should put more careful thought when you draw up a schedule for the assessment center.
Step 5. Provide feedback.
It is a given that you will be giving feedback to those that have been selected. But you should also make it a point to provide feedback even to the unsuccessful candidates. Not only is it a common courtesy, it will also add credibility and transparency to your assessment center, and to your company as a whole. As mentioned earlier, your employer brand will get a boost and you will improve your reputation of having a fair and objective recruitment process. It will also aid the unsuccessful applicants in their other attempts of being recruited in other companies.
Clearly, deciding on which person should perform a specific job is not something that should be done randomly, especially if you are determined to make your business succeed. Hire the best people and they will help pave the way towards the achievement of your business goals.
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