I’ve observed two different assessment days recently where the exercises chosen by the client didn’t effectively test the candidates.
In the first, they were recruiting to an executive level role using off-the shelf tools and in the other to a role on a committee, using a bespoke exercise.
In the first assessment centre, generic exercises were chosen to create a level playing field amongst the candidates, who were both internal and external to the organisation. The problem was, the exercise was just too easy with all the candidates doing pretty well in it.
In the second assessment centre, the exercise had been designed to replicate the role on offer but too much technical information and terminology was included. This put a number of candidates at a disadvantage because they hadn’t worked in a directly similar role before – and they all performed poorly.
Having all candidates perform well in an exercise is just as unhelpful as having all of them fail. You’re no further forward in determining who is the most suitable for your role
So how do you choose the right assessment exercises for the job?
An assessment centre refers to any activity where you use more than one face-to-face exercise to measure candidates’ abilities. Face-to-face means not only interviews or observing behaviour but any psychometric tests you might conduct onsite.
There are a huge number of exercises on the market. You can also design your own. This means there’s almost no limit to your options.
Here’s how to refine your choice to ensure you get the right exercise for your purposes.
- How many times will you use it?
Off-the-shelf practical exercises, like a role-play, are paid for on a per candidate per exercise basis, typically costing from £30 per candidate. This means that if you’re only planning to use this exercise once or twice, choosing an off-the shelf tools makes sense. However if you plan to use the exercise often, it’s more cost-effective to design your own.
- What is the role you’re recruiting to?
Clearly any exercise needs to be relevant to the role on offer. What competencies are you measuring? For instance, if you’re recruiting to a managerial role you might want to test candidates’ ability to have a conversation about performance with a member of their team.
- What style of exercise do you need?
Given the role in question, does the exercise need to be written or oral? Does it need to be on their own, one-to-one or in a group? This helps you work out if you need an analysis exercise or a role-play for example.
- Who are the likely candidates?
Think about what sort of people might be applying for this role. What level are they at currently? How clever or capable are they? How difficult should the exercise be? Many off-the-shelf tools give you a menu to choose from depending on the level of the role from operational to executive. Remember too, though, that ‘executive’ can mean different things in different organisations.
Consider also what their current role might entail. For instance, at the second assessment centre many candidates failed the written report exercise, not surprising since their current role was a practical, hands-on one without much call for writing lengthy reports.
- Testing the exercise
Whether it’s an off the shelf or bespoke exercise, it’s a good idea to test it before using it. Depending on whether you expect internal applications to the vacancy, you could get someone in the same or similar role or a line manager within your organisation to sit the exercise – getting their feedback on how easy or difficult and how relevant it was.
- Preparation is key
To get the best out of your exercises make sure you prepare candidates effectively. By this, I don’t mean telling them exactly what to expect, but it’s a good idea to give them a sense of what you’re looking to measure e.g. team-working skills and the type of exercise – written, observed behaviour etc. This means you get a better chance to see and measure how they really perform rather than just how they deal with the unexpected.
So when you’re next thinking about using an exercise to test your candidates’ abilities, remember that if you make it too easy or difficult it can make it hard to spot the best candidate for the role. By taking these steps you can make sure you have the right exercise for your needs, which will help you make the right hiring decision.