Recruitment: The benefits of assessment centres

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Recruitment can be difficult when references and CVs are inaccurate, so assessment centres can improve an employer's success when seeking new staff. Mark Slaski, chief psychologist at ConsultingTools, outlines the benefits.

Why focus on Selection and Assessment?

Remove people from an organisation and what remains? It's a well-worn saying but people really are an organisation's greatest asset. Research consistently shows that quality of staff and the way they work together are the biggest factors driving success and performance. We should, therefore, view as critical the methods by which we bring people into the organisation and their selection for key roles and promotion.

Despite huge advances in assessment centre methods, amazingly many staff are still recruited using the most basic techniques i.e. seeking references and conducting unstructured interviews. Experts have repeatedly demonstrated that references are biased and many interviews are flawed. Most interviewers receive no training, and tend to select individuals most like themselves, often relying on 'gut feel'. Evidence shows such techniques are a poor predictor of future success and performance.

Current Assessment Centre Methodology
Assessment centres bring objectivity to the selection process. Using a multi-dimensional approach, they allow for a greater range of knowledge, skills and abilities to be tested. The key is firstly to identify precise factors leading to current job success - known as 'competencies' - and secondly, to test and measure candidates for these competencies.

Assessment centres regularly employ numerous techniques to judge the candidate's 'fit' to the job role and organisational culture. These include:

  • Competency-based interviewing
  • Psychometrics; ability and personality
  • In-tray and written exercises
  • Role-plays and fact finds
  • Group problem solving exercises
  • Analysis Presentations
  • Situational judgement tests

Another advantage of a multi-dimensional approach is that candidates are not judged by one person, but usually a number of assessors, thus making the decision process more open and objective.

New Generation technology

Personality and Competency Mapping

Whilst personality psychometrics are established in assessing candidates' suitability for the job, traditional instruments have provided only a one-dimensional view of personality. These require the assessor to infer the most suitable personality characteristics for successful performance and cultural integration. New generation instruments such as Facet5 have developed new technologies whereby the personality of prospective incumbents are mapped onto an 'ideal' personality generated from profiling 'star-performers'.

As part of the automatic reporting process the 'best-fit' candidate can be identified. The report generates focussed questions that can be used during a behavioural or situational interview process to further explore a candidate's personality and behaviour. Furthermore, the instrument can link candidates' personality to strategic competencies such as: leadership, communication style, interpersonal style, analysis, decision making, initiative, planning and organisation. A 'best-fit' candidate can once again be identified against star-performance competencies.

360 Assessments
The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Until now past performance was usually judged via references or the candidate's own opinion; seldom are objective, quantifiable results available. In short, the evidence of past performance has been deemed unreliable, with references and CVs largely ignored. However, using new 360 technologies, assessors and recruiters are now able to explore past performance more objectively.

360 assessments were previously designed for large organisational projects, making them prohibitively expensive for use in assessment. New products such as Optima 360 can be used to evaluate even a single candidate. The principle is the same. A number of work colleagues from a previous organisation are emailed an online assessment and asked to rate the candidate's performance on a number of behavioural competencies. Systems are electronically managed and automatically generate the candidate’s score for each competency. If no competency framework currently exists the assessor can easily develop one from an extensive library built into the system. In this way substantial performance data can be added to the personality and assessment centre data for a more balanced view of a candidate’s potential for success.

Conclusion

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are constantly advertised via the internet in addition to the more traditional channels. The 'throughput' of applicants and candidates is, therefore, significantly increased. Selection tools and online assessments are a valuable and time-saving resource, not to mention their support to HR functions. It is taking time but they are set to gain recognition in the market for their accuracy and expediency as a necessary element of candidate assessment.

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23rd Jan 2007 11:44

I believe that companies need to streamline their recruitment process to attract the best candidates. As someone who has been "on the market" twice in the past 2 years, I find the increasingly extended recruitment process used by firms to be extremely frustrating.

In these particular circumstances, I was out of work and did not need to obtain time off.
However, for candidates who are in employment who need to use annual leave (and mine is often booked up months in advance), multiple interviews and assessment days cause a problem and you have to choose which interviews will make the best use of your valuable time.

I am an experienced and capable manager, and my past record and references prove the same. But I am not a good actress and I find the Group exercises in particular most frustrating.

I have never managed to get a job via an assessment centre, and if an agency tells me that one is involved, I now automatically tell them that I am no longer interested in the role. It's their loss.

I remember going to a 2 day centre a few years ago, where it was clear from our social time together that one particular candidate lacked confidence in interaction with real people. However, when it came to the Group exercise the following day, he took over the flip chart, and no one was allowed to get a word in edgeways. As he was the only one who was unemployed at the time, perhaps he was more desperate for the job than the rest of us but I don't know who the real person was.

I have recruited many staff based on interviews alone, and have found that when using competency based ones in accordance with company policy, these do not always select the most appropriate person either. One particular candidate that I was forced to accept due to the CB results, and subsequently proved to be inappropriate, admitted to me that she had lied as she had Played The Company Game so often in the past.

Give me a traditional interview every time, either as a candidate or as an employer.

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