Love them or loathe them, assessment centres are here to stay. Companies love them because they’re both cost effective and far more reliable indicators of whether a candidate is up to the role than the traditional interview process. But they’re not anywhere near as popular with applicants, especially those who sometimes struggle to make a positive enough impact when going through them.

So let me take you through ten assessment centre behaviours that you must avoid…

Not trusting the competition – There will be more candidates than jobs so the tendency with some is to view other applicants as ‘enemies’. Assessors will soon clock this and – if one of the skills they are looking for is ‘working with others’ – you’re certainly not going to be making the right impression. So make friends when you first enter and get people talking. Ask questions, make friends. Despite their outward appearance, other candidates may well be as nervous as you.

Look at me everybody!  Some candidates think that by dominating every exercise and relentlessly pushing themselves in front of the assessors, they will be a natural ‘shoo-in’ for the job. Wrong! As Richard Edwards at The House of Commons so neatly puts it: ‘Don’t be a brooding Tiberius, but also don’t act like a martinet.’ It’s corny but be yourself and take the opportunities to contribute naturally.

Don’t look at me everybody! – Occasionally, there are applicants who seem to be working on the philosophy of ‘It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.’ You have to contribute to discussions during the exercises and play your part. Do you need to interrupt someone who is dominating things? Do so by using their name and then stating your point. Buy yourself time by saying, ’There are two thoughts I’d like to share…’ It’s funny, but most people hear both points out when you say this.

Time out?  Some applicants just do not take in information given about timing. Just like an exam, if you’re given an exercise to do then immediately work out what time you need to allocate to each phase of that exercise. Remember that one of the skills they might be looking for is your ability to prioritise. Screw up the timing on an exercise and you may have just earned yourself a big fat zilch on the assessor’s score sheet.

I’m just not listening – Many instructions for exercises are given verbally. It’s crucial that you take notes and ask questions if you think you may not understand. Will asking questions lower your chances? Quite the reverse, it shows that you have attention to detail and the self-confidence to clarify what you’re hearing.

Time for a rest – Remember that assessors will be watching you most of the time. In one airline’s assessment centre they ask candidates to give presentations, but assessors are really watching the non-presenters to see how positively they listen to the person who’s presenting. One candidate, I remember, casually took out their mobile and started texting! This is why being natural is also important; relax, concentrate on the task in hand and let the assessors always see you composed and involved.

Presentation horror – You’re probably going to have to give a presentation and this is where candidates can quickly become unstuck. If you’re given ten minutes – keep to ten minutes. Amdocs’ HR Business Partner, Lynne Jorritsma-Carter, recalled: ’We sometimes ask candidates to have a five minute presentation to give us a brief overview of themselves. I’ve known one person arrive with a ten page PowerPoint which took 15 minutes. Painful!’ So don’t just practise the content – get the timings right too.

Sorry, what’s this company’s name again?  One of the most popular questions that kicks off many an assessment centre interview is, ’What do you know about us?’ Know the three most important things you can do before an assessment centre? Research, research and research. Going through the company website is just the starting point. Talk to others, look up press releases, scour LinkedIn. You will probably not need everything you find out, but you will be informed and ready to discuss their business – and that’s a real plus in any assessment centre.

Shall I get my coat now? – It’s early in the assessment centre and you feel you’ve just messed up on an exercise. Do you throw the towel in now? No! As Liz Bolton at IMG Media points out, ’It is rare candidates perform well in all of the exercises set, so accept some parts of the day will go better than others. If one exercise goes badly, don’t let it affect the rest of your performance during the day.’

Sabotage!  You know the types, they think that if they can belittle and sabotage the contributions others make then it increases their chances of success. Sorry? Every assessment centre will usually be looking for team players; destructive behaviour is what they’re desperate to keep out! So genuinely listen to the points made by others. Build on the contributions of others and use them in your own thinking. As MedImmune’s Liz Welch so cleverly points out: ’See group discussions as an opportunity to stand out rather than impress. These are two different things!’

About the Author

  • About Michael Heath: Popular Trainer and Writer Michael Heath is the author of ’40 Interview Icebergs and How to Sail Around Them’, a book written specifically for job hunters detailing the 40 most common application and interview errors candidates make and how to avoid them.

Michael Heath

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