Employers rate assessment centres as worth the high cost

More than nine out of 10 employers using assessment centres believe they are a very (47%) or fairly (48%) effective means of recruiting staff to fill vacancies, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.

The survey of HR practitioners in 91 companies and public sector bodies also found that more than half (53%) believe the often considerable costs of assessment centres are justified.

Assessment centres bring job applicants together in a group so they can be subject to a range of selection methods including group exercises and role play, individual interviews and psychometric tests.

The research shows that the median cost – the point where half the organisations taking part spent more and half spent less than this sum – of setting up and running an assessment centre is £225 for every candidate invited to participate.

One in four organisations spent £500 or more, while a further one in four spent £100 or less.

Vacancies for senior managers (£212 per candidate) and senior specialist and technical staff (£212) were the most expensive to fill through assessment centres, possibly because the process was likely to be longer and more rigorous, while those for line managers (£125) were cheapest.

Private sector services companies were most enthusiastic about assessment centres, with 56% believing them to be very effective. Just under half (47%) of public sector organisations agreed, but fewer than one in three (29%) of manufacturing companies was keen on them.

Employers interview, test and do role plays

Job applicants invited to an assessment centre can expect to go through at least one interview during the session, and should prepare themselves for a range of group events ranging from problem-solving exercises to role play, the survey shows.

About three-quarters of employers questioned for the research used group exercises (77%), role play (69%) and psychometric testing (69%). Most also expect candidates to undertake a written analysis exercise (61%) and make a presentation (54%).

But the research also reveals that some standard features of the traditional assessment centre are now in decline. “Trial by sherry” – the once ubiquitous social event at which candidates were assessed in more covert ways – is now a feature of just one in four sentres.

There has also been a sharp decline in the use of in-tray exercises, during which candidates are expected to work their way through a range of written work. These now feature in just 15% of assessment centres.

Graduates are biggest target for assessment

Two-thirds (64%) of employers using assessment centres deploy them as part of their graduate recruitment programmes.

The findings show that employers also typically use assessment centres when selecting senior managers (60%) or middle managers (62%). Fewer than half those recruiting line managers (46%) use this approach, however.

Responsibility for conducting assessment centres fell to HR (94%) and line managers (86%) in almost all organisations taking part in the study.

About one in five employers used external or internal psychologists, while 23% used staff who had previously participated as candidates, and 11% used external management consultants.

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