Using assessment centres to cherry pick staff is fine if the assessors are up to the job. But with horror stories aplenty, isn't it time for a code of practice as well as more involvement from employers? Caroline Horn reports
Assessment centres have become one of the most popular tools in selecting new recruits, with more than 30 per cent of companies now believed to use them. They are used to test a range of competencies among a group of candidates - or sometimes individuals - through a series of varied exercises, with candidates monitored and assessed by a number of trained observers. The process gives the candidates a number of different opportunities to demonstrate their strengths. In this way, a company hopes it is getting the right person for the job.
But what is sometimes forgotten during the assessments is the candidates themselves. Roy Davis, head of communications for SHL, which develops and provides assessment solutions, says, "Candidates are the most important person in the process. The first thing they should be asking for is feedback, because that is how they learn from the process."
Sarah Macpherson, senior consultant with CGR Business Psychologists, adds, "If assessment centres are well managed, they can be a very positive experience and an individual can learn a lot about themselves.
Even if they don't get the job, good feedback can help them to find out which areas they need to do more work on. But if the experience is negative, it can knock the candidate's confidence and knock back their job search."
Power of word of mouth
When candidates leave assessment centres feeling that the exercise and feedback have been poorly managed, that has ramifications for the potential employer, since the candidates are quite likely to share the experience with friends and colleagues.
Macpherson explains, "In small communities, word goes around and other candidates will refuse to go to a badly-run assessment centre." It is a poor advertisement for the potential employer.
Should the candidate's impression be correct, it will have also been an expensive mistake for the employer - not just the wasted cost of the assessment itself but in the development of the company.