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Assessment Centres and Psychometric Testing Friend or Foe?

Assessment Centres and Psychometric Testing Friend or Foe?


This month we try to unravel the mystery (or some may say misery) of assessment centres and interview techniques. As the job market becomes more competitive companies are tending to conduct assessment centres for job placement and also for development purposes.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

These assessments may involve psychometric tests. Many of us may have experienced assessment centres when applying for new positions however there are few people who attend these centres who really enjoy them. For some the assessment centre can be a barrier for them in applying for a new job. Psychometric and personality tests are often the tests that people are most wary of as employees outside of HR do not generally understand why they are used. If you want to understand more about assessment centres and how psychometric tests work please click here for further information…………………

Assessment Centres and Psychometric Tests Friend or Foe?

Assessment Centres are not a new concept indeed they have been around for thousands of years. One of the first recorded assessment centres was when Gideon (Old Testament) formed his army and wished to select the best for his elite division. Before signing potential candidates for his army he made them march all day without water to measure their endurance. At the end of the day the candidates came across a river from which he allowed people to drink. Some rushed forward immediately and lay on their stomachs while others stood up looking around for the enemy before they drank. Those who lay on their stomachs Gideon sent home as they were not observant enough. Gideon only wanted those with high endurance and those who were able to stay alert. This may be an ancient example however the principle for assessment centres still holds true today. Assessment centres should always reflect job that needs to be done. Evaluation should be objective and be based on more than one criterion.

So why not just have a straight forward personal interview or even just recruit someone from their CV? The reason that assessments have become more prevalent is that evidence has shown that the more extensive profile you have for candidates the more likely you are to select the right person for the right job. Some organisations claim to have improved their success recruitment decisions by 50%* since they have introduced assessment.

It does seem logical that the more a recruiting manager can see how potential candidates will respond to relevant tasks then the more likely it is that the “best fit” candidate will be selected. It is also a great opportunity for candidates to carry out the key tasks of the job. An assessment centre gives you the opportunity to assess the organisation that you are hoping to join. No matter how emotionally you feel about your dream job if your skills and personal working style do not fit the job then you are unlikely to be happy or successful in the future. This is where attending an assessment centre can be a friend for you. You can assess for yourself whether the tasks that you are given actually fit the things that you are good at and that you enjoy. The assessment centre also helps you meet the people that you will be working with. You can observe their behaviours in a similar way that they will be observing yours.

Psychometric Tests

What are psychometric tests? There are generally two categories of psychometric tests, aptitude and personality tests. These tests are regarded as one of the most reliable ways of objectively measuring your suitability for a particular job. So let’s look at them in a bit more depth.

1. Aptitude Tests: These tests measure your reasoning ability in a timed situation. The most common tests tend to be numerical and verbal reasoning although there are other tests available such as spatial awareness and checking accuracy. The numerical tests evaluate your ability to interpret and manipulate data and the verbal reasoning test measures your comprehension and interpretation of written text.
Your scores will be compared to a specific cohort of people.
You may be compared to previous applicants for similar positions within your industry or you may compared to incumbents who are already doing the job successfully.

With aptitude tests your scores are unlikely to fluctuate much during your career although nerves may play a part when you sit your first test. You should familiarise yourself with the test format by asking for sample questions before attending the assessment centre so that you can build your confidence.

2.  Personality Testing. In these tests you will be asked to complete a series of questions that are designed to explore your working style preferences. From the responses that you give it can be assessed how you like to work and how your working preferences will suit the job that is being interviewed for. These tests do not predict your competency in a role they only look at your preferred working styles. For instance the personality test may show that you like working with facts and figures however it does not confirm that you are competent in working with data. These tests can also be very useful for looking at how you would work in certain teams or how you would lead a project. Organisations may also look at what motivates you as a person. The personality profile does change during your career as your experiences and how you react to them change over time. Your profile is often different in different roles.

If you are asked to do a personality profile don’t try to guess what the interviewer is looking for. Just be honest and give the answer that reflects you. There are also consistency questions in these questionnaires that will show whether that you are attempting to skew your answers so it’s always best to just be honest. After the assessment centre ask the person interviewing you whether you can have a copy of your profile as this will help you understand more about your working style.

Companies do not tend to rely on psychometric tests alone as this could be too rigid a measure. Other exercises, such as business presentations and structured interviews are conducted to see how your numerical and verbal ability is applied within the work place.

Business Exercises

Assessment centres also have more practical business orientated exercises. Nearly all assessment centres are different as they are individually designed to reflect the job that is being interviewed for. Below are a few exercises that you may come across.

The Business Presentation: This exercise is designed to see how well you deal will a business problem. The assessors will be looking at your ability to prepare a business case based on data or facts that they have given to you. Your ability to make quality decisions, your numerical ability, together with your thought process and presentation skills may all be assessed within this particular exercise.

The Role Play: Role plays are primarily designed to assess your interpersonal and communication skills. They can be based on  anything from a selling scenario for sales roles to a performance management discussion for management positions. This exercise could also look at your decision-making quality or your ability to network.

Group Discussion:  The group discussion can assess your ability to work in a team, your communication skills, your ability to influence or negotiate with others, your style of leadership and also how you respond or listen to others. The group discussion is not an exercise to see who can talk the most it is the quality of your involvement the assessors will be looking at. 

The above are just some of the exercises that you may come across. There are often others however all the exercises are there to give you a chance to demonstrate your skills. The more you relax and feel confident the greater chance you have in achieving that dream job.


Are assessment centres friend or foe? I shall leave you to answer that one yourself however the more you understand what they are trying to achieve the more confident you will feel and the higher  your performance will be. Remember the following:

1. Assessment centres help interviewers select the right person for the right role. Applicants appointed through assessment centres are likely to be more successful in their jobs as opposed to those who only have an interview.
2. Assessment Centres give you (applicant) the chance of carrying out exercises that reflect the role that you have applied for. You are able to assess the job and also the people you will be working with.
3. Psychometric tests are objective and tend to measure your ability or your preferred working styles. They are a good predictor as to how you will match the job requirements. They are not generally used as a stand-alone test and are mainly there to help support the practical exercises.
4. Business exercises are a series of tasks that will best reflect the key parts of the job. They allow the applicant to show how they are likely to carry out the job. They are generally the critical part of an assessment centre

A well, constructed assessment centre which is presented to candidates in the right atmosphere can be a very rewarding experience for both applicant and assessor. So next time you have to attend an assessment day don’t panic. Relax and see what you can get out of it. Make sure that you are fit for your next assessment.
Should you require any further information contact the Vacancy Management company on 01420 82202.
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