▪ Going for an interview – and being asked to complete some exercises?
▪ Up for promotion – and you need to prove your worth?
If you have answered yes to either question, then it is more than likely that you will be invited to attend an Assessment or Development Centre. So what’s going to happen? What will you be asked to do? And how can you prepare? We’ll tell you how
The purpose of the selection process is for an employer to choose an appropriate person to fill a vacancy OR to look for the right person for promotion. They will be looking for someone who has the skills, abilities and personal qualities to do the job well. During the selection process a variety of assessment methods can be used; these almost always feature an application form/CV and an interview, but can also include other methods such as group exercises and discussions, presentations and psychometric tests; hence the assessment or development centre.
Bear in mind that the centre will be designed specifically to select a candidate that can perform at the level that is required for the job that is being applied for. So a straightforward assessment or development centre for a specific role, say a team leader’s job that involves interacting with individuals [in meetings or by telephone], meetings in groups and doing various types of written work and preparing reports, might include:
- A personality questionnaire to build a picture about how the candidate will behave and react in real situations
- An in-tray and an analytical exercise [to simulate the written work]
- A meeting with a customer or team member [played by a role-player and simulating meetings with individuals]
- A group negotiation or problem solving meeting [to reflect meetings in groups]
All selection methods are seeking to gather evidence that you have the abilities and qualities to be successful in the job, but different methods are better at measuring particular things. For example, an application form gathers information on your qualifications and work experience, and demonstrates your written communication skills; an interview allows you to demonstrate oral communication skills; psychometric tests measure whether you have specific abilities or appropriate personal qualities in relation to the job specification.
Employers may therefore use a variety of methods to gain an overall view; the greater the variety of situations in which a selector can see you perform, and the greater the number of skills that are being tested, the more accurate and objective the assessment should be. So what are psychometric tests and how do they fit into this process?
Psychometric Tests and Questionnaires
These are structured pencil and paper (or sometimes computer-based) exercises, often in the form of multiple-choice questions. They are designed to assess your specific qualities or abilities. The tests should have been carefully researched and trialled to ensure that they are fair to all people sitting them. Your results are usually compared with how others have done in the tests in the past. There are two main types of psychometric tests:
a) Aptitude, cognitive, ability or intelligence tests aim to assess your intellectual capabilities.
b) Personality questionnaires gather information about how and why you do things in your own particular way. They look at how you react or behave in different situations, and your preferences and attitudes. Questionnaires on interests and values are also available, but are rarely used for selection purposes.
Aptitude, Ability and Intelligence Tests
These test your logical reasoning or thinking performance, and are not tests of general knowledge. They are administered under exam conditions and are strictly timed. A typical test might allow 30 minutes for 30 or more questions.
The questions have definite “right” and “wrong” answers, which you often have to select from a range of alternatives.
As you go through the tests, the questions may become more difficult, and there are usually more questions than you can comfortably complete in the time available. It does not matter if you do not finish the test though you should complete as many questions as possible. Your score is then compared with how other people have done on the test in the past. This group (the “norm group”) could be other students/graduates, current jobholders or a more general group. This enables selectors to assess your reasoning skills in relation to others, and to make judgements about your ability to cope with tasks involved in the job.
The validity of such tests rests on how closely they assess abilities necessary to the job. For this reason there are a variety of tests, for example tests of reasoning with written information (`verbal reasoning’ tests), numbers, charts and graphs (`numerical reasoning’) or abstract figures (`diagrammatic’ or `spatial reasoning’). The tests used should be related to the work tasks involved in the job.
Aptitude tests are sometimes used prior to a first interview, and at this stage there is often a “pass mark” or cut off score, which you have to achieve to continue your application; sometimes they are used in conjunction with other selection methods, so it is your overall performance which is important – the tests do not carry more weight than other elements.
You may get sent some sample questions before you sit the test to give you an idea of what to expect. You should also be given some practice examples at the start of the test session itself.
How successful you will be in a job depends not only on your abilities, but also on your personal qualities. Interviews and group exercises can be used to assess social skills, but personality questionnaires can further explore the way you tend to react to, or deal with, different situations. They are self-report questionnaires, which means that a profile is drawn up from your responses to a number of questions or statements. These focus on a variety of personality factors such as: how you relate to other people; your work-style; your ability to deal with your own and others’ emotions; your motivations and determination, and your general outlook.
Unlike aptitude tests, there are no “right” or “wrong” answers and questionnaires are usually untimed. The selectors will not be looking for a rigid “typical” personality profile, although certain characteristics will be more or less appropriate for that particular job (e.g. independence, social confidence and persuasiveness are important characteristics for sales work).
From your responses the selector gains information about your style of behaviour – how and why you do things in your own way. You may receive some feedback on the profile which your answers produce, and occasionally it might form the basis for discussion at a subsequent interview.
Questionnaires exploring your interests or values are much less commonly used in selection. These are designed to clarify what fields of work interest you or what factors make-work worthwhile for you. You are more likely to come across them in a careers guidance setting, or in an appraisal/development context in work.
The best way to approach all of these questionnaires is just to answer them as straightforwardly as you can. Guessing what the employer is looking for is difficult and could well be counter-productive – after all, you do not want to be given a job which really does not suit you.
Career Management Consultant
M. 07801 689801
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