Among job-seekers, assessment centers are not generally very popular. They are seen as stressful, exercises which usefulness isn’t always apparent, and a very one-sided examination of candidates by the company.
Although they are not exactly popular with applicants, companies like to make use of assessment centers. The goal is to identify the one candidate in a group who best fits the company’s requirements. In a way, that’s no different than with a “normal” application process, but with greatly increased effort for both sides.
The specifics differ from company to company and job to job. Usually the candidates are faced with a variety of tasks and challenges, to gauge their reaction and approach. Stress is taken into account and even kept high deliberately throughout, to see how individuals perform under pressure. That is why pretty much every task has to be completed on a very tight schedule, and breaks are few and short.
These are the exercises / tasks most often used:
An extensive interview, usually more in-depth than one might be used to from job interviews.
Discussions in a group test how well candidates are able to express themselves, negotiate, and how they work together in a team.
Often, there will be simulations of common situation like performance reviews and sales conversations. In those, current employees of the company usually play the role of the counterpart to test the candidate’s reactions to unusual situation and adverse circumstances.
The candidates are also often asked to quickly prepare and give a short presentation. With very little time given for preparation, this not only asks for presentational skills, but also a talent for improvisation.
In addition to that, standardized logic and psychological tests are common. It is possible to prepare for those fairly well, if you know what you’ll be facing. Therefore it is advisable to ask in advance to find out as precisely as possible, how the assessment center will look like.
If you happen to know someone who already has been through the assessment center at that particular company, that would be perfect of course. They would know what kinds of tasks were set, where the focus lay, and what was deemed important.
Now, once you have gathered as much information as you can, what is the best way to prepare?
Unfortunately, preparation is only possible up to a point, since most exercises are designed to measure soft skills and character traits. With some preparation is it possible to avoid big mistakes, though, and boost your confidence – which directly affects how you present yourself.
The same rule applies to assessment centers as to job interviews: Never try to present yourself as a completely different person than you are. That kind of acting cannot be consistently kept up and will only leave a bad impression.