Talent Management; Graduates your simple guide to assessment centres

25 05 2011

I  have been very busy in recent months assisting a client select young talent for its prestigious leadership programme.  Given that the programme provides a fantastic opportunity for accelerated development and global experience , they set their bar high and rightly so. Our intervention is helping them design and delivery a really robust assessment process. So why the guide? Well I am not going to divulge the secrets of the centre, that would be way too helpful.. but given that the client, a very forward thinking organisation in many ways who  provides each candidate telephone feedback regardless of their success or not, it never fails to surprise me how little applicants know about making a good account of themselves. I am sure there are many I talk to who are hearing for the first time what I consider to be the essentials of applying for a post, not secrets but simple guides to success… so here they are:

1 Do not arrive for an interview without researching the company – this is an insult to the employer and shows lack of interest, drive and motivation to join. Think research not just google.

Dress to impress – not necessarily a suit, but not jeans and trainers, smart is the watch word – unless you are applying to a fashion house or some creative agency who might be impressed by your ‘creative’ streak.  Blue chips on the whole are conservative about what you wear. Dirty shoes show a lack of care for yourself, why would they risk you with a customer?

3 Pay attention to how you look – stubble is cool in the bar, not in the interview ( shows a lack respect ), hair should be under control at least and pony tails look good on ponies and  younger women… maybe at Glastonbury but not in an interview.

4 Questions at interview – please think about what your strengths and weaknesses are  before you get there so you are not surprised or unable to respond. Most good assessment has CBI interviews, based on specific competencies – being artfully vague, giving general answers or being impressive with rehearsed best interview answers volume one will get you no where quickly. Being perfect is not what most companies are looking for or believe, be prepared to show you have self-awareness and can be open about your development needs.  If you are asked a fair question, be prepared to answer it, most good employers will use structured interviews, the days of ” sell me this pencil”  egotistical managers are dead. Recently when asking a candidate where else they had applied, they replied that they thought this was an unfair question. If you are unwilling to share  who else you are applying to with a potential employer ( if you are at an assessment centre they are already spending serious money on you) then why would they feel you are a good hire? There may be places for secrets but not in the interview that is trying to assess how serious you are as a candiate.

5 Analysis exercises – these are there to let you show how smart you are – don’t waste the opportunity by being too big on style and low on content, which in an analysis exercise is arguments based on facts or good ideas.  All fur coat and no knickers as we say in Yorkshire is not good, being all presentation and no content and its not using the opportunity well. Don’t avoid calculations and don’t avoid making a decision, the two biggest faults in many exercises.

6 Group exercises – the clue is in the title, they are designed to see you work in a group  – similar to how you will work in most of your career. So show what you can do. Not all roles are leadership, there are plenty of ways of impressing an employer without having to be in control. Basics, speak … no contribution  is no good, intermediate…. speak up and have some ideas,  better still take a real part and engage others while you solve whatever task you have been given. Yes it’s, competitive and difficult but it also gives you another excellent chance to shine with others.

7 Focus on the roles you want to do– so apply for the industry, the function and the specialist that interests you. Saying you are flexible and can do anything , will try anything, is a sure way to show you have not really considered you career seriously. Do so now, before you apply.

7 tips to make a good impression, to show your skills and experience and to make a good account of yourself. If an employer has taken the time , effort and money to create an assessment process to show you to your best ability don’t waste it – don’t regret your performance  on the flight back home.

You may think this is a conservative view…. for conservative read experienced, as most of your assessors will be. When you are being assessed by 20 something’s with stubble and ponytails then please ignore this advice, but reality is, if you want a leadership fast track career then you need to behave like a leadership potential talent from the minute you engage in the process and the people they trust to select will be experienced.
I would wish graduates good luck… but if they are good it’s not a matter of luck, its a matter of performance on the day and preperation before hand.