Assessment centres – evaluating the need

The growth of the use of assessment centres has been rapid. Recently, over 45% of organisations which responded to a survey used assessment centres.  The survey also found that the use of assessment centres was more prevalent in the private sector and by larger organisations. Nowadays, two fifths of top companies are now said to use them to help recruit, and that includes most of the major banks. Heidi Lambert finds out more.

  • Growth of centres
  • How does psychometric testing differ from the more traditional selection procedures?
  • Why use an assessment centre?
  • Saving time and money
  • The value of assessment centres
  • Assessment centres: the future

Growth of centres

One of the main reasons behind the growth of assessment centres is that organisations have become dissatisfied with the highly subjective methods previously used to identify management talent. Managers seeking an alternative became impressed with the rigour of this system. Kristen Shelleby, a manager at TalentSphere, says, ‘Research shows time and again that traditional interviews are a poor predictor of subsequent job performance.’

How does psychometric testing differ from the more traditional selection procedures?

Research shows that interviews used in isolation are the least effective way to appoint the right candidate for the job. Recruitment based on face-to-face selection is considered an inexact science. Psychometric testing is designed to remove the subjectivity.

One crucial characteristic that defines an assessment centre is the fact that it observes one’s behaviour. Traditional selection procedures rely on the observer or selector attempting to infer personal behavioural characteristics based on subjective judgement. The attitude taken during the traditional selection procedure is usually one of, ‘if the face fits, join us’. Whereas the theory behind an assessment centre is that if one wishes to predict future job performance, the best way of doing this is to get the individual to carry out a set of tasks that accurately assimilate the job he will be assigned to. The benefits of making the ‘right’ decision, based on a range of information provided at assessment centres, have a direct link with potential retention of employees and reduction of labour costs.

Why use an assessment centre?

In making the decision to assess your prospective candidates through psychometric testing, an employer is automatically taking steps to invest and develop their employees. This means they are taking care to ensure they get the right people for the right jobs; therefore they are investing in them prior to acceptance.

Saving time and money

Despite the rapid increase in the use of assessment centres, not every company uses or agrees with them. One of the most common factors dissuading a company from using an assessment centre is the preconceived view that it can be time-consuming and expensive.

Kristen Shelleby says, ‘Many organisations shy away from using more rigorous selection methods because they perceive them to be expensive to design and run, and it’s true that the financial costs and resources can be significant. However, leading companies tend to view them more as an investment that will reap returns later rather than a cost that must be minimised. Using a cheaper interview framework may save you money in the short term, but it certainly won’t always get you the right sort of people to help you boost the top-line in years to come.’

Companies with capital view them as an effective, time efficient way to recruit staff as well as an investment. As Peter Humphrey, managing director at TalentSphere, says, ‘It’s all about economies of scale. If you are a large, blue chip company wanting to employ 20 people per year, and planning to interview 200, it makes sense to go along to an assessment centre for a few days, rather than using a team of managers to do hundreds of time-consuming, face-to-face interviews.’

Sullivan Knowles, HR manager for Pret-a-Manger, has been using assessment centres for six months, and used them in his previous job nine months ago. Pret-a-Manger has 100 outlets and 35 have opened in the last 12 months ‘We use them for general managers and now HR management. We are adapting and evolving them constantly, but so far they have been highly successful. One can present the best side of oneself in an interview, but at an assessment centre it is more difficult to sustain a superficial presence. With many people observing one’s character at the same time, a clearer overall picture is created of the individual.’

On the other hand, it is not just the large companies that understand the value of assessment centres. Phil Standford, managing director at T Cox and Son, runs a small printing distribution company. For the last four years, he has selected his team of graduates from assessment centres and psychometric testing methods. ‘The first year I used it, I intended to select one graduate from a team of six. I ended up offering the job to two candidates, as they both fitted the job criteria exactly.

‘Each time, the results from psychometric testing add weight to the behavioural testing from the assessment centre and enable me to make my final decision. Each time I’ve been pleased with the result. I now consider it to be an essential ingredient in recruiting my staff. It doesn’t have to be time consuming if the company you use is efficient and recognised within the industry. From my experience in assessment, the benefits outweigh any preconceptions over time or expense.’

The value of assessment centres

Recruiting and developing your key personnel is not as straightforward as it may seem. Much depends on making the right decisions; getting it wrong is always expensive, not only in terms of training but also in recruitment costs. Moreover, there are side effects to think about, such as the potential break-up of a successful team, resulting in low morale and workflow disruption. According to Peter Humphrey, objective assessment techniques enhance every selection process. ‘An assessment centre using psychometric testing will underpin any exercise to identify the best possible people for your organisation. If the test is well designed, research has shown that the selection technique is one of the finest elimination procedures.’

Donald Watson, director of an on-line psychometric testing company states, ‘The market is flooded with various psychometric tests – not all of which are well researched and validated. However, one of the main criticisms within the industry is the misuse of psychometric testing. For example, unless the company’s objectives are met and the test reflects knowledge of whom they want to employ, and why they want to employ them, the procedure is not effective. This is why it is important to use an accredited company, which properly assesses your needs before recommending tests.’

Assessment centres: the future

Making psychometrics more sophisticated has been the biggest single advance over the past few years. Many employers remain unsure of the value of assessment centres and psychometric testing. They often have reservations at first – the employers are sceptical and later relieved when they find out the person they thought would be the perfect candidate does not show the strengths for skills needed when assessed.

According to Peter Humphrey scepticism is not a bad thing. ‘There are a lot of tests out there that aren’t suited to everybody. It’s important to delve deeper and talk to the candidate themselves about the issues psychometric testing highlights, rather than employ it as an end in itself.’

With the advance in online technology and the opportunities presented by the internet, online psychometric testing is being exploited. This is an efficient cost-effective way of focusing on personality and intellect, providing the candidate does not cheat! Some US employers have sought to overcome this by doing on-line psychometric testing via a video conferencing system.

So, if you’re considering employing candidates through psychometric testing techniques, it is always advisable to find out about the company first, and set firm objectives about the type of candidate you want to employ.

Could psychometric testing be the answer? Why not give it a go!

Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time should you have any questions regarding the contained information, or require any recruitment assistance.