The Art Of Coming Out On Top At That Assessment Centre
January 27, 2017
Whether you’re facing internal assessment for a promotion or are heading to an assessment centre to compete for a role in a different company, the truth is that these group-testing situations can be a little scary for many life science professionals.
Yet there is an art of coming out on top at assessment centres. And like any other skill, this art can be learnt—leaving you calm, confident, and able to perform at your best.
There are also individual skill tests taking place at assessment centres for some life science roles, but the main form you’ll encounter is the group-testing format, which we’ll address here.
How to succeed in group-testing at assessment centres
1. Don’t treat the participants like competitors.
This is a group exercise, designed to see how well you interact with others and communicate as part of a team. If you act as an individual, boss others around, guard your moves close to your chest, or even worse—put others down to look more intelligent, then you will have missed the entire point of the exercise and may well put yourself out of contention altogether.
2. Participate with enthusiasm.
The assessors will also be on the lookout for how readily you participate- this is a way of gauging your enthusiasm for the job. Those who don’t offer their opinions, and those who don’t speak at all, will almost certainly fail this exercise. You must give the assessors something to go on, even if that’s just heartfelt support of someone else’s idea, or a carefully thought out reflection on something that may be a problem.
On the flip-side, be mindful of being overly dominant, as this is a team exercise, not a ‘show your individual brilliance over all others’ exercise. Even if you know all the answers, hold back a little after your initial participation to give others a chance to speak.
3. Involve others who are lagging.
If you see someone who is nervous and holding back, the best thing you can do (for you and for them) is to reach out and bring them into the conversation. You might ask if they’ve got any thoughts, if they’ve had any experience with a similar situation in a past role, or whether they think the group is on the right track.
4. Mind your manners.
Don’t talk over people or interrupt. If someone does interrupt you or talk over the top of you, try to imagine how you’d react if a boss or respected elderly person interrupted you and you needed to find a delicate and polite way to reassert yourself. A friendly ‘Sorry, do you mind if I just finish my thought, I’ll forget it otherwise’ is a good non-confrontational way to defuse the situation while retaining control.
5. Do not allow personality differences to escalate to a problem.
Personality clashes do happen sometimes in any group of people, and particularly so in an assessment centre where the stakes are high and everyone is feeling under pressure.
Remember, this is exactly the situation an assessor is on the lookout for, as it gives them a brilliant window into how you’ll behave when stressed and facing interpersonal conflict in the workplace! In truth, these assessment centre exercises are set up partly to create these very circumstances, so don’t fall into the trap of reacting rather than responding when someone pushes your buttons.
6. Try to see others’ points of view.
When we’ve come up with an idea we think is good, we’re naturally rather wedded to it and want it to succeed. It may well be a great idea, but the danger is that you might not really listen to the other ideas that people in your group are offering. In fact, you may only see the possible negatives of other people’s plans, getting bogged down in confirmation bias as you seize on any fault to ‘prove’ that your plan is better.
All of this self-promoting behaviour will be well-noted by the assessors, so make a concerted idea to listen to each idea carefully and genuinely consider its merits. Your idea may be the best, but everyone else probably thinks theirs is the best too, so this is the perfect opportunity to show off your listening and compromising skills.
7. Don’t be afraid to praise others.
It’s quite natural to be a bit disappointed when someone else comes up with the brilliant solution, but in fact, this is a perfect opportunity for you to show how well you support and praise others. Telling someone their idea is fantastic is a great way of signalling that you’re a team player and aren’t afraid of others doing well.
Those who know about growth mindset versus fixed mindset tendencies will know that fixed mindset people tend to be jealous of other’s achievements, while growth mindset people see others’ success as something to learn from and not to fear. A hint: most employers will be seeking growth mindset employees, so study up on these traits and see where you might need to improve!
8. Don’t react emotionally if you think it’s going a bit wrong.
If you see the team go off in a direction you don’t approve of, don’t react emotionally. You can attempt to make your case again for a different course of action, but if the group disagrees, you will need to accept the outcome and more importantly, get on board with it once you’ve accepted it. (Remember, they’re not gauging the actual outcome—this is not a real life work situation that will be implemented after all, but rather how you behave in the group. They’re also watching to see how you can fulfil a task even when you don’t agree with it.)
There may be other elements to your assessment centre testing, such as individual skill-testing or presentations, but those who fail to perform in the group-setting will rarely graduate past this interview stage. It’s extremely important, therefore, to show yourself in your best possible light.