The Rough Guide to Assessment Centres: How to survive as an Assessor

paperclips 3Being an Assessor can be tough.  Early starts, late finishes, missing candidates, last minute candidates, wrong names, no clocks, too many chairs, not enough chairs, and that’s before you even get to the write-up!

It was after a recent, and particularly intensive spell  of assessment centres (60 forms written in less than two weeks), that I suddenly realised how many tips, tricks and techniques I’ve developed to get me through and survive being an Assessor.

So here are my ten top tips for surving an assessment centre:

1.    Take lots and lots of paper. Between you, the candidates, and the other Assessors, it is amazing how much paper you get through.  So, take lots and lots of paper, otherwise you’ll find yourself rationing it as you get towards the end of the AC.  Same applies to pens, pencils and erasers.

 2.    Pre-rip your paper.  During observed exercises, such as presentations, role-plays and group exercises, you can get through copious amounts of paper as you furiously try to write down as much as you possibly can.  This is a small thing but if you are working off a pad remember to pre-rip your paper.  Firstly, it can be very noisy and hence distracting for the candidate.  Secondly, because each time you do it takes another few precious seconds away from your observing and recording. On that note, pre-number your pages too.

 3.    Develop a system for organising your materials.  Believe me, without a system you are going to drown in bits of paper!  You have used materials, unused materials, spare materials, Assessor Guides, completed Evaluations Forms, yet to be completed Evaluation Forms, Candidate Matrices – and that’s before you even take into account the accompanying paraphernalia, such as pens, paper and stop watches!

4.    Staples, paper clip and rubber bands.  These little pieces of stationary can help maintain your sanity when you feel like you are drowning in those afore mentioned bits of paper.  Personally, I like to staple my rough notes to the back of the Evaluation Form so they don’t get lost. I also like have a box for used materials that I can just throw in scribbled-on candidates briefs as soon as they are finished with them, and then forget about them.   A clear pile for ‘completed’ Evaluation Forms is also important.  Finally, elastic bands for keeping like materials with like help keep you on top of things, especially when you are carting materials around for 40+ candidates.

5.    Take at least one spare stopwatch.  I am sure that any assessment centre veteran can testify to stop watches being the bane of an Assessor’s life.  For what should be a fairly simple piece of technology, it can be notoriously difficult to operate.  Just getting a stopwatch set up to start timing something can take years of ninja-like training.  Never mind a battery running out or someone pressing an extraneous button by accident during the AC!  Cue at least 5 minutes of irrelevant flashing screens (day, month, year, alarm 1, alarm 2… sound familiar?).  Believe me, for peace of mind and the sake of your sanity do check them all before you leave the office and take a spare!

6.    Plan in the Scooby snacks. Assessment Centres are typically early starts and long days.  Lunch will typically be a rushed buffet affair.  It will comprise of a couple of sandwich triangles (identity of filling slightly indiscernible) and a handful of crisps (usually ready salted).  If you are extra lucky, you might get something deep fried (miscellaneous) and a piece of fruit.  As a result, by the time you get to 4pm your energy levels will seriously be dropping and you’ll still have several hours to go.  Coming prepared with the Scooby snacks means you can keep going longer and will help get you through the write-up phase.  I personally like a combination of natural and artificial sugar, i.e. grapes and biscuits!  Regular hydration by drinking lots of water also helps.

7.    Don’t leave write-ups to the end of the day.  Getting the candidates through the AC can be hard work, as is all the observing and recording of the 4-6 exercises you’ve probably racked up during the course of the day.  However, do try to use any spare moment you can to write up rather than leaving it all to the end of the day.  Even that 10 minutes during the admin time for a group exercise can give you a good head start, and leave you with less to do later on.

 8.    Set a deadline by which to start the wash-up (even if you ignore it).  Once the last candidate has gone your immediate instinct is to breathe a big sigh of relief, collapse into the nearest chair and put your feet up.  But oh no, you now have potentially several hours of write-ups.  Setting a deadline gives you a goal.  It will help you dig deep and find those hidden reserves.  It also keeps all the Assessors on the same track, and hopefully trying to work at the same pace.

 9.    Begin filling in the competency matrices as soon as you can.  Best practice states that once all Assessors have finished their writing-up each candidate should be discussed, scores decided and feedback recorded.  However, capturing this information live during the wash-up can be time consuming at the end of a long day.  If you have an Administrator, or an Assessor that has finished their write-ups early, start the data entry of the candidates’ results.  The wash-up can then be done by reviewing the information on the screen and amended as the result of discussion, where required.  Much, much quicker.

 10.  Be supportive.  As alluded to before, Assessment Centres are long, long days.  It’s an early start, late finish and by the end of the day Assessors are tired, hungry and on their way towards having a good case for an immediate diagnosis of RSI.  For this reason it’s important to remember to be supportive, and where you can help each other out.  You are all in it together!

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2 thoughts on “The Rough Guide to Assessment Centres: How to survive as an Assessor

  1. Great tips Maria – I can certainly relate to all of them at some point on my travels as an assessor.

    I’d also add – never be without your own clipboard. In the absence of a desk to lean on when observing a group exercise, it makes writing observation notes a much more manageable task!

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