How To Run A Successful Graduate Assessment Centre

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April 20, 2022

Graduate assessment centres are a fabulous weapon in the grad recruiters’ arsenal. They’re cost-effective, fast and more reliable than a traditional interview alone.

And graduate assessment days are your chance to shine as an employer. If you give graduates a fantastic experience, you’re more likely to convince your favourite candidates that you’re their top match too. Great stuff.

The problem is, running a fantastic graduate assessment centre is easier said than done. It’s easy to slip into lacklustre – and that’s simply not maximising the potential of the medium.

Here are five tactics to make sure your assessment centre is memorable for all the right reasons.

1 - Plan your assessment exercises carefully

Plan your assessment exercises to match the skills and qualities you’re actually looking for. That might sound obvious – but sometimes graduate recruiters simply buy or find assessment exercises online, without giving much thought to what they’re trying to achieve.

It’s better to work backwards from your competency framework, then map exercises around those. If you don’t have one, run a job analysis first – to identify which core competencies correlate to success in your graduate role.

Design exercises that:

  • Test a range of different skills and competencies that are directly relevant to the job description. Each task should have quantifiable, fair criteria for assessors to measure against. The more structure you embed at this stage, the easier for assessors, the fairer your process and the more likely you’ll hire the best grads for the job.
  • Test skills in different ways, so you get a more accurate picture. For instance, one candidate might have great problem-solving skills but not great presentation skills. If you only test problem-solving in a task that also involves presenting, you might rule out candidates for the wrong reasons.
  • Switch up groups and pairings. If candidates get ‘stuck’ working with the same people you might only be seeing the results of a particularly good or particularly bad dynamic. You want to give candidates as many chances to reveal different facets of themselves as possible. That’s how you uncover candidates with the X-factor.
  • Relate back to the role. Situational or scenario tasks are most powerful when they relate to your business, exploring situations graduates could genuinely encounter. This helps you get a better picture of how graduates will really perform – and it also helps graduates get a better, and more unique, picture of your business.
  • Encourage collaboration, not dog-eat-dog competition. Some candidates are more competitive than others – and some roles need more competitive people. That’s fine. But it’s almost always advisable to avoid group tasks that pit graduates against each other as this can cause resentment, create negative energy and fast-track people into your business who’ll be a negative influence on your culture.

2 - Allow a range of personalities to shine

It’s unlikely you’re exclusively looking for one personality type so be cautious your assessment day isn’t geared one way. Charismatic, confident graduates will almost always shine in group settings, but you don’t want quieter types to fly under your radar just because they’re quiet.

It takes all sorts to build a successful business. If you don’t build your assessment centre to allow different personalities to flourish, you risk selecting the loudest candidates – rather than the best.

In practice, that means:

  • Don’t neglect icebreakers. Help everyone come out from their shell with group ice-breaking sessions. The more you can put everyone at ease, the more you’ll get from people. So even if you spend the first 1.5 hours on ice-breaking activities, that’d be time well spent.
  • Consider your recruiter-to-graduate ratio. The more assessors you take, the more personalised attention you can give candidates – and the more you’ll likely get from them. Plus, you’ll have more insight to inform better decision-making about which candidates are worth seeing at the next stage.
  • Include a range of assessment exercises. Candidates who struggle with one format might excel in another, showing ability you mightn’t have known they had. For example, someone more reserved might struggle with a group presentation but could really impress you as an individual.
  • Manage group discussions if needed. Running an assessment day doesn’t need to mean passively watching. Often a graduate will step into a facilitator role in group work and help ensure everyone is heard – but if not, you could intervene yourself instead. Direct questions – like, ‘Annie, what do you think?’ can help quieter candidates shine.
  • Include plenty of ‘free’ social time where candidates can interact naturally and loosen up. Think, opening sessions, breaks, lunchtime. If candidates feel they’re constantly being ‘watched’ (even if they are!) they might struggle to relax. And for some grads, that anxiety could mean you never see their best.

3 - Understand graduate assessment days work both ways

Assessment centres aren’t just about you assessing graduates. Graduates are also assessing you. And the best graduates might’ve been invited onto several assessment centres. They’re comparing you, constantly.

The best assessment day should be an on-brand experience. It’s an up-close and personal look at your culture. If your assessment day is bland, you’ll be all too forgettable: and your top candidates are less likely to choose you.

Read more: How to position as a graduate employer of choice

Make sure you:

  • Give graduates plenty of opportunity to ask questions. And answering them in detail, even if you’ve already decided you won’t proceed with the candidate asking. (You want everyone – even your rejected candidates – to leave with a positive taste in their mouth.)
  • Invest time preparing an interesting, genuine presentation about your business as an employer. Don’t recycle something boring, stock or old you dragged out from your intranet. This is a pitch: treat it like one.
  • Communicate the process, your expectations and your timelines clearly. Every graduate should know what the day involves, what you expect from them, and when they can expect to hear back.
  • Bring people who bring your business to life. A quarter of graduates would be put off an employer if they had a poor or unimpressive experience when meeting current employees - so this stuff matters. Maybe someone from the Executive team can pop along, for example, to talk about your mission, vision and values. On an assessment day, graduates are weighing-up whether they’ll fit into your culture – bring people who put your best foot forward.
  • Show excitement. This might be your 1000th assessment day. You might be tired, bored, frustrated, or generally having a really bad day. And hey. Maybe you already met your quota and you know you’re unlikely to hire from this group. But none of that should show. This is a super exciting time for graduates; your own attitude should mirror theirs.
  • Give comprehensive feedback – to every candidate, not only successful ones. This is crucial for your candidate experience. At this point, graduates have invested significant time, energy and sometimes expense in you. Respect their investment by giving constructive feedback.
  • Send info packs pre-assessment day. An info pack helps you comprehensively address all graduates’ burning questions (‘where do I go?’; ‘what do I wear?’; ‘what shall I bring?’; ‘will there be lunch?’, ‘what about veggie options?’…). The more you put grads’ minds at ease, the more they’ll thank you. And the more themselves they’ll feel on the day too – which helps you make better recruitment decisions.

Energy is everything

From graduates’ perspective, a fantastic assessment day flies by. It’s fast-paced. Exhilarating. Nerve-wracking too but also inspiring. It definitely doesn’t drag. They’re not boring.

That’s not to say you have to whack out the clown costumes and silly jokes – but energy matters. Pace matters.

It’s important to:

  • Time your presentations and activities. Presentations shouldn’t run longer than around 45-minutes without something to break the monotony.
  • Create smaller groups rather than bigger groups for team assessments, to encourage more input from everyone. That way, nobody can sneak under the radar – and the more grads are forced to contribute, the more involved they’ll be.
  • Get the basics right. Break often – more often than you think. Provide plenty of drinks and snacks. Don’t underestimate the dulling effect of hungry tummies. Manage the energy levels in the room.
  • Brief everyone on your team: bring energy or go home. Graduates will read from you, so you have a big responsibility to set the right tone.
  • Think about ways to make assessments fun. Team assessments, role plays, games, discussions – there’s space for levity in all of these. Taking your business seriously doesn’t mean you have to be deadly serious throughout the assessment day.

Go paperless

Assessment centres are time-consuming enough, without building unnecessary inefficiencies into your process. Paperwork is the main culprit here.

If you’re still relying on paper-based assessments, you’re adding hours of manual data-entry into the backend. Hours of manual, error-prone data-entry – when you can’t read assessors handwriting, or an assessor wrote the wrong name, or paperwork gets lost.

The whole point of assessment days is to save time and money over the long-term. Using paper-based assessment forms (or worse, freehand notes) is counterintuitive.

Instead, provide your assessors with clear, structured, fair assessment criteria. Then let them input their feedback easily (from a tablet, mobile or laptop) into one database that automatically syncs to your ATS. Then everyone’s on the same objective page, and you collate feedback in real-time as the day progresses.

(Our paperless assessment centre software does exactly that. Find out more about Virtual Assessment Centres).

That saves hours and endless frustration, but more important, it means you can fast-track your decision-making.

So you can move faster to hire the best candidates, before your competitors do. And move faster to give feedback to unsuccessful candidates, delivering an exceptional candidate experience that leaves a positive impression.

Graduate assessment centres make a whole load of sense. You save money because you can see heaps of candidates in a fraction of the time of individual interviews. You get a more holistic, deeper perspective on candidates so you’re better able to bring the best people into your business. You can deliver a powerful, impressive candidate experience that helps your business compete for the year’s best graduates.

But to achieve those things, you have to get graduate assessment days right. It’s too easy to fall into dull routine, and the day becomes a box ticking exercise. Follow these tips instead to create a day that does your business justice. And make this year’s graduate recruitment programme your most successful yet.

Tazio is an intelligent recruitment platform that makes recruitment – especially high-volume spaces like graduate recruitment – easier, faster and less costly. Schedule your 20-minute introduction call today – we’d love to show you around.


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