Sunday, 30 October 2011

What happens in an assessment centre.. and what do they do with the results?

An assessment centre is a way of selecting candidates for a role. They might be internal candidates for promotion, external candidates for a job, or it may be internal candidates being assess for their suitability for roles within a new structure. Basically an assessment centre is a number of different ways of assessing someone’s ability to do a job.
Based on the person specification a trained and qualified assessor will choose a number of tests or events that can be assessed. They may be psychometric tools that measure your ability to reason with numbers, or words, they may be problem solving exercises, they may be interactive exercises with other people. Sometimes actors are used to do work simulations. Sometimes you have to do a task in a group. You may be asked to do a personality questionnaire, a presentation or have an interview.
They key thing is that you should be given more than one  opportunity  to demonstrate your ability of each competence, so if you do badly in one exercise you may pick up on another.
Sometimes an assessment centre or  number of psychometric tools are used to pre screen out applicants who do not meet certain criteria. For example if you need to be very numerate to do a role, all the applicants may be asked to do a numerical ability test and only those who score above the cut off point will get to an interview.
A full assessment centre lasting over a day or several days is more likely in a senior role, where organisations like to collect a lot of information about a candidate before making a decisions. They are also used in graduate selection where fewer candidates have work experiences to draw on. Using an assessment centre in this way means that candidates will be screened on their applications before they get invited to attend. You may be asked to do some on line questionnaires before the day; usually this would be a personality questionnaire.
At an assessment centre you will be working with other candidates and doing the same exercises as them. Don’t think that you shod try to compete with them and be overly competitive. Most organisations value team work and interpersonal skills; they will be looking to see how much you are cooperating rather than trying to ‘win’.
What do they do with the results? The assessors on the centre should be pulling together all the information into a report for the selectors to review. Sometimes this report will recommend whether you go further in the process:  sometimes it is there just to inform the selectors about your competence. Some reports will give numerical scores to all the exercises and then give the assessment centre as a whole a score. That would enable the selectors to have a very clear ‘merit order’ of candidates.  Some firms have a profile of their ideal candidates, based on those who they have appointed previously and who have done well, they will be looking for people whose profiles are similar.
In other assessment centres the report will focus on a narrative report stressing your strengths and areas that need further exploration. This would enable the interviewers to ask you searching questions about those competencies that you have not fully demonstrated in the centre.  This gives you another opportunity to demonstrate your competence.  This approach is more about recognising that individuals bring different strength and weaknesses and that choosing someone is about getting the skills that compliment those of other team members, or that might be specifically needed at that point in time. A year later they might chose someone with a different profile.
There are no hard and fast rules about exactly how the results should or are used. Sometimes failure in one exercise can be the end of the road for a candidate. In another organisation  the selectors may decide to ignore the test results altogether and appoint someone they ‘like the look of’. (OK that begs the question why do the tests at all if you are going to ignore them, but I have seen it happen!)
Are the tests always an accurate portrayal of an individual’s skills and capabilities? Well yes and no! Performance in tests can be an inaccurate predictor of performance for many reasons, not least if the candidate has never done anything like this before. However the people who design the tests spend huge amounts of money and time to get them as good at predicating as possible. Don’t think you are a failure if you do badly.. just get some help to learn how to improve.
For further information on how to improve your performance in tests and assessment centres visit

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

How to achieve career success

In the USA studies of how people achieve career success identified seven broad strategies:
  • ·         Competence in the current job
  • ·         Working long and hard
  • ·         Developing new skills through training and job experience
  • ·         Opportunity development through volunteering to take on new tasks in the work place and networking
  • ·         Developing sponsors and supporters, colleagues, mentors and advocates
  • ·         Image building so that you appear successful
  • ·         Navigating organisational politics to avoid pitfalls and ensure longevity.
So how successful will you be in your career? Do you have the plan, the will and the skill to do all of those things?
Of course some of you may have spotted the flaw in this.. what is the researchers definition of success? Do they mean people who climb to the top of the greasy pole? IS that the only measure of success?
I think that if you are ambitious and want to attain power and influence in an organisation then this is just the advice that I would give you but first you need to challenge any assumptions that this is what success means.
Designing a beautiful bridge, supporting a troubled teenager, ensuring an old person dies with dignity are all fantastic  contributions and are successes. There is no law that says you can’t be a success without achieving a high status role. In fact I’d say that success is what you want it to be. So work out what you really want and not what some old fashioned, outdated concept of career implies you should have. Then work out how to achieve your own personal vision of success.
For more support and advice on how to find out what will make your career a success, go to

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Top tips for using your voice to present with gravitas

Top tips for better presentation in interviews.

Lots of people get feedback from interviews that other candidates presented with more ‘gravitas’ and the question is, what on earth is that and how do you get it? Weirdly my favourite thesaurus says the word does not even exist! On the other hand the dictionary relates it to gravity and thus to heaviness. Now I don’t think that people are talking about your weight; I think they are talking about certain seriousness and credibility, a certain way of presenting that means you come over as a serious person with important things to say.
So how can you develop that air of gravitas? Well firstly you do have to have important things to talk about, but you can learn how to add impact and significance to your presentation.
Secondly you may have to play down the ‘lively sense of humour’; yes you want the panel to like you and want to work with you.. they may not be attracted to the overly dull and sober but keep the humour under control.
Thirdly you have to manage your posture and body language appropriately; no flirting or slouching.
Fourthly you have to use a voice that conveys the passion and seriousness that you want to convey. Monotonous, sober tones equal dull. So how do you improve the voice presentation?
Give your voice a gym work out, practice getting plenty of inflection and rhythm into your voice. And depth.
Breath from your diaphragm, pull in your stomach when you breathe out and push them out again to breath in. Use all your lungs and lower your register. Speak to the vase at the other side of the room without getting louder.  Controlling your breathing is critical for projecting your voice and for controlling the nerves; when you are nervous you go into short shallow breaths. Slow it down and breathe deeply.
Practise your use of inflection, take the following sentence:
“Did you give Mark the book yesterday?”
Say it eight times, each time putting the emphasis in a different place. Notice how this changes the meaning of the sentence.  Listen to the way that you use you make your voice go up at the end of the sentence to turn it into a question.
You may have come across my ‘think Switzerland’ technique to help you remember to make your voice rise and fall rather  take a monotonous route.
In the end the content of your presentation of interview should determine the outcome, substance over style; but if you have both you can surely be a winner.
For more support and advice on how to get paid more, promoted faster and feel more satisfied go to

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

How to work with recruitment agencies

 Lots of people moan about how badly treated they are by recruitment agencies, and I am not defending any of the poor practice that there is out there. However some of the criticism comes  from a fundamental misunderstanding about what the agencies exist to do and how they operate.
Recruitment firms specialise in certain jobs/professions/sectors. You will be wasting your time if you approach people who don't fill roles in your niche.
You need to remember that  you are not paying the recruitment agency, the employer pays them so they really struggle to spend time on you as it is not bringing in any money unless they can place you. So back to finding the recruiter who fills jobs in your target niche..and you may need to get down to finding the recruiter who fills jobs in the company you want to work for. So you have to do your homework and prep.. don't expect them to be circulating your details around all their clients .. this is an employers market.
Then you need a fabulous keyword rich CV and pitch which tells them why you will get them a a 'hire' and thus commission. Then you need to build the relationship so that they know you are valuable to them. Then don't annoy them by being a pest and contacting too frequently.
They are struggling too, so be supportive and helpful to them!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Why do I need to do a covering letter?

Many of the jobs that people in the public sector apply for require a CV and a supporting statement; so I get asked about what to do about a covering letter.
Think logically about what the person who is reading all this information wants to know.
They want to know what you have done, your experience, qualifications  and your  skills. The Cv will tell them about your experience. It will set out your key achievements in reverse chronological order. It will tell them about your main achievements from which they can see what sort of skills you have got. If your Cv is a skeleton your supporting statement is the flesh and blood.
Your supporting statement should give some expanded examples of what you have done and how you did it. It is used to judge whether you have the skills; so structure it around the person spec and talk about what you did and how you did it.
So where does that leave the covering letter. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader; what else do they want to know? Well why you want the job, whether you understand the job, whether you are committed to the job. Don’t waste your opportunity to sell your enthusiasm by saying ‘herewith, attached is my application’. Use it as part of convincing them that they should meet with you.
CV, supporting statement and cover letter are the holy trinity of applications, use each well.
For more support and advice on how to get paid more, promoted faster and feel more satisfied go to