More Details on the Assessment Center

Once inside the assessment center, you will be observed by a group of raters who will score your performance. Typically the candidate's score is rated on a scale between 5 (as the highest) and 1 (as the lowest). A score of 5 indicates the candidate is Strong in that category. A score of 4 indicates the candidate is More Than Adequate in that category. A score of 3 indicates that the candidate is Adequate or Acceptable in that category. A score of 2 indicates that the candidate is Less Than Adequate in that category, and a score of 1 indicates the candidate is Weak in that category.

Assessment center exercises are either group or individual. While the format of the exercises is basically the same, the content changes, depending on the job level and organization. Basically the assessment centers exercises will consist of:

  • A Group Discussion will start without an appointed leader. During the exercise, the participants with leadership ability will assume leadership of the group.
  • An In Basket Exercise simulates the working situation in which some work is generated by documents assigned and forwarded to the candidate. Difficulty and stress can be increased or decreased by controlling the amount of time, the number of individual items, and the complexity of the items.
  • A Written Problem requires the candidate to review a certain amount of material and prepare a written report. The report could be (but is not) limited to performance evaluations, budgeting requests, staff reports, or press releases.
  • An Interview Simulation could simulate any number of situations in which the candidate must interview others for a job.
  • An Oral Presentation requires the candidate to make a formal presentation to a group of persons who are usually the raters.
  • A Social Gathering is a situation where the raters will evaluate you on your interaction with others.

Following is a brief overview of the assessment center. If you are going to participate in an assessment center, your preparation is basically the same as for an oral board, only your testing process may be extended anywhere from one day to a five-day evaluation. The best advice I can give you is to be yourself and don't fight to take control of a situation. A good leader assumes control while allowing his competition to make the mistakes. I don't mean that you should sit back and say nothing, but listen to your fellow competitors, quickly analyze their statements and if you agree with them, expound on what they said to make it yours. If you disagree, then do it in a respectful but strong manner, which will make people take note of your position. Be sure you are correct in your statements, because you will either live by them or die by them, but don't be afraid to make the decision! Above all, remember that you are in competition with the others in the assessment center.

The following examples are given as areas of concern so that your actions, or lack thereof, will not be misinterpreted. You are being continually evaluated as you go through the process, so always keep your guard up.

Case in point: When I was competing for the chief's position at Fountain Valley, I was going through the assessment center exercise, which was being conducted by a renowned consultant in the assessment center field. I had completed many of the exercises along with my fellow competitors, and we were standing around during a break having coffee. I spoke with a few of the candidates, but I also wanted some alone time to concentrate on my performance. Later, during the interview process of the assessment center, it was brought to my attention that I had been observed during the breaks as not intermingling with my fellow candidates and that I was "aloof." I asked the rater to explain how he came by this conclusion, especially since I did not see him constantly watching me during the breaks. He explained that he did not always see my actions during the breaks because he had other matters to attend to, but when he did observe me, I had little interaction with the others in the group. Since this was affecting my rating and my professional goals for achieving the chief's position, I had to explain my actions to him. Afterwards, he stated that he understood and that he had misinterpreted my actions. Had I not had the ability to discuss this matter with this rater, it could have jeopardized my chances for that position.

Also, during this same assessment center exercise, prior to the beginning of a session, I was sitting next to a captain from another agency when the lead consultant "leaped" (literally!) into the room. Upon seeing this captain, he came rushing over to him and, in front of other candidates (me included), proceeded to expound on his impressive resume and how happy he was that this captain was testing for the position. At first, I thought it was part of the stress program associated with the assessment center; but as this consultant went on and on about this candidate's achievements, I realized it was just bad judgment on the part of the consultant. These actions made me realize that I must be more conscious of the performance of others during the assessment center (especially, when I was involved in group discussions or other interactive dimensions with this candidate).

These are just a couple of examples with which I was personally involved. Of note is that on the positive side, they did assist me in being better prepared for future assessment centers.

Later, the raters may ask you to explain some of your actions during these various exercises. Don't become excessively nervous. If you have a reason for your actions, which I assume you do, give it because these exercises are designed to display who you are and allow the raters to view the way you accomplish your assigned tasks. Oftentimes your explanation could be outstanding and the raters may question it only because it was not the way they would have completed the task, and they know that there is always more than one way to complete a task.