How robust are assessment centres, really?

I met with an old friend and a HRD – let’s call him Bob – for a coffee at the start of this week (before I got struck down by a nasty cold).  The first thing he said was

“I have to say thank – you.  Recruiting Sarah was a great decision, and I wouldn’t have done so without your advice”.

Now, this comment came about following a small piece of work I did with Bob last year.  He was recruiting to a senior position within his team and he wanted some objective, credible and friendly advice.  I’ve known Bob for a number of years, we get along well and we trust each other. 

Another key element to our relationship is that Bob and I move in different networks.  I know a lot of people that he doesn’t and vice versa.  The NHS is a small world, and between us we know a lot of people – or know somebody who knows somebody else.  And when we’re recruiting, it’s useful to have some insider knowledge.

Bob had commissioned another agency to run a robust assessment centre and he had asked me to join him as an independent advisor.  I participated in every step of the process from longlisting, to the assessment centre wash-up to the final interview.  And I think you already know, Sarah got the job.

I’ve known Sarah for years.  Firstly, I knew her by reputation.  I first met her in person when we were both working on a sector-wide project, and for a brief while we ended up working together.  Sarah is reliable, credible, honest: I rate her skills as a senior HR practitioner. 

However, if you’re looking at MBTI types, Sarah is an introvert.  I’ve seen her develop excellent relationships with key figures, such as the Chief Executive, who rely on her for sensible and technically sound advice.  I’ve seen her in committee meetings: she’s not outspoken, but she carries authority when she does speak.

But put Sarah in an assessment centres, in a competitive environment with people she doesn’t know and she bombs.  She comes across as unable to influence, negotiate, or even the ability to form strategic alliances.

And this is the dilema that Bob faced when he was recruiting last year.  Sarah’s CV was sound.  However the feedback from the assessment centres suggested that she would fail, quite spectularly, in this role. I spent some time questionning the Occ Psychs about the outcome, as the profile they presented did not fit with my personal knowledge of Sarah.

Bob decided to take a risk and interview Sarah.  By the time she left the interview Bob knew that she was by far the best candidate of the day.  And the rest is history…..

The “evidence based research” tells us that in making recruitment decisions we need to have a variety of different methods to test whether or not a candidate is suitable for a role.   But it is obvious in the case of Sarah that the assessment centre set up to test her suitability failed to take into account her personality traits, and therefore presented her with a disadvantage. 

So, it’s left me wondering….how many more candidates are also placed at a disadvantage by similar “assessment centre” type recruitment tools?


2 comments on “How robust are assessment centres, really?

  1. Kevin Ball says:

    I think it was just a poorly managed assessment, really. Your knowledge and the trust of both parties should have been enough without incurring the fee, but in the absence of relationships I’d still back a good assessment centre to help you make sound judgements.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kevin Ball, Karen Wise. Karen Wise said: My new post: on assessment centres plus comment from @KevinJBall […]

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