ISE: “Are virtual assessment centres the new normal?”

Our second blog, from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) conference in March 2021, focuses on virtual assessment centres. Thanks to Suzanne Agnew, Link Careers Consultant for Moray House School of Education & Sport, for this update and excellent advice.

Representatives from Accenture and Thames Water shared experiences of running assessment centres during the Covid-19 pandemic and how they expect to operate in the future. While specific to these organisations, many of the themes discussed would be common for other graduate employers.

What has changed?

While online selection activities were already happening prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, employers very quickly had to adapt to deliver everything virtually. Thames Water have been using occupational psychologists to help them create a more natural environment in their virtual assessment centres to ensure a quality experience for candidates.

Group exercises are common selection tools for many recruiters but employers have had to adapt in the virtual environment. At Thames Water, the group exercise is less weighted than individual exercises. They say that being quieter in the group setting is not necessarily a bad thing as someone who really dominates the group discussion wouldn’t be a good fit for their organisation. Accenture have moved to a new model and have replaced group exercises with paired activities and this has really helped with candidates getting the chance to be heard. They advocate thinking of positive ways that you can contribute if you are in a pair with someone who takes over the conversation.  For example, saying “When you have finished listing your options, I have some ideas that I would like to share.”

What has been the impact?

Both companies talked about the increase in the diversity of candidates they see at assessment centres, and subsequently being made offers. The flexibility of virtual assessment centres makes it possible for those working and/or with caring responsibilities to attend. Recruiters acknowledged the issue of digital poverty and will support the best they can so the applicant is able to take part.

There is also an environmental impact caused by the reduction in hundreds of candidates, as well as assessors, travelling across the country to attend assessment centres.

What does the future hold?

With the positive impact on diversity of candidates and flexibility of running virtual assessment centres, they are set to stay. Accenture say they wouldn’t make significant changes to their processes during a recruitment cycle. Where employers want to improve is through onboarding activities to help new recruits feel a greater sense of connection with the organisation and each other. Virtual assessment centres don’t give the opportunity to visit the office and get a real feel for the organisation.

Top tips

  • Do your research into the organisation! This obvious piece of preparation is being neglected and employers have noticed an increase in candidates being more lax.  They can easily tell when you haven’t put the effort in to prepare.
  • Make the most of completing the assessment centre at home: go outside, hug a pet, listen to music in between activities to help you regroup and come to the next activity refreshed.
  • You make the decision whether or not to disclose your disability at any stage of the recruitment process. Accenture and Thames Water said they strongly encourage applicants to disclose so that they can work with candidates to ensure they provide the appropriate support and help to decrease the anxiety a candidate with disabilities might feel when going into an assessment. Check out advice from the Careers Service website on disclosing your disability.
  • Avoid the “spray and pray” approach with applications. Candidates who are fatigued by the number of assessment centres they are attending because they have applied to so many will do less well. Focus on a targeted approach to help you manage the selection process and perform better.
  • Practise articulating your strengths and skills and be able to talk assuredly about your achievements: really bring your CV to life.

Thanks Suzanne.

Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog in this series on the Retail, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods and Tourism sector…



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