n Are assessment centres a ticket to a top job? Yes, but only if you play by the rules, as Camilla Palmer reports There was a time when to clinch a top job in any industry, all one had to do was make sure your qualifications were up to scratch, fill in the application form and stun 'em at interview. Not any more. With sometimes three or four interviews to cope with, panel assessments and questions to dodge, not to mention the weekend assessment centre to tackle, successful applicants need a week's holiday before they even start in their new job. Then there's your cultural suitability to consider. You see, it's no longer sufficient to have the right qualifications and an impressive interview style. Being a good fit for the company is just as important.Recruiters are using assessment centres as a valuable tool to weed out those who look good on paper but can't cut the mustard in real life. Alun Jones, md of recruitment company Highfield Executive Search and Selection, says assessment centres are not to be underestimated. "They're the wolves in sheep's clothing ­ candidates often don't realise how much importance their future give assessment centres." It's a mistake to view an invitation to an assessment centre as a job offer and, Jones says, lots of people seem to forget they're under scrutiny at assessment centres. Jones advises clients about how to structure the events, and tells candidates how to handle them. "Companies need to use the time wisely and every exercise has to have some purpose," stresses Jones. Most assessment centres take place over two days. "At this level, you're beyond interview stage in the sense that any company will be pretty sure you can do the job. What they're trying to assess is how you work in a team, solve more complex problems, deal with deadlines and potentially difficult situations, and resolve conflicts," says Jones. Most selection weekends are built around group activities, but there's also provision for one-to-one assessments. "There will be aptitude tests, personality profiles, analytical exercises, numerical competency rating and presentation testing as an absolute basic requirement," says Jones. He says they're looking for not only team players, but those who are confident enough to exert influence on others, winning them around to their thinking with discussion, reasoning and tact. "Group work is very revealing ­ it's not about who can shout the loudest, but who allows other views to be vented before coming to a conclusion," he says. He urges company personnel to put themselves under the spotlight too. After all, it's important they and their company are seen in a positive light by potential new staff. He adds that it is crucial those who closely match the type of candidate the company is seeking are at the selection coalface. "Normally, a member of senior management ­ perhaps even at board level ­ teams up with personnel to provide backup to those who will be working with the new recruits," he adds. He sees assessment centres as places where candidates can try on' the company and says: "I've known people to withdraw from selection processes, simply because they realised they didn't fit, or the company didn't fit them." But he has a warning for those who view assessment centres as corporate hospitality: "Remember, they've got you there for a reason ­ they want to see how you act as a person. If you can't hold an intelligent conversation over dinner, you get drunk at their expense, and fall down on social skills, there's a good chance you'll get a black mark. "But there's no doubt that it's a great canvas for you to paint your suitability on ­ getting the balance right is the crucial factor," he says. n {{TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT }}