Assessment Centers Far Superior Hiring Technique

How much can you possibly learn about a prospective employee in one or two interviews, a lunch and even a few calls to references? You get a snapshot, but any additional information sure can be helpful in making a key hiring decision for your organization.

The City of Grand Junction, Colorado has, for years, used assessment centers rather than the more traditional methods of interviewing for hiring its department heads and key management. In fact, the City never hires for these positions without running a full assessment center.

“MORE INFORMATION” is the goal of an assessment center. It gets beyond the biographical data (e.g. reporting of previous and relevant education and experience) that is generally measured through the resume submittal and interview process. The center delves deeper to look at an individual’s personal behaviors and traits – those issues that oftentimes become problematic in the workplace.

The reason that assessment centers are considered a better predictor of job match and success is that they are designed to more thoroughly, accurately and rationally (non-emotionally) review candidates’ aptitudes and likely performance. Proven instruments and trained assessors (your volunteers) maximize the organization’s ability to “know what you’re getting into.”

How does an assessment center work? The first step is to determine the core competencies required for the position. Core competencies are the skills, behaviors, knowledge and abilities that distinguish high from average/low performance. In the case of an executive director position, these core competencies are likely to fall in the broad areas of leadership, administrative skills, fundraising, problem solving, financial management, planning and public relations. But the list may vary to some degree from one organization to the next.

The next step is to identify the education, experiences, behaviors and traits that allow an individual to excel in each of the identified competency areas. For instance, more thorough examination and explanation are required to determine, “What constitutes the core competency of ‘leadership’ for this position within our organization?” From this detailed examination, the assessment center is designed (and, likely, the job description updated).

The center itself is actually a day (or more) when all of the candidates are concurrently brought on site and run through a battery of exercises, whether group discussion, individual presentations, brainstorming and problem solving, interview, simulation, etc. Candidates may or may not find themselves participating with other job contenders in the exercises (there can be distinct advantages to having candidates working together for assessors’ observation). The time also allows for candidates to learn more about the organization and for informal contact with staff, board members and volunteers (as desirable).

Involving numerous volunteers (the City of Grand Junction relies on community members as integral to its assessment centers) is helpful to the process. Some of these individuals will be trained as assessors. Effectively, assessors are scorekeepers, measuring the candidates as pragmatically as possible against a list of pre-determined criteria. Numerical scores are tallied and, when the candidates have departed, decision makers are presented with “the numbers.” This provides an important scorecard that is missing from nearly all traditional interview processes. The assessors’ information then is weighed against the feedback provided by “observers” (an official role within an assessment center), reference checks, etc. The end goal, of course, is that the ideal candidate presents him/herself throughout the process and that a quality hire is made.

Third Sector Innovations strongly believes in the assessment center process, and encourages organizations to use it when seeking a new executive director or key staff position. TSI provides full executive search services, including assessment center design and implementation. We also can provide transitional management services – including interim executive directors – for organizations that find themselves in need of such.

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