5 psychology tricks to enhance virtual assessment centres

Aug 4, 2021 | Selection & assessment

Brittany Davies, a business psychologist from Sten10, offers five tips to enhance your virtual assessment centre.

From my experience of designing and delivering bespoke assessment processes for organisations around the world, here’s a psychologist’s perspective on virtual assessment centres and how we can do our best to ensure they are hitting the mark. 

#1 Prepare, prepare, prepare

We all know preparation is essential to a good Assessment Centre (AC) process, but you may not have considered the candidate impact of your preparations when it comes to assessing virtually

For some candidates, attending an online assessment centre might be more comfortable than attending in person, but for others it can be a source of anxiety. By being extra diligent in your preparations for the AC you can alleviate some of this uncertainty to really ensure you get the best from all of your candidates on the day. Consider the following:

  • Ensure they know and have access to the virtual platform prior to the day itself, so they can do a walkthrough and feel prepared before the big moment.
  • Provide plenty of information about what is expected of them – the timescales, the dress code, what to expect before, during, and after the session.
  • Have clear steps of what to do when technology hiccups – provide a backup phone number so that they can dial into the conversation should their internet fail, or ensure they know where to find technical support on the platform during the day. This reduces anxiety and undue stress if things go a little skewwhiff. 

By showing you have considered what might happen and have contingencies demonstrates to candidates that you are not only prepared and confident in the process, but that you also care about their concerns and wellbeing for the day itself. 

#2 Sell your company

Sometimes we forget that the recruitment process is as much about candidates identifying if the job is right for them, as it is about us deciding if they are right for the job. 

In a face-to-face AC candidates get to see the company on the ground, meet their potential colleagues, get a feel for the atmosphere and culture for the organisation. 

Within a virtual assessment centre, it’s more important than ever that your assessment process authentically reflects the organisation. If you are to use generic exercises it might feel to candidates as though they are being put on a conveyor belt to test them, without giving anything in return. 

Build in opportunities to discuss the organisation with other individuals, include casual breaks where candidates can meet one another informally, build exercises that demonstrate the real work the company does, and include information about the organisation in your emails inviting them to the AC, such as the values framework or current culture initiatives.

This will ensure you not only attract the top talent who may have multiple offers to consider, but those who are invested and aligned with the organisations values.

#3 Be more mindful of unusual biases

Assessing is like driving a car – everyone thinks that they are wonderful at it. We all know about first-impression bias, and we do our best to make sure that the floppy damp handshake we received doesn’t impact on how we rate candidates as we go throughout the day. But when you move into a virtual assessment process it becomes more important than ever to notice where we might experience unfair or biased thoughts. 

We are seeing people in their homes, rather than in a neutral environment. We might see bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, or even coffee shops for those with unreliable internet connections. 

These rooms will be filled with personal memorabilia that we will have to do our best to ignore. These are the areas where we might experience more bias than normal:

  • Quality of internet connection
  • Interruptions from the environment (pets, children, other household members, construction work)
  • The candidates visual background
  • How effectively people grasp new technology

To combat this, brush up on bias and assessor training prior to your virtual ACs, highlighting the extra things to be mindful of. 

#4 Don’t forget about individual differences

When designing exercises and ACs we do our best to ensure we include a variety of scenarios and exercise types to really allow individuals to shine. 

Some may thrive in group-based tasks and leading a team, where others excel at analytical thinking and presenting information in a concise manner. At an AC we need to provide as much opportunity for people to demonstrate their best side as possible. 

We find that some candidates are reporting they are very keen on virtual ACs and that it has relieved some anxiety about travelling to an unknown location in time for an important event. Others are less keen, and find that they can’t get into the ‘flow’ of an assessment centre when sat at home, or that their own personal style isn’t well suited to long periods of fixed concentration at a monitor. 

As psychologists we need to ensure we incorporate individual differences into the design of virtual ACs, and in some cases in a post-Covid world the answer may be to offer a choice of virtual or face-to-face ACs and allow candidates to self-select their preference. 

Consider whether your current process is suited to the different types of candidates you are used to receiving. 

#5 Keep evaluating – use your data

The most important part of an assessment process is that it is doing what it intends to do. It should accurately identify those who will go on to perform well in the role without adversely impacting on any demographics. 

Aim to capture data from every AC, store it confidentially, and then identify a criteria against which you can compare it six, 12 or 18 months down the line. Conduct predictive validity studies where you can, explore adverse impact over time and keep gathering data. 

We are in a new world of virtual assessment, there are a lot of unknowns, and we can’t always rely on the scientific community to give us the answers we need quickly. Take control, build your confidence in your own process, and utilise the information you have to hand to improve your processes, year on year, candidate after candidate. 

These are just a few of the broader psychological considerations to keep in mind when delivering assessment centres virtually. There are plenty of more nuanced changes you can make to the design of your materials, the content of your exercises, and how you timetable the day itself depending on your organisations needs. 

Feel free to contact Sten10 if you would ever like an assessment centre health check, we are always happy to provide advice on amendments that can improve the assessment process for your candidates and hiring managers. 

Sten 10 presented ‘Assessing Virtually: Lessons Learnt from 12 Months of Online Assessment Centres’ at ISE’s Student Recruitment Conference 2021

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