Assessment Center Exercises?
Several basic exercises have become
fairly standard in today's assessment centers. They are:
l. The In-Basket
2. The Group discussion/Leaderless group
3. The Interview Simulation; often called the Role play Employee counseling
4. Oral presentation (often a personal biography)
5. Written exercise
6. Panels/Oral Boards
Note: Panels and Orals are not considered part of a true assessment center, but
youll likely encounter them in most cases. You may as well get ready for them!)
Actually, the exercise could be almost anything as long as it can be shown to be
WHAT ARE DIMENSIONS?
Dimensions are those behaviors that are (job-related) observable, measurable and
specific to the position being tested for. They may also be referred to as tasks
or traits. They are also sometimes known as KSA's (Knowledge, Skills and
An actual dimension then of Planning, would be the how and what a candidate did
to demonstrate that they had a satisfactory grasp of this dimension. The
observers then would observe this behavior and record it for a rating scale
later. For example, using the same analogy of Planning, let's say candidate A
"used a Daily Planner to schedule meetings". Candidate A also "made a list of
things to complete prior to the meetings," and "delegated tasks to subordinates
to accomplish with specific instructions or deadlines." This is just a brief
example, but the key is that you must actually demonstrate those behaviors!
These dimensions should be things you are intimately familiar with, particularly
if you have done any studying or reading about the position you are applying
for. For example, just what are the basics of supervision? Of Management? If you
break them down into identifiable behaviors, you will find they suddenly become
very clear. As supervisor, you plan, schedule, organize, etc. Remember the old
acronym PODSCoRB? If you havent heard of this, you should be familiar with it
if you are a supervisor or manager:
Budgeting (Gulick and Urwick, 1937)
It is a good example of specific dimensions that assessors will be looking for
you to demonstrate! We will now look at a few of the more common exercises and
see how the behaviors and dimensions are related.
This exercise is often found at a
midlevel or higher management position. We see them for both fire and police
testing. They arent going to go away, but they may be hopefully, more
reflective of the actual type of in-basket you would actually encounter on the
job They may range from an hour to several days! But generally, they give you a
scenario where you are the new supervisor or manager and you have a very
limited time frame to go through about 30-40 memo's, reports, telephone notes,
letters that have to be dealt with within the given time frame as you are
"scheduled to leave on a extended trip". Some will be items that are critical
and must be handled immediately.
Some may be entirely irrelevant, or can be handled by either a subordinate or
can be "tabled" until your "return". The important point is that you prioritize
the items within the time frame. You will be asked later to give your reasons
why you did or didn't handle a specific item. You need to be alert though to
those items which may be related somehow. You may want to put notes on most of
the papers indicating what type of priority you have given it, and what you plan
to "do" with it; i.e., either delegate, hold, sign and forward on, or hold for
some future date. The key is that no one will know anything if you don't
communicate via your notes!
Remember you are going to be leaving soon on your "trip" and won't be around to
answer any questions. If you are a mid-manager or manager, you want to give some
thought as to whom you want to replace you while you will be "gone". This
must be communicated to the fictional staff. You will usually get an
organizational chart and a calendar so you can delegate, advise, inform, etc.,
and schedule meetings, due dates and follow up on projects.
You may find the following dimensions measured in this exercise are:
Written Communication ability
Planning and organization
Ability to take risks
In effect, the candidate should:
Be able to organize/prioritize the items in the exercise
Be able to work through most if not all, of the items in the time frame allowed
Arrange to delegate most items (to a subordinate)
Give clear and concise instructions
Give reasonable and timely deadlines when delegating
Insure follow up methods
Use the calendar properly; schedule meetings, arrange for due dates and
Manage conflicts by planning/scheduling/delegating
This exercise may include either an assigned role or an unassigned role (or a
facilitated LGE) for the candidate. Generally, the group is given a series of
problems or information that must be acted on. The group is to come to a
mutually agreed upon decision. For example, the Chief tells all of you who are
Sergeants or Fire Captains, that you are to meet with your peers and come up
with a plan to implement some new training that has been mandated by the state.
The dilemma most of us face, is that we think we know what the assessors are
looking for, and we may forget the true purpose of the exercise. In reality, the
raters are really just looking to see how well YOU helped the group move forward
to a consensus, agreements, moved them forward when they got behind and whether
your role was helpful in achieving the goal the Chief asked you to do. Thats
all. You dont have to stand on the table and wave your arms and shout to be
heard. Just follow the instructions and be yourself, keeping in mind the
dimensions that are being assessed. The truth is this: you really may nor may
not have the ability to help the group or add anything to the group. Thats not
unrealistic if you have never had anything to do with group dynamics, is it? The
key then would to get as much experience as you can in teaching, giving
presentation, running small mindmapping exercises with your cohorts. After
all, these are just skills that are learned over time. There no mystery to the
exercises once you take a hard look at the job description and the dimensions
that are listed.
The assessor should, if at all possible, have put the program together to
reflect a set of scenarios that are realistic and relevant to your present
organization. The issues should be timely and reasonable concerns supervisors or
mid-managers would have in a normal work setting. Keep in mind that most
assessors have done a job analysis of the rank and know what a good Sgt, Lt.,
Bn. Chief, etc., should be able to actually do. The more you can demonstrate
that, the better supervisor youll be, regardless of the testing process.
What Should your Role be?
What types of dimensions would you be expected to demonstrate here? Being a good
listener? Being able to summarize a point? Being a facilitator, a mediator and
keep everyone else on track? Being organized, speaking clearly, and being
persuasive are also clear dimensions in this exercise. You want to show the
assessors these dimension, and you must participate in order to succeed! You
cannot sit back and simply watch the other participants engage in the
discussion. Not if you want to demonstrate any behaviors that would lead them to
believe you would make a good Sergeant, Lieutenant, Fire Captain, Battalion
Chief or ??? Always keep in mind though, that this whole group of exercises is
the only chance the assessors will have to "judge" you. So make it count!
Group Discussion Behaviors
In addition to the dimensions
mentioned above, which of the following behaviors would you be demonstrating?
- Interpersonal relations - Flexibility
- Problem Analysis - Stress tolerance
- Initiative - Judgment
- Persuasiveness - Oral communication skills
- Productivity - Tenacity
Keep in mind that the behaviors demonstrated ought to be reflective of the job
dimensions. Which behaviors would you demonstrate?
- Keeps them on track - Monitors time
- Supports others - Gets others involved
- Initiates discussion - "Sells" or sways the group
- Recaps key points - Clarifies issues
The Counseling Session
This exercise is very common and is often a "role-play" scenario where you act
as the "supervisor" or "manager" and have to discipline a wayward employee. The
assessors are watching you to see how well you demonstrate that dimension
critical to this type of action.
You should be aware of some of the major problems underlying most behavior
patterns that result in disciplinary action: They generally are:
l. Job dissatisfaction
2. Marital problems
3. Financial problems
4. Alcohol or drug problems 
These are just to name a few. You can see how complex this exercise could
become. During the exercise, imagine youre talking to that person as though
they really were having the types of problems that come up. What would you want
to do? How would you present your ideas for them to get back on track? Would
- Give them specific goals?
- Include specific completion/due dates?
- Build in some form of monitoring their progress?
- Let them know what your expectations are?
- Be specific as to what will happen if they fail to meet your goals or
- Try to elicit a verbal contract or a least some form of buy-in and
ownership of the problem and the solution?
- Conclude on a positive note or a negative note? After all, think of how you would
feel after coming away from the session.
How are you Rated?
It is crucial that you understand that if you do not demonstrate the behaviors
outlined in the various dimensions, you do not give the assessors much to work
with. Generally, you are rated with a minimum scoring of 1-4, with a one being
low. In effect, a "4" would mean that you clearly demonstrated those behaviors
outlined in the dimensions. A "1" would then mean that you either demonstrated a
small amount or even none of the dimension.
Remember: What will they write about your performance? Its up to you to get
ready for the jobNOT the Test!
 GETTING READY FOR THAT ASSESSMENT CENTER, Brian T. Page, Sweets Corners
Press, NY 1983
About the Author
Rick Michelson is the director of KSA, Ltd., Knowledge, Skills & Abilities,
Ltd., and specializes in one day workshops for public safety personnel who have
to attend an Assessment Center Classes are generally by prior arrangement. For
information on classes or the textbooks, visit their website.
http://assessmentcenter.org/ Rick may be reached at 619-203-3073 or