Can You Be Yourself In Your Assessment Center?
Someone who knows my thoughts about how to best prepare for an Assessment Center copied a review of my book from the Amazon site and sent it to me, indignant over how wrong he thought it was. The reviewer gave me five stars and essentially said my book proves his belief that you can’t do well in an Assessment Center promotional process if you say what you really think and use your real experiences.
I assume the person who wrote the review had participated in an Assessment Center and didn’t get promoted and saw someone he didn’t respect or like get promoted instead. Or perhaps he read my book and decided he didn’t even want to test because he thought he would have act phony to do well. I’m sorry about that and I know he would feel differently if he fully understood the process or had talked to experienced assessors.
Often a candidate will not rate as high as he expected and assume one thing he said in one exercise was the sole cause. Assessment Center results are based on more than one or two ratings. In a typical process a candidate may receive 45 ratings (3 exercises x 5 competency areas x 3 assessors). Unless a candidate says something that is outrageously wrong or offensive it will have very little effect on his or her overall results. Another thing to consider is that a candidate usually does not have access to the notes or discussions of assessors, so he would not know all of the issues upon which they based their ratings. Even if he received a feedback report, it only summarizes a few notes, not all.
I replied to the reviewer’s comments and asked him to contact me six to eight months before his next test, so I can send some additional material and maybe talk to him about it. I want to help him see that he can use his experiences and personal philosophies, if they reflect the best practices of the profession and are appropriate for the testing exercises in which he is participating.
How Effective Is The Real You?
Even if you are not in the law enforcement profession or are not participating in promotional testing, you may feel that you must submerge your real feelings, your fundamental beliefs and your real personality, to be successful or accepted. If it is true, you may be in the wrong work, school or personal setting or trying to get into the wrong setting. Find the place or situation where you can flourish. Or, you may find you can flourish where you are if you adjust or change some aspects of what you consider to be the real you.
It’s hard to accept, but often we have habits, peculiarities, traits, idiosyncrasies, opinions and foibles that cause others to reject us–and until we make some changes we will never be fully successful. Or, like some very successful people have found–they could save themselves a lot of trouble and stress if they weren’t the real them quite so often!
Stand out from the herd. (Photo by Casey McCorison, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming,)
Preparing for a Promotional Interview: It’s Never Too Soon to Start
If you want to be promoted to a higher organizational level or move into a specific area of work, start preparing for it long before management announces an opening. Rather than preparing just for the interview, prepare for the position and the work, then let that preparation show in your interview or other testing.
It is true that some in-house interviews are not optimally objective and do not identify the person best suited for the role or task. However, often that accusation is a way to justify not getting the position. One thing is for sure; If being selected based on an interview is the only way to move ahead, you will simply have to hope that the interviewer (s) and interview questions, give you chances to show your best self—then, take advantage of the opportunities.
The first step is to review your career and what you have done in your current work assignment and see how you have demonstrated your readiness for the position you seek. That will help you prepare for two questions that probably will not be spoken, but if provided anyway, will help you stand out from the others:
1. “So what?” This is what interviewers are thinking when you give a list of your career accomplishments. You know you have worked hard and have done several significant things, but the interviewers may need to be told how those things link to the position you seek.
As you discuss the most significant things you have done, link it to the position you seek: “That project taught me a lot about scheduling and time management. I can apply it if I’m chosen for the Team Leader position, by helping team members develop their own skills in that area and by being more effective than I would have been without the project experiences.” One candidate was disarmingly honest and said, several times, “Here is how I’ll use that, if I’m promoted.” There was no question in the minds of the interviewers that he had given it some thought.
2. “Why should we believe you?” This is essentially, “Can you prove it?” It is what interviewers are thinking when you say you will be effective in the new work or that you are a great team player or will be committed to the goals of the manager, or whatever you say you will do and be. Can you prove it by what you have done in your current work? One anecdote to show how you work and what you can be depended upon to do, is worth a dozen unsubstantiated promises.
After the most significant things you promise or state, see if you can provide an example. “Yes, I’m very committed to our company’s values in that area. For example………….” Or, “I know I can adjust to the new software, because….”
Be preparing, all the time. The answers to both of those unspoken questions have to be in-progress all the time–almost from the day you are hired. You can cram facts and knowledge but you cannot cram experiences, accomplishments, reputation and proven skills–those are developed over time.
Not all promotional processes involve an interview, some involve a review of your work or a review of a package you prepare about your work. Many employees discover they do not have as much to offer as they thought they did. They waited until an opening was announced to start preparing to get promoted. If you genuinely have been interested in the job or promotion, you will have done something in your current work that shows it. Find that something, then look for opportunities to let the interviewers know about it. If they never give you the opportunity, be prepared with a closing statement that covers some of it. When they ask, “Do you have anything else you would like to add?,” be ready!
One of the most fun aspects of being the author of A Preparation Guide For the Assessment Center Method is that I receive emails and phone calls from all over the country–and occasionally I’m thrilled to hear from other countries–the UK, South Africa, France, Australia and once from Russia!
That book, which I wrote in 2005 or so, has been very well received by thousands of officers of all ranks. I often meet people at conferences who tell me they have thought about contacting me to ask a question or to tell me they were promoted–or to share their frustrations over not being promoted. However, they didn’t do it because they didn’t think I’d care or want to be bothered. They obviously don’t know the level of interest I have in anyone who is involved in promotional testing! Of course I care and it’s never a bother.
Free Assessment Center Preparation Material
Free Law Enforcement Promotional Testing Material.
I also have other material that I use in my assessment center preparation seminars and some that will go in the second edition of the book, coming out this year. I’ll be happy to send helpful material, without charge, to anyone who requests it.
If you’d like some free material, contact me on the contact form. I’d like to know the department, the rank involved, and anything else you want to share about your efforts. I won’t bother you again and everything I receive is confidential. I just like to be a resource–but I do like to know a bit about who I’m sending things to.
I do the same thing with church safety and security material and have sent many thousands of free documents to church leaders and police officers who have requested that information. (If you’d like that at the same time, let me know.)
If you would like FREE training material on how to be more successful in your law enforcement promotional testing, contact me and let me know how I can help.
I saw this sign on the door of my nearby OfficeMax and simply had to take a photo. Wouldn’t it be nice if all jobs were posted so honestly?
NOW HIRING: Hard Worker Who Won’t Complain About Everything He/She Is Asked To Do, Three Weeks After Being Hired.
APPLICATIONS NOW BEING TAKEN: Obsequious, fawning sycophant. Other knowledge and skills only minimally necessary.
JOB OPENING: Need steady employee to take the place of the malingering, excuse-making, habitually late one we’re going to fire as soon as he gets here.
As it turns out–nothing is as ever fun as it seems–this sign was for the position of supervisor in the ImPress section (copies and printing). He or she is supposed to ensure accuracy of orders so I hope he or she corrects the spelling on the next Now Hiring sign, from Impress to ImPress.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing the sign and wondered what they would do if someone showed up to say they certainly could impress a supervisor and would like to start immediately.
I once asked my group to help me develop some descriptions for a position into which someone would be transferred. I expected, “must be able to use Word proficiently” or something of that nature. Instead I received lists with descriptions like, “Must be in a good mood upon arrival, not after three cups of coffee.” “Can’t be weird acting.” “Grown up who is not in need of babysitting.” “Approximately well-balanced mentally.” “Can just do the work, please.”
Challenge yourself to think of what others–supervisors, coworkers and clients–would honestly say they want from someone in your job. Their wants may be unrealistic or incorrect for the work, but it can be a good way to consider if you can provide just a bit of it. Think how it would impress them!
There is a difference between a warning and an admonishment–but many supervisors don’t recognize the difference and fail to warn in a way that prevents a problem in the future.
An Admonishment Is Mild But Pointed Advice
An admonishment is a brief word of advice, counsel, maybe mild-mannered reproof. “Becky, you do a great job when you get here, but you’ve been late three times now. We need you here on time, especially on the days you open up.”
An admonishment can also be delivered using a light tone and even a slightly humorous approach: “Hey Ken, stop throwing trash in the parking lot, it looks bad enough without your generous contributions.”
For most situations, an admonishment is enough to get good results. I recall the thought in a book for police sergeants: “To a mature employee a suggestion is construed as an order.”
Unfortunately, supervisors and managers often think an admonishment is a sufficient warning and they are frustrated and angry when the employee does the thing again. If they want to make sure the employee doesn’t do it again, they need to warn and give consequences.
A Warning Is A Promise About What Will Happen
A warning can be formal or informal, verbal or written. “Becky, you’re doing a good job otherwise, but you’ve been late three times now. The next time you’re late I’m going to have to put it in your permanent record and give you a formal reprimand. I don’t want to have to do that, so be on time from now on.”
Or, “Ken, after the last incident with you throwing trash in the parking lot after I had asked you not to, I recommended a formal warning and HR approved it. This is your last warning. The next incident will result in loss of a day off.”
Employees Get As Confused as Supervisors
Last week an employee complained to me that she was getting in serious trouble because she continued to do something after she was warned not to. She said she hadn’t been warned, in fact her supervisor was laughing about it when he talked to her so she didn’t take it seriously.
The supervisor’s view was that a reasonable person would know his light-hearted remarks were a warning. I asked him if he had, in the midst of being light-hearted, told the employee what would happen if she did it again. He said no, but surely she realized she would get some sort of sanction.
Was that an effective warning or merely an admonishment? His HR Department and his manager viewed that he had not warned the employee because he hadn’t told her what would happen next. His manager told him that if he had warned her, it would also have reminded him that he had an obligation to follow through, whereas with an admonishment there is no follow-through mentioned.
The bottom line: The reason many employees continue their problematic behavior or performance is because they are admonished, but they are not warned. The reason many supervisors get frustrated with continual problems is that they think they are warning, but without consequences it’s just advice that the employee may not take.
I like the warning on the sign in the photo. I asked a police officer in that town, Griffin, Georgia (my place of birth), if many people hit the bridge. He said it happens now and then, but not nearly as often as it did when the sign just said, “Danger, Low Bridge. No trucks or loads over 16′ high.”
Knowing the consequences and knowing what actions will result in those consequences can make all the difference in what a person does next.
The most effective managers and supervisors actively seek employee ideas and opinions on a regular basis, not just when big decisions are being made. Those who are regularly doing a task may have excellent ideas for how the task can be done more efficiently or effectively. Nevertheless, it is important for managers and supervisors as well as employees to remember that ideas and opinions should be used as part of decision-making–not used in place of well thought-out decisions by managers and supervisors.
New supervisors and managers: The idea of carefully evaluating employee input is especially crucial for new supervisors and managers. They may be anxious to build rapport with their new staff or team but do not yet have a grasp of the big picture. As a new manager don’t act too quickly in your effort to gain acceptance. Wait until you understand the totality of work and the ramifications of the ideas you are hearing.
•Ideas for one person or group may have a negative effect on others. A new form, method or process that will work very well for John or Janet may create tremendous burdens for everyone else. In addition to listening to employees, managers should communicate with other managers before making decisions that have a larger impact. Then, explain the issues as a way to help the employee learn to see the bigger picture, even if he or she still has a preference.
•Employees do not usually have the level of knowledge about larger issues that managers have–or should have. When the Denver Police Department was planning for World Youth Day and the visit of Pope John Paul II, two officers with a lot of tenure thought it was very funny that I was looking at information on Porta-Potties. In response I asked them how many portable toilets they thought we would need for 500,000 people, how many were in the state of Colorado and what it would take to get enough here in time. After they looked at the information and realized what a challenge it would be, one of them said, “That’s the trouble with our mayor, he says yes to everything. He should have said we didn’t want World Youth Day here because it’s so much work for the city.”
•Employees ideas may be purposely or inadvertently self-serving. Most employee suggestions don’t mention a downside or potential problem. If you’re the manager or supervisor you need to be thinking of those. When employees have suggestions about issues with which you’re not completely familiar, ask them to provide you with the things that could go wrong and how those could be avoided. Then, get other input before deciding.
A manager of a large group commented that almost all the improvement suggestions he received involved what employees thought they could stop doing for customers, what safety procedures they could eliminate or what rule was no longer needed. He said after five years he had only received two or three ideas for how employees could provide better service or be more efficient in their use of resources. His example may not be typical–but it isn’t unusual either. I think that phenomena is called human nature.
•If there are bad results, it is most likely the implementing manager or supervisor who will be held responsible, not the employees who made the suggestion. It’s inevitable that some decisions will not work out well. Usually those are fixable and work moves on. However, managers and supervisors should have better reasons for their decisions than, “Bill and Gloria said it was the best way to do it.” Ideas should be welcomed and carefully reviewed, not welcomed and implemented without review.
Some of the most serious or tragic errors I have heard about–or made myself–were the result of decisions based primarily on the clamoring input of staff or group members. Often they are so close to the work they see no other options–and there are nearly always options. That is why, whether we’re talking about work, government, the military, a surgical team, a family or anything else, checks and balances and unbiased input are needed.
A good rule: If you think to yourself: I’m approving this against my better judgment, use your better judgment and don’t approve it, at least not right then.
When you’re the employee with a suggestion or opinion: Make it your goal to gain the knowledge, skills and insights needed to give valuable input. Do self-evaluation of your ideas to ensure they reflect the needs of the organization and its customers and clients. Also remember that the person to whom you’re making the suggestion may respect you, like you and want to encourage you–but still have reasons for not adopting or supporting your ideas. That’s not a slight to you, just a reality of work.
The bottom line: It is a laudable concept to seek the input and ideas of employees. However, the responsibility of managers and supervisors is to listen, evaluate and make final decisions, based on many criteria and considerations.
In the picture above, Patton was listening to a soldier–a trait for which he was well known. He was sincerely interested in the thoughts of soldiers in the field. However, you can bet he didn’t suggest a military strategy to General Eisenhower by saying, “Private Smith said the guys all want to attack from this direction because it will save time. I would hate for them to think we don’t value their input, so let’s do it their way.”
To Improve Your Credibility, Cite Your References
•Most serious conversations are peppered with opinions, ideas and general thoughts, but rarely with verbal footnotes.
•Most casual conversations are about interests and activities but rarely include even a hint about how the participants learn anything new–if they do.
•At work, we are often quick to say how things should be done or done differently, but we don’t cite anything to support our suggestions.
•We start on a new project or are given a new assignment and anyone hearing us talk about it would assume we are learning by doing, not by studying or researching.
•We’re interviewed for a job, promotion or in-house assignment change and we answer questions without referring to the training, reading, researching or self-initiated experience we used as a basis for our responses. So, for all the interviewers know, we just pulled the answers out of our hats–or elsewhere.
Let Others Know How You Know What You Know
All of those situations are reasons why we should keep ourselves informed, aware and knowledgeable–and let others know about our efforts when it’s appropriate to do so. You don’t have to drop book titles and college classes in every conversation, but you certainly can let people know, now and then, that you keep yourself informed. Let them know you are continually expanding your perspectives. At the very least, introduce some new topics into your conversations.
“I just started (or finished or are reading) a really interesting book about ____ .”
“I’ve talked to four or five other supervisors to help me figure out the best way to deal with this.”
“I wanted to refresh my thinking on this subject and I saw they were going to do a show about it on TV, so I watched it.”
“I had been hearing about _______and I did some Internet research on it. It was a lot of new information for me.”
“We were taught that technique in training a few months ago so I tried it and it worked!”
“I know that ________suggests handling this in a different way, but I’ve given it a lot of thought and read as much as I could on it, and I think we should ____.”
“Over the years I’ve watched how supervisors like ___, ____ and____ have handled conflicts. I’ve developed responses that I think combines the best of all them.”
Those kind of attributions and acknowledgements may not present you as the genius who thought of everything yourself, but they let people know you are aware of the need to keep learning and to apply what you’ve learned. That’s even better!
In February I wrote an article about my friend, Pete Palmer, who was running for sheriff of Chaffee County, Colorado. I said we all want votes–it’s just that his would get counted more officially than ours. Well, the votes have been counted and he won!
I’m confident that Pete will be extremely effective as a sheriff. He has a strong foundation of experience and is overall a great person. Many of his friends and colleagues are providing free or low cost professional resources in the coming months. He meant all that he said during his campaign and has plans for all that he promised.
However, sometimes the reality of life, work and situations get in the way of our best intentions, no matter how committed and dedicated we are. For one thing, we must work with and through others to get things done and you know how challenging that can be–often for them, as well!
So, Pete has a lot of things to accomplish. Many people (especially the sheriffs department employees) will be waiting to find out if he lives up to his promises. Your friends, family and coworkers are thinking the same thing about you.
What kind of person, coworker, manager, supervisor, friend or family member have you promised to be or claimed to be? Next, think about what you have done or said that could prove to people that you really are those things.
If you had a platform, what would it be? What proof could you use to show that you consistently live up to (that’s a great phrase, when you think about it!) the good qualities you’ve promised to deliver and the level of work you claim is your habit? What do you do regularly to make people glad you were hired, glad you are a friend or family member, glad you are the one assisting them or providing service or glad that they have supported you?
For Pete Palmer, the reality is that he already is running for re-election. That’s true for the rest of us as well: Every day is voting day. How is your campaign coming along?
Be able to prove what you claim to be
Many of us have become accustomed to hearing or reading exaggerations, wild accusations, half-truths, all-lies and urban legends. It seems the world is made up of those who believe it all and those who believe nothing anymore. However, when it comes to work and our efforts to develop professionally, all of us need to be able to show proof–to ourselves and others–about all the positive traits and actions we claim for ourselves.
Apply that concept when you are interviewed for a position–or when you interview someone for a job. Apply it when you are wondering why your good qualities aren’t being appreciated. Apply it when you want to have a reputation for being a strong contributor, a nice person or an expert in an area. Be able to provide proof in the form of examples over time. If some examples don’t immediately pop into your mind, your good qualities may not be as obvious as you think.
• Do you contribute to your work team in a way that gets good results with them and others? Prove it. What are some things you have done in the past and recently, where others in your group have thanked you, asked for your assistance, referred others to you or when your contribution was requested, needed or clearly was a help? If you really are contributing, you’ll have some examples without thinking about it for a few minutes.
• Do you communicate effectively, even when it’s difficult? Prove it. Give an example of a time in the last few weeks when your purposeful communication calmed a conflict, reduced contention or eased a conversation into a better path. To claim it as a full-time trait, you should have several examples.
• Do you do self-initiated work that is high in quality and high in quantity, based on the needs of your organization and your manager? Prove it. Give examples from the last week and going back for several months, of some tasks you have done that were effective, needed, and self-initiated, while you also did your regular, required work.
• Has someone implied you are problematic in an area of your work and you think they’re wrong? Prove it. Rather than asking them to give you an example of what you’ve done wrong, be prepared to give a plethora of examples of what you have done that shows you are performing and behaving correctly.
You get the idea. Anyone can say they have done good work, do good work and will do good work. The person who is actually doing it will have so many life experiences to draw from that the examples are ready to give. On a regular basis, think about what you have accomplished and what it took to do it. If necessary, make a list to help you remember. Keep an active mental file of how you are demonstrating effectiveness every day.
What if you don’t have proof? If you find you have very few clear examples to provide, consider how to remedy that lack. Perhaps you need to try new methods or be willing to learn new skills. Maybe you need to stop doing some things and start doing others. Perhaps you should back off or maybe you should step forward. Talk to a professional friend who seems to be on track or talk to to your supervisor or manager. Ask their opinions about your work and ask for suggestions about how you can be what you want to be in the best way possible. Then, be willing to make changes or adjustments to do things a bit differently in the future.
That way, if you are developing a resume, being interviewed for a new job or a promotion, or being asked about your work, you can say, “Examples? Sure! How much time do you have?”
Can you tell by looking?
In 1917, William F. Kemble, an engineer who was engaged in introducing standardized hiring and promotional tests for business and industry, wrote Choosing Employees By Test. (Industrial Management Library, The Engineering Magazine Company. New York.) Kemble was a strong advocate of the scientific and mathematical approach to business and industry. This was at a time when large businesses were using efficiency experts, vocationalists and labor standardizers--early versions of Human Resources staff.
Mr. Kemble believed that almost all knowledge, skills and aptitudes could be determined by a series of written and physical tests which could be administered in a relatively short amount of time and used as a basis for hiring and promotion. Some of his ideas will sound familiar:
If employers so desire, the initial record found by the tests given to each applicant may be followed up by monthly reports of work accomplishments, all reduced to a card system. Upon these records can be based many decisions about employment, raises or promotions which would otherwise be done by guesswork or favoritism.
Unfortunately he mixed science and his personal opinions a great deal. One of his tests involved having candidates for an executive position answer questions about the potential of scientific and engineering accomplishments. (Could there be a building ten times taller than the Woolworth Building? Will man ever be able to tunnel from Alaska to Asia? Will wireless power ever be developed for areoplanes? Will gold ever be transmuted from base metal?) The results of the tests as well as the way candidates acted as they were taking it, were ranked in this way: Idiot, Chaotic, Normal, Intelligent, Executive. (Which would you be?)
One of Kemble’s supposedly scientific tests involved comparing a photograph of a potential employee to lists of “common physical manifestations of mental and moral characteristics.” In this way he believed he could tell if a person was intelligent, a drunkard, petulant, lazy, moral, in good health, good with mathematics or any of dozens of other traits. He assigned points to each facial characterisic so the overall intelligence or morality of an applicant could be given a numerical rating.
The full-face and profile photos at the top of this article are part of such a test. He knew the people in the photographs and had a sample of one hundred good salesmen guess the answers to his questions. They had a 66% to 79% correct response rate. Thus, he reasoned, a potential salesperson should have a similarly correct rate of response.
These were the characteristics applicants matched to the photographs:
Quick in action.
Very temperate in drink.
Constant church goer.
Sadly for me, the correct answers weren’t provided! What do you think?
Kemble’s book has recently been scanned and published by Nabu Press, as having historical significance. However, I have an original edition, which I found in one of my old-book hunts years ago. It has 333 pages of small print, all focused on what he was sure was the future of employment testing. Some of it was logical and accurate and much of it was not. He apparently did not write another book and also did not make enough of a mark on the world of business that he is cited in other sources. I feel badly about that because he sounded so earnest, dedicated and convinced. As a result, I wanted to honor him here by sharing his photo and a little bit about his work. I hope he had a happy life, contributed to the happiness of the lives of others and felt he was successful. I wish that for you, too!
William Fretz Kemble