How to prepare for an assessment center (1) – Psych tests

Assessment centers are used by companies to hire for specific positions. In this series, I’ll explore the various parts of an assessment center and how to prepare for them. This week I’ll focus on the psychological test.

The reason why companies prefer assessment centers over regular recruitment (normal job interviews) is to ensure a thorough selection process for more demanding functions or to standardize their promotion process.

Typically we’re talking about managing functions or higher profile functions but it’s getting really common to organize assessment centers for entry managerial positions.

In most cases, you’ll be invited by an external company that will host you for a day (or sometimes longer) and you’ll be the subject of various tests and interview sessions. Fun right?

Why do companies use assessment centers?

Let’s first start with what we’re actually talking about. Assessment centers were invented by the military to assess new officers mostly through psychological and logical tests. The idea is that by using this tool for recruitment a certain standard can be applied for new recruits. Companies will provide the recruiters with a certain profile & skillset they’re looking for and the assessment center aims at finding the best-skilled candidate to fit the corresponding profile.

In some cases, this method is used for internal candidates and to ensure any internal candidate gets an external vetting. This assures neutrality (no office politics are involved in promoting someone) or helps if the company doesn’t have the people or time to organize this in-depth recruitment process.

What happens during an assessment center?

During an assessment center you’ll probably have to do at least two of the following:

  • Psychological test
  • Cognitive / logical test
  • Inbox exercise
  • Business case simulation / role-play
  • Interview

Let’s briefly look at each of them:

The validity of psychological tests during a job interview or selection process has been widely debated. Some people believe these tests are not suited for recruitment. But they are a basic part of any assessment center anyway.

The most commonly used are Myer-Briggs, DISC, Holtzman, and a bunch of others. While most of these tests have their origins in the scientific psychology field there’s a lot of debate whether they’re really suited to use when recruiting people.

When it comes to cognitive or logical reasoning tests the goal is clear. These tests are used to measure your non-verbal skills. These can be very basic (think of logical reasoning exercises or calculating ratios) or job-specific (in finance-related jobs these could be sales figures and percentages).

The inbox exercise is meant to test your prioritization skills. It can be a literal inbox exercise where you take over an electronic inbox and need to deal with incoming requests under a time limit. Or it can be a wider business case where you’re confronted with a problem that needs to be solved on the spot.

Business cases or role-play are used to measure your capabilities in dealing with specific situations. A business case simulation will put you in a scenario when you need to propose certain actions to solve a problem. A role-play exercise will ask you to interact with people to attend to a specific scenario (for example – fire an employee).

The final interview wraps up your assessment center and could be a formal interview including your future boss, human resources, or any major stakeholder you’re about to work with in your future job role. A presentation may be required as part of the interview. This can be an on the spot presentation or something you’ll be asked to do a week or so before attending the interview.

Psychological and reasoning tests

Don’t worry too much about this part of the test. As said before – the scientific value of psychological tests in recruitment is under heavy debate. However, nobody cares about that debate in the Corpo world. You’ll just have to perform the test. Doing some research beforehand is a good idea but don’t dive too deep into it!

The hiring companies will describe a certain profile they want for the job role. The result of your psychological test will be part of a discussion around how you match that profile. Scared yet? Well, don’t be.

Let’s assume two scenarios. In the first one, a company is looking for a project manager. In an environment with difficult stakeholders, the hiring company will ask for the typical outgoing, fearless candidate. In the second scenario, a company is looking for people managers in a conflict rich environment. In this case, they might want to hire a mediating, bridge builder.

While in the first scenario an extrovert might feel at home and while in the second scenario an introvert might fit, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should fear rejection based on any possible outcome of your test.

These tests will not tell you anything about yourself you didn’t know before. If you’re extremely extrovert or a self-described introvert you should be prepared to use this to your advantage and not let any preconceptions about the job requirements from the recruiters let you tell otherwise.

Why does it matter?

Some recruiters might have some prejudices about what an ideal candidate should be. Some people believe all people managers should be extroverts. Others believe introverts are the secret weapon for conflicts. Who knows?

That’s fine but it means that if you’re an introvert and you’re faced with such prejudice you’ll need to be prepared to give examples of how you expect to be good in your future role, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or not. Using past experiences will of course help with that.

Make sure to use the results of the test in your final interview. If for example, you are a raging extrovert – explain during the interview how this helped you in the past and how you’ll use it as an asset in your future role. This will help recruiters tie up their vision on you before they have a chance to judge the test in a way that could work against you.

Feel free to be as open as you want about this to recruiters, as long as you can provide positive experiences. Think of this sentence as an example:

Being more introverted helped me in listening to my team members, something that was really needed during a difficult project. My personality helped me a lot in achieving change management targets.”

“As an extrovert, I managed to really motivate and engage my employees by bringing a positive vibe into their workload and creating a better team spirit.”

These are of course very generic things to say but if you manage to provide good examples where your psyche managed to help you achieve meaningful results this will help you during the conversation with the recruiters.

Likewise, you could also turn the conversation around:

“Although I was always an introvert in my earlier career years I learned how to deal with people who are the opposite of me and managed to take on my role in a very expressive environment by trial-and-error.”

As recruiters, we tend to look for people who know what they can do and how to achieve it and past experience is all that’s needed as proof.

Finally – always ask recruiters who they are looking for. Managing a team with a lot of conflict management or dealing with a team that’s going through a lot of change need different approaches. Knowing who a company is looking for can help you convince them you have what it takes.

If you want to know which test a specific company will use during an assessment center try to google the name of the company or look for any clues in the info package you’ll most likely receive as soon as you’re enrolled.

Some widely used tests are:

  • Mayer-Briggs – categorizes according to personality type
  • DISC – focus on ‘who we are’ according to mental models and how we collaborate with a different model
  • Big Five Inventory – categorizes according to 5 different personality traits
  • HEXACO – focus on six different personality models

DISC personality test and mental models

Finally, don’t be afraid of these tests. You can’t change who you are and how people might see you. Try to enjoy this part of the interview and be your best self. Explain to people why you applied for a role and why you believe you can do it.

If you still don’t know how to prepare for this part of your assessment. Contact me directly and I will provide examples & guidance.

In my next article I will focus on logical tests.


Tales from the office helps employees and managers find their way in the vast world of corporate life.

By sharing non-generic real life advice I hope to help anyone out looking for guidance on surviving the rat race.

My advice is based on +10 years of senior management experience in a Fortune 500 company.


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