Preparing for virtual assessment centres

As part of their response to the COVID-19 situation, many graduate employers have moved their recruitment activities more online, including assessment centres.

Online (otherwise known as ‘virtual’) assessment centres involve completing a series of activities virtually where the employer will assess your performance against their criteria. These activities can include interviews, in-tray exercises, group work and presentations, as well as taking part in other activities such as listening to a presentation by the employer.

How to prepare

Exactly how best to prepare, of course, depends on the activities you will be doing. For example, if there is a presentation by company employees, do your research on the company and the role to think of good questions you can ask at the end of this.

A simple step is to review the information on your university’s careers webpages to learn more about specific activities. For example, some universities use a package such as Sonru (or something similar) to do a practice video interview and get more comfortable speaking on screen.

Dealing with online anxiety

If you are anxious about doing activities completely online – don’t worry, you’re not alone!

Firstly, focus on all the simple things you can control, such as ensuring you have a quiet, uninterrupted place to do the activities, and having professional interview clothes ready. Simple activities, like tidying the space you’ll be using, can be good for channelling nervous energy while helping you get some initial momentum in your preparation.

Secondly, focus on the ‘foundation’ steps that you would do normally instead of adding extra pressure with thoughts such as ‘how am I going to stand out from other people?’My personal observations are that success in the recruitment process is largely down to getting these foundations properly in place during your preparation – it’s nothing revolutionary or secret, and anyone can do it.

For example, if there is an interview, on a basic level, be very clear about why you want to do the role and work for that company, your strengths relevant to the job, have well-structured examples of how you meet the criteria they are asking for, areas you want to improve on, and have some good questions to ask at the end. In addition, always have an answer prepared for ‘tell us about yourself and why you’re applying for the job?’ as many interviews start with a variation of this question.

Thirdly, try to be specific about your worries. This will help you find actions you can do to address these individually, rather than being stuck with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety or dread. From here, you can then also start to think about if it would be beneficial to ask for adjustments related to your disability, and if so, what these would be.

Remember that (i) the employer wants to find the best candidate, and so asking for an adjustment(s) to allow you to do your best is actually helping them too, (ii) you are the best person to decide what adjustments you need, so it’s helpful to tell the employer in advance instead of leaving it up to them (iii) the adjustments you ask for do not have to be the same as those you have at university. For example, you may have 25% extra time for university exams, but actually this adjustment wouldn’t help you with a particular activity as much as something else, (iv) you do not need to provide detailed information about your disability or justify why you need the adjustment(s).

For example, there is a group activity and you are worried about not being able to get properly involved, you may have a look at Belbin to learn more about the different roles in a team. From here you’ll be able to see where your strengths are in group work, and then can identify how you can use these strengths in the specific activity you’ll do. You might then get involved in some social group video chats (e.g. Zoom) to get more practised and comfortable at talking in groups online.

Adjustments in this instance could range from simple things like asking to do activities via audio instead of video or having materials further in advance, through to doing a different activity altogether.

You can talk to a member of your careers service if you need help with identifying adjustments before you speak to the employer.

Examples of adjustments

More information about possible adjustments can be found in our recent blog about the Graduate Recruitment Process, https://agcasdtg.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/graduate-scheme-hopefuls-what-i-learned-supporting-disabled-applicants/, and other examples that have been kindly shared are below:

Cindy McAlister, EmployAbility

Online assessment centre adjustments will of course vary depending on how your disability, neurodiversity or health condition impacts you specifically, and then how this interacts with the particular task or exercise you are required to carry out. Below are some examples of the types of adjustments you can ask for: 

  • Additional time, not only for any timed assessments/ tests, but also for answering the interview questions themselves, providing additional time for you to process and think through your answers to the questions. 
  • A break between each interview/ assessment exercise. You may need to break up a one day assessment over two days as interviewing/ participating over video conference may prove particularly tiring 
  • Closed captions or a notetaker if you are hearing impaired and may have difficulty lipreading over a video conference setting.
  • Asking for permission to disable your camera at some points during the exercises, should you experience video fatigue or feel uncomfortable. 
  • Making the assessor or interviewer aware and asking for understanding, and that they not assess you negatively, if you have difficulty maintaining eye contact or find it difficult to keep still or to show facial expressions. This may be exacerbated over a video conference interview.

Alison Skellern, Open University & AGCAS Disability Task Group

Autism / Asperger’s

  • Will a private room and personal invigilator help? If so, let the employer know.
  • Will you feel more comfortable if the recruiters are briefed – if so let the employer know.

Chronic pain

  • Will you need a supportive chair?
  • Will you need breaks?

Mental health issues / Tourettes

  • Would you prefer individual assessment?
  • Would you like time allowed for breaks if the need arises?

Visual impairment

Written tests

Good lighting is important.

Which of these would be right for you?

  • large print version of questions and answer sheet
  • question and answer sheets scanned into computer, so you can read from an adjusted computer screen
  • Braille version
  • audio version
  • someone reading the questions and writing down your answers (known as amanuensis).

All these have time implications, so will need more time.

Online tests

  • Ensure alternative formats are available including charts and graphs; tables; video images.
  • Document format compatible with screen reader.
  • Web pages still navigable when enlarged.
  • Font size is able to be changed.
  • Colour contrast strong.
  • Time restricted answers may mean you need longer.

Hearing impairment

Written tests

  • Little or no adjustment needed for written tests.
  • Main issue test administration.
  • May need interpreter who can sign, if can’t lip read.
  • Good written instructions don’t always suffice, so if this doesn’t work for you – say.
  • If you can’t speak fluently, ask for pen and paper to write down any questions you may have about administration of test and for administrator to write replies.
  • If you were deaf from birth, remind the employer that your first language is BSL and English is your second language.

Group testing

  • Have clear view of administrator.
  • Interpreter next to you.
  • Where possible, better for administration to be one to one.
  • Group exercises, role plays etc. often problematic, if you feel you’ll have trouble identifying who is speaking and what is being said etc., tell the employer beforehand.

Online tests

  • Ensure transcripts for audio content.
  • If your first language is BSL, you may need more time to absorb instructions.

Motor impairment

Written tests

  • Ask for the access and equipment you need.
  • Will you need room for a wheel chair or adjustments to heights/angles of tables, chairs etc.?
  • If you need specialised equipment / computer programs, you’ll need power supply and web access etc.
  • If you find turning pages difficult, you may have device to help with this – take it with you and let employer know.
  • Multiple choice – if you can’t make a small circle to show correct answer, ask to give answer in another format e.g. computer, or telling a scribe who will write for you.
  • If fatigue is an issue, ask for time adjustments to be made.

Online tests

You may wish to consider asking if the following will be part of the online test and discuss this with the employer:

  • Will there be time restricted answers – as you may need longer?
  • Will it include websites which have no keyboard options for mouse use?

Dyslexia

Written tests

  • If you find it easier to follow instructions verbally, rather than in writing, tell the employer.
  • If you need more time – ask beforehand.

Online tests

  • Will there be time restricted answers – as you may need longer?
  • Will you be able to use a screen reader?

Speech impairment

You may not feel comfortable with asking questions about test administration in front of a group. If so, ask the employer to ask you on one to one basis.

Christian Jameson-Warren

2 thoughts on “Preparing for virtual assessment centres

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