It is peak assessment centre season for early careers recruitment, yet travel has been banned and a strict ‘stay at home’ order exists to slow the spread of Covid-19. Early careers teams around the world are rapidly changing their assessment plan from in person to digital. Some are acting faster on pre-existing ‘go digital’ strategies, others are responding at pace to these demands. 

Two weeks ago, I brought more than 40 early careers professionals together - virtually, of course - to share plans and learn from each other on how to run virtual assessment centres. Thank you to those who took part and the key contributors who were a great stimulus for discussion and learning. If you are embarking on this adaptation in your company, below is a summary of the themes and key pointers. And if you would like to learn more, we are running a webinar on 7th May around virtual assessments – please do join us. 

Benefits: The group identified benefits of going virtual such as removing travel expenses and offering the ability to record interviews and group exercises for auditing (following GDPR compliance).

Transition period: Transition was reported to be easier in organisations that have been using video technology in their recruitment processes already and have implemented candidate support mechanisms. The common operational challenge was identified as mapping, planning, and coordinating so many different interactions over a period. Not insurmountable, but not easy either, and time consuming. 

Replicating face-to-face: Everyone is aiming to replicate the benefits and opportunities of face-to-face assessment as much as possible. For example, creating opportunities for candidates to ask the small but important questions they would normally ask the recruiters and staff who they meet at an Assessment Centre (AC). 

Differentiation: Companies differentiate from competitors through their candidate experience, so moving digitally can put you at risk of losing candidates. To combat this many are looking at office videos and more ‘day in the life’ content on Instagram. 

Interviews and presentations: Interviews and presentations have been shifted to digital platforms relatively easily without much of an impact. As much as possible, they are scheduled on the same day as the AC. Where manual tests are required (e.g. engineers) these are being moved to later in the process and/or offers made on condition of passing these tests nearer the start date.

Group exercises: Everyone agreed that the trickiest part was the group exercise. One organisation reviewed their group exercise and extracted the elements that could be covered in an interview instead. Another gathered candidates on Zoom, sharing materials on screen to create a digital forum for candidates to work together on a task (no cameras) whilst an assessor observed. This format also works well when you have interruptions scheduled during your group exercises as you can pop them up on screen. 

Assessment material: The most significant concern was about sharing materials between attendees. Steps to mitigate this include sharing them only via the platform itself so that they cannot be downloaded or releasing them via Google Docs with timed access. The risk of students screenshotting the content was raised and the general response was that: they are more likely to be worrying about their own performance to take photos; they only have questions rather than the answer sheets; and studies show that sharing materials happens less frequently than feared. 

Disadvantaged candidates: There was concern around adverse impact on socially disadvantaged candidates who traditionally perform less well in video environments. Suggestions to help include: removing video from group exercises, digital chat forums before and after, and preparatory advice/materials so they know what to expect. 

The closing reflections at the end of the session were that going digital could change things significantly for the early careers sector and there was a general curiosity about the impact it could have on long term attraction, assessment validity. Only time will tell whether more digital assessment centres are here to stay.