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Mastering a Leadership Assessment: What to expect, how to succeed

Mastering a Leadership Assessment: What to expect, how to succeed

By Gabriele Kamps

An assessment centre is a comprehensive evaluation method used by organizations to assess a candidate´s suitability for specific roles, especially managerial or leadership positions. A set of required competencies, personal and cognitive traits are analysed and evaluated. It typically involves a series of exercises designed to simulate real-life job scenarios and tasks, allowing assessors to observe and evaluate the candidates’ behaviours, skills, and abilities across a variety of dimensions.

Leadership refers to the ability of an individual to guide, influence, and inspire a group of people towards achieving a common goal. It involves setting a vision and purpose, motivating a team, resolving conflict, implementing change, fostering innovation, and making strategic decisions as for workforce, service or product and the market situation. A positive and productive environment needs to be maintained. Effective leadership is characterized by various qualities as emotional intelligence, strong communication, problem-solving skills, adaptability and agility, the ability to delegate and empower others, a good analytical sense, capability to make decisions, and a personality adapting where required.

To successfully navigate an assessment centre for a leadership role requires preparation, self-awareness, and a strategic approach. Assessments are designed to stimulate job scenarios and tasks in order to evaluate the handling and approach of the candidate.

Prepare yourself to perform successfully:

  1. Understand the Competencies
  • Research the role: Understand the competencies, skills, and behaviours the organization values in a leader and a certain role.
  • Review the Format: Familiarize with the assessment centre´s format, including the type of exercises you will be doing, for example role-plays, group exercises, presentations.


  1. Prepare for Different Exercises
  • Group Exercises: A key part of an assessment centre. The main focus lies on finding out your communication and problem-solving skills. You need to support the group in completing a task, resolving a problem, or reaching a set target. Show yourself as a good team player, as being flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen and to perceive others. Demonstrate collaboration, lead discussions, reach consensus, respect other´s viewpoint.
  • Case Studies and Role-plays: A case study allows to see you in action. You will be given information about a work-related scenario and invited to guide an interview with an employee or present a possible approach and solution to a problem or task. The input of information can be overwhelming, sometimes you are given many details, names and information about the company and the intricacies within the workforce. It is crucial to memorize as much as possible and understand the most important pillars and the structure of the scenario. In a role-play try to get into the part you are covering authentically which is not easy: you have to process information, represent a different role, and get out of your comfort zone. The more you practice the easier it will be. Practice analysing information quickly, making decisions, and articulating your reasoning clearly. Structure your performance in a role play.
  • Presentations: Find out exactly what is required before the presentation. In case you are unsure or have a question regarding the topic do not hesitate to ask. Make sure you know the required length of the presentation. If it is an in-person presentation make sure you have the technical devices and support, you may need. Find out who you will be presenting to and their position and level of knowledge so that you can pitch your talk at the right level. Tailor your content properly. Practice communicating ideas effectively, structure your thoughts, and engage your audience.
  • Interviews: Prepare an interview properly. Start by learning about different interview types. Familiarise with Interview questions. Research the employer properly. Think about yourself and about questions you may ask from your side. Consider your attitude towards the interviewers and others who may be present, be aware and clear about it. Prepare for competency-based questions by reflecting on past experiences where you demonstrated certain (leadership) qualities.


  1. Develop Self-Awareness
  • Reflect on your Strength and Weaknesses: Learn how to understand and be aware of your strong and weak points. Which areas need improvement for your current or aspired job? This helps to showcase your best qualities and work on weaker areas.
  • Seek Feedback: Before the assessment seek feedback on your leadership style and behaviour from colleagues or mentors.


  1. Practice Communication skills
  • Clear, concise, and assertive communication is a base of good leadership.
  • A leader needs to listen actively and respectfully, show empathy in communication, pick up proposed topics and problems.


  1. Show Emotional Intelligence
  • Work on and demonstrate self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
  • It is crucial to show how you interact with others and handle stress and conflict.


  1. Manage time and Stress
  • Assessment centres can be intense and impose stressful situations. Practice time management and stress-reduction techniques to remain calm and focused, to not get lost in information and details.
  • Try to focus on crucial factors and stick to them while not neglecting the input of the counterpart.


  1. Engage Positively with Others
  • Positive psychology and empowerment work better than blame and accuse.
  • Emphasize on positive aspects and guide others to understand themselves and areas of improvement.


  1. Reflect and Learn from each Activity
  • After each exercise, reflect on what went well, and what may have to be improved. Be honest with yourself.
  • Before a new assessment go through your notes from the last one and seek to improve


  1. Follow Up
  • After the assessment send a thank-you note to the assessors and ask for feedback. This shows interest in learning and growth.


  1. Continuous Learning
  • An assessment centre is somehow stressful, but it is also a learning opportunity. Continuous learning and self-improvement are key leadership qualities.


During the coronavirus pandemic, employers moved to running assessment centres virtually. Recruiters make as many hires from virtual assessments as they would make from personal meetings. However, some employers and recruiters have made changes and adapted some forms or parts of the assessments to the functionality of an online platform. Group exercises for example are sometimes replaced by questions that find out about skills that usually would have gauged in a group exercise, for example problem solving or teamwork abilities. Some aspects remain the same as for example a possible dress code which may be adapted on-line as in-person.

For some people in-person assessments may work better as they like to see an office space, talk to potential colleagues, and capture the atmosphere of a workplace unless they apply for a new role within the proper company. Some people may feel more secure online and prefer to exclusively focus on the required and to be assessed skills without any distraction of the surrounding. The above-described preparation steps remain the same.

Usually participants are given some information before the assessment: a timetable, information about the exercises and what they involve, some tips on how to approach an exercise, guidance on dress codes or what to wear, instructions for the technical platform used, a memo about what to bring (pencil, paper).

For online assessments you can choose the device you may use. Make sure internet is working properly and your device is fully charged. This may seem obvious but being a bit nervous you may forget about it. Position yourself in front of the device camera to see how it looks, if the lighting is fine. Practicing helps you become self-conscious. If you do not want to see your face on the screen look for the option to eliminate your image in settings. Some video platforms allow to hide your picture, others don´t. Find out what works best for you. Do a sound check well in advance, it is important that audio works properly, that you hear and can be heard. Wherever you may have to sit, make sure you are comfortable and sit upright. Video platforms offer different backgrounds you can choose from. Your can also blur the background.

An assessment may be challenging and stressful, it lifts you out of your comfort zone in a somehow artificial surrounding and even atmosphere. However, you have to act and navigate the situation as authentic and good as possible. You are requested to understand, to process information on a cognitive level, to imagine and adapt to the situation, to react and guide properly and according to the competencies requested for a certain role and level.

While the intensity of assessments can be daunting, they also offer remarkable opportunities for personal and professional growth besides the evaluation of your traits, skills, and competencies.

Prepare properly and seek to approach in a focused but relaxed way. An assessment experience will then empower you, highlighting not only where you stand today but how far you may be able to go tomorrow. Approach each challenge with resilience and an open mind. You will not only succeed in the assessment but also pave the way for a thriving leadership journey.


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