Virtual Assessment Centers: Debugging Fears

May 5, 2021 Roshni Shah

Moving to the Middle East

I moved from the UK to the Middle East in 2019 and was surprised about the high demand for face-to-face meetings we had with colleagues and clients – it was a complete contrast to the client relationship in the UK. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Middle Eastern businesses, who really enjoy physical face time, have been forced to adopt other communication methods.

In this blog, I will share my experience of helping one of the largest organizations in the world change their traditional assessment process for choosing leaders in their company. Specifically, I will explain how I managed the client and candidate fears that were presented along the journey. The organization had been using a paper-based assessment center for 13 years to assess four levels of leaders in the organization. My team and I completely transformed this process into a digital, virtual assessment center, allowing candidates to communicate virtually with expert assessors all over the world.

Why are paper-based assessments outdated?

We live in a technology-driven world. Think about your daily work day. How do you communicate with your colleagues, clients and counterparts? Probably over video conferencing applications, emails and instant messaging applications – all on your phone and computer. This probably was the case for many workers before COVID-19. Therefore, paper-based assessments unrepresentative of modern work life. They are also admin heavy and provide a one-dimensional candidate experience compared to digital assessments. Digital assessments look cool and trendy, but also allow for easy communication with individuals all around the globe, more flexibility in remote working circumstances and an accurate representation of modern work life. Let's discuss some of the fears…

A Good Candidate Experience

After 13 years of using the same assessment process, the client was bound to have some fears and resistance to change. Their biggest fear was the leaders not having a smooth assessment center experience, which was better than their previous experiences. We used several ways to gather ideas, opinions and feedback from the candidate population, for example a pilot trial, a feedback survey including NPS score and a debrief session after each center.

“Will we get the same results?”

Another fear was if the virtual method would be able to assess behavioral competencies in the same way as it historically did. We did a deep dive into the data and we were able to show equivalence between the current and the past methods.

Fears of Technology

Some candidates also had fears of a virtual assessment center experience, since in this traditional organization in the Middle East, face-to-face meetings are typical (prior to COVID-19). We found those candidates who were less technologically savvy were the ones who were more resistant to change. To manage these fears, we asked candidates to go through digital tutorials in the prework so they could become familiar with the technology prior to coming to the center. Others questioned the authenticity of the interaction between them and the assessor on the other side of the virtual meeting, wondering for example, whether the assessor can see their body language. These fears are completely rational and were managed by reassuring the candidate that these are trialed and tested methods and also taking their feedback on board to improve the process.

What is the story now?

We have created a great and contemporary experience for the candidates and client. We are social beings and face time is good! However, virtual assessment centers allow us to still maintain face time but it's practical, valid and simpler in a technology driven world like today. A comparison that will always stick with me was a candidate who said attending our assessment center was like going to Disney Land in the organization – meaning it was that different to the usual, traditional processes in the organization.

I will always recommend virtual assessments from now on for three reasons:

  1. Candidate experience – The ease of virtual centers can create a calming and comfortable experience for candidates and the assessments look good!
  2. On demand – There is no need to book flights, hotels or transportion. You can have an assessor sitting in their home office in London assessing a candidate in Riyadh at the drop of a hat.
  3. Realistic – It is normal today to hold a meeting virtually rather than in person, providing the candidate with an assessment that is representative of daily work life.

I am hoping that organizations in the Middle East region will continue to use virtual assessing methods when the world goes back to normal. In the meantime, we will continue to create an amazing virtual assessment center process.

About the Author

Roshni Shah

Roshni is an organizational psychology consultant for Aon’s Assessment Solution in the Middle East. Her main responsibility are design and delivery of bespoke and off-the-shelf assessment products, client advisory and project management.

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