Online assessment center: all tips on the dreaded “big five” test

How to master the dreaded "Big Five" test of the personnel managers

No one should take an assessment center lightly simply because it is held online

No one should take an assessment center lightly just because it is held online

M ore applicants in one room? This no longer exists at Deutsche Bahn. Shortly after the lockdown began in the spring, when many companies sent a large portion of their employees to home offices, the company changed its applicant selection process at short notice. The classic assessment center, in which several candidates have to solve a wide variety of tasks on site over the course of a day, is thus history.

Since mid-April, the motto at Deutsche Bahn has been: online or nothing. Many digital assessment centers have since been organized by recruiting staff for future trainees – mostly young professionals fresh out of university.

Deutsche Bahn is not alone in this. In many industries, companies are currently having to rethink the way they select applicants. To adequately test job candidates, a digital assessment center seems like the easiest way to go.

Online assessment center: all tips on the dreaded "big five" test

The Allianz insurance group is also increasingly using online assessment centers, for example to select new apprentices or trainees for the company’s IT department. First, candidates have to take an online test lasting around 70 minutes. Then there is a video call.

However, applicants should be prepared for the fact that an online assessment center differs significantly from the classic on-site variant. Because some exercises cannot be easily transferred to the digital world.

Mailbox exercise less in demand in online assessment center

No one knows this better than Christof Obermann. The professor of business psychology researches the topic of assessment centers and teaches at Cologne University of Applied Sciences. One task that is often omitted is the mailbox exercise that many candidates dread, he says.

Applicants have to prioritize various work instructions under time pressure – and then justify their solution path. It’s hard to do that online, says Obermann. Because explaining every decision via video chat would be far too time-consuming.

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However, the fact that a candidate has to solve a fictitious case can also occur in an online assessment center, says the business psychologist. A typical example is a customer meeting. The customer, according to a possible simulation, complains vehemently on the phone about a delivered product.

As an applicant, it’s all about handling the situation with confidence, such as calming the customer down and finding a solution to the problem. Such a scenario can occur at retailers as well as at service providers.

Applicants must also be aware of the test situation in the online assessment center

However, Obermann sees a fundamental problem with the digital version of the assessment center: "We are now seeing a tendency toward a certain superficiality," he says. Standards suffer at many companies.

Since the changeover from analog to digital involved a lot of effort, the companies sometimes simply omitted some tests and thus asked for fewer characteristics of the candidates. For applicants, this can mean that they may not be able to convey their full potential.

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Deutsche Bahn tries to prevent this. Digitize her entire assessment center. If you make it to this selection round, you don’t have to travel to Frankfurt or Berlin, but sit in front of your laptop at home.

But what sounds convenient also has pitfalls. "It’s very important for our participants to realize that they are now in a testing situation," says Eva Herzog, team leader for recruiting trainees and students.

Logic tests are popular in online assessment centers

Candidates have to download the "Microsoft Teams" communication tool. They can talk about this via video chat and share their computer screen, for example if they have to give a presentation. This speeds up the process somewhat. The digital version currently takes only half a day instead of a day, says Herzog – mainly because waiting times or room changes are eliminated.

Often online assessment centers are limited to a few exercises. Logic and personality tests, arithmetic and text tasks and an interview are particularly popular, says Walter Feichtner, a career coach from Munich. Those who can normally score points by being particularly good in group discussions or by getting along well in role plays have a more difficult time in such cases.

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