Assessment centres: Why voting on decisions is a bad idea

How often do you think people vote in the workplace to make an important decision? You’re right. It’s almost never. Decisions most often get made using the combination of skills such as analysis, good judgement, argument, persuasion and logic.

And yet, when you put undergraduates and graduates into an assessment centre, voting seems to be the default mechanism for decision making.

Students Hands up vote

I’ve seen it hundreds of times. A polite dance of information sharing around the table, followed by a vote to come to a conclusion. It’s unrealistic and painful to watch. Those graduates who are able to apply and demonstrate good decision making and judgement tools are rare finds, who not only shine out in the exercise but also help everyone else in the group to do so as well.

So how can you start making decisions in more skilful and impressive ways at assessment centre? Here are my top tips to develop this skill in advance:

  • Read up on decision making models, tools and skills. Stanford have a bite-size series of blogs on the topic that’s an easy introduction or try Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.
  • Seek out opportunities to make decisions at work or University and apply the tools and skills.
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues and peers about how well you manage any decision making process.
  • Enrol on any skills sessions or training sessions available at University that will help you to develop these skills.

And how to shine at the assessment centre:

  • You’re probably going to be presented with ‘imperfect’ information on which to make a decision. Question and challenge where it is appropriate, but demonstrate that you recognise real-life rarely presents you with all of the information you need to make the ‘right’ decision (in fact many of these exercises do not have a right answer as such).
  • Listen to others in the exercise, allow them to point out things you may have perhaps missed, be open to good quality debate and alternative perspectives.
  • Use decision making criterion or logical/analytical tool where systematic evaluation of options is helpful (Tip: If they give you some criteria by which to make a decision then rating options against these criteria is probably a good idea).
  • Crucially simply try and tackle the problem and make decisions as you would in a real-life work situation.

Not only will this help you to shine out at assessment centres, it will also equip you with one of the most critical skills for your early career. Decision making remains a key skills gap that many employers address during the early years of any new graduate role or graduate scheme, so developing it early will give you an advantage for years to come.

Rebecca Fielding is managing director of Gradconsult, a graduate employment consultancy to businesses and universities.