My head is heavy with the weight of last night’s drinking hanging over it. I guess that’s a suitable way to exit an assessment centre with the world’s biggest beer brewer.
The prerequisite to this stage was a Skype interview, standard. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but I got through. I was then followed up a week later and invited to attend the next stage. To note, ABI is a pretty cutthroat company. When they took over Anheuser Busch, they got rid of all the perks. Currently, they are on track to make savings of $500 million per year. So I found it quite surprising when I was invited to an assessment centre in France!
“Wow, this company’s going to bring me out to France!” Wait… they want me there for 8:30am? Less than 2 days from now? And they won’t cover hotel costs?! Thanks ABI! I’ve slept in St. Pancras before, I can do it again no problem.
I emailed back straight away saying that this journey would not be possible for me, and that there must have been some mistake.
“No, no mistake. We do have an assessment day planned in London the following week if that would be more preferable for you.”
“Yeah… it would.”
So with the date and location changed to something more manageable, I set to preparing for the big day. I was not going to blow this.
ABI is in an industry that I am all too familiar with. I know all their products, their competitor’s products, their substitutes, and to a certain degree, their complements. And to boot, I had four years experience selling all of them. What other graduate could offer that?
Over the week beforehand I read up on everything there was to know about ABI. What they were doing, what their competitors were doing. Added to this, I had knowledge from a research project in university of their past entry problems in China, and of the current challenge with the ‘craft war’ in America from a documentary I watched earlier in the year. I could be a great fit for this company. Hell, they are even using one of my favourite bands in their latest marketing campaign.
The actual spark which caused me to apply to this company was the discussion I had with one of their recruiters, Jack, at the Manchester Careers Fair. It went really well and the scheme was a great fit for me. After following up with a thank you email, Jack asked me to send him my CV. Done. After keeping in touch with him following the success of my Skype interview, he asked me to give him a call the evening before the assessment day. Great. I did this. However, as he was on a train coming back from Belgium, poor reception killed any chance of a conversation. Oh well.
The assessment day still started at 8:30am. There was no way I could make it from my side of the country to London in time. And of course, ABI would not cover me for a hotel [FYI ABI, your competitors cover for hotels. But I guess that’s why you’re number one and they’re not]. Thankfully though, a friend of mine came to my rescue and put me up for the night.
As I disembark the train in Paddington Station the day prior, I get a phone call. It’s ABI. They ask if I can come in for noon instead of 8:30. Cue the profanities. “No problem, of course I can. Happy to accommodate.”
So the day started with a presentation, followed by a supervised group exercise. Those that the assessors deemed worthy would then sit a 2 vs 1 interview. Those deemed unworthy, would be sent on their way. There was a group of 6 of us. We sat waiting. I broke the silence and got to talking. Apparently everyone had first been asked to attend in France. They had also agreed to attend at noon instead. Nice group of people, I thought. We should be quite productive in the exercise. 12:10. Our day’s leader finds and addresses us. It seemed they were quite busy with the 8:30 crowd. Must have been at least 20 of them. We were the overspill.
So we are led into the presentation room and seated. One by one the assessors introduce themselves and one by one we do the same. I had prepared a strong personal statement that highlighted in every way how my life had led to this very moment. But that preparedness went fuddled when candidate #1 at the end of the row stands up and gives the briefest personal introduction ever, ending it with “and I’m very happy to be interviewing with ABI today”. And subsequently, candidate #2 stands up and gives an equally short intro, ending it with “and I’m very happy to be interviewing with ABI today.” This continues verbatim until last but not least it’s my turn. You pucks. Actually, I can blame no one but myself for this. I should have just recited my piece in stride. Instead I kept it short with the trend, although spiced with a little humour, but not ending with the apparent memo I didn’t get.
There would not come another time for me to get across my background in this sector. I had forgotten my own important advise.
Lesson #9: Treat every meeting with a company like it is your first.
You must assume that not even the telephone interviewer has read your CV. A process of systems selected it. This may sound like condescending advice (as could this whole blog), but I think it has a lot of truth to it.
The problem with an assessment centre, is that it strictly measures your core competencies. It does not measure your experience. And in this case, it measured mine in action for 40 minutes, in one situation. How much can one really take from that? There’s no way the assessors, at this early of a stage, are sitting there with your past achievements in mind when they are evaluating your current behaviour. It’s clearly unbalanced.
So anyways, the group exercise lasted 1hr 30mins. We were given 40 minutes to go through two booklets and prepare notes. One booklet gave information about a fantasy company. The other contained current information facing each of our respective departments within the fantasy company. Each department had a potential project it could implement. The objective was to decide which project(s) the company should invest in, staying within a given budget and set payback period. The project had to either add value to the organisation, or increase efficiency. Once our note taking period was up, we then had 40 minutes to hold the meeting and make the decision.
I started by asking each person to give a brief summary of their potential project, its affects on the organisation, its costs and its payback period. We went around steadily until the guy representing our China operations opened his mouth. This guy was bent on pushing China. And ensuingly, somehow manages to persuade all of us that it was the right thing to do. I piped up near the end saying that I had a problem with this because the project greatly exceeded the payback period we were requiring. His rebuttle was that the long-term performance of the company should be our main focus. Yes, very well, but it doesn’t meet the company’s requirements. I proposed that we pick a second project as a “just-in-case” option. The group agreed on this. By this time it was a little too late though. Apparently we had gone 5 minutes overtime.
The assessors ask us to grab some refreshments while they go over their notes. I excuse myself to the toilet and when I come back, everyone has returned to the room, and for some reason I get the image of a firing squad. Everyone has literally lined up against a wall with the two assessors facing them. I try my best to make it more into a circular shape, or really just remove myself from the squad’s aim.
“We’re sorry to say this but we will not be taking any of you through to the interview.” *Rata-tat-tat-tat*
Shock. Not one? Surely China-guy’s persistence shined through.
“But we have some great gift-bags for you.” [A parting attempt to keep your consumer-ship].
No thanks, I don’t want a pity-bag.
“And yes, they have beer in them.”
That night I tried to drink away all my memories of what I thought went wrong. A pity bottle of Beck’s and Budweiser 66 (the flat lager) helped get me started. But sadly the bars in Shoreditch did not stay open late enough to thoroughly blank them out. My one regret was not speaking up about a key component mentioned in the group exercise instructions. It mentioned how companies used Return on Investment to estimate the value of new projects. I had never gotten around to calculating this for my project. The time had just gone by too fast; I guess I must have focussed too much on needless information and note-taking. I thought maybe the others would have calculated their own respective ROIs at least, giving me a chance to quickly put mine together in the meeting. But they did not and never brought it up. Once again, I have only myself to blame. Go figure!