An assessment center is a process used to make personnel decisions in which participants engage in a variety of exercises and have their performance evaluated by multiple assessors. The goal of an assessment center is to simulate job tasks so that an applicant can demonstrate skills or characteristics that would be effective on the job.
According to the International Task Force on Assessment Center Guidelines, assessment centers:
- Conduct job analyses of relevant behaviors
- Classify participants’ behaviors into meaningful and relevant categories
- Use techniques that are designed to provide information for evaluating the dimensions previously determined by the job analysis
- Involve multiple assessment techniques, such as tests, interviews, questionnaires, sociometric devices, and simulations
- Include a sufficient number of job-related simulations, allowing opportunities to observe the candidate’s behavior related to each competency/dimension being assessed
- Utilize several assessors to evaluate each participant
- Employ thoroughly trained assessors
- Provide a means for assessors to record their observations of participants’ behavior as it occurs
- Involve the preparation of an assessor’s report
- Base the integration of behaviors on the pooling of assessors’ information, or upon a statistical integration process validated in accordance with professionally accepted standards.
Behavioral dimensions that are frequently measured in assessment centers include planning and organizing, leadership, oral communication, tolerance for stress, and initiative. Participants have their performance on these and similar dimensions evaluated while they engaging in two or more of the following activities over a one- or two-day period:
- In-basket exercises, in which participants respond to a series of administrative problems that simulate typical managerial tasks
- Leaderless group discussions, in which a group of participants without an assigned leader must arrive at a group solution to a specified problem within a given time period
- Role-plays, in which participants are involved in a simulation of a situation that could occur on the job
- Interviews, in which participants typically are questioned about how they have handled particular work situations in the past and how they would respond to specific work situations in the future
- Management games, in which participants must work cooperatively to meet mental or physical challenges
Evaluations of assessment center participants can be used for employee selection decisions (hiring and promotion), and to help identify training and development needs. The most common use of assessment centers is to evaluate participants’ management potential. When used for selection or promotion decisions, the emphasis is on identifying participants who do well on essential job performance dimensions. When used for training and development purposes, the focus is on identifying participant deficiencies on critical job dimensions. The feedback and employee development suggestions that result from an assessment form the basis for training programs that are designed to correct performance problems. For organizations, assessment centers can serve as needs assessment programs that identify employee development and hiring needs.