An Assessment Centre (AC) is really a catch-all term referring to a set of various tests and exercices. It can be defined as a "variety of testing techniques designed to allow candidates to demonstrate, under standardised conditions, the skills and abilities that are the most essential for success in a given job" (Coleman). However, we would add... "to fulfill future potential role(s) within an organisation". A well designed AC is, the most effective and objective tool for assessing a person in both individual and group-based environments for selection and/or development.
Tools, approaches and duration
There is no such thing as a standard duration for an AC – although most last from half a day to one full day. During ACs several trained assessors observe candidates through a series of proven assessment techniques that have been selected as the most effective for a specific role. The most common techniques are briefly described below:
- In-basket exercises. In such exercises, candidates are given time to review the material and put in writing whatever actions they believe to be most appropriate in relation to the presented scenario. This exercise is usually followed by an interview to ensure that the assessor(s) understand the rationale for their actions.
- Presentations / role plays. In these exercises we seek to evaluate candidate’s presentation skills, interpersonal capabilities, and team management competencies. Assessors observe and challenge the candidate.
- Interviews. Through interviews, ACs gather specific information and evaluate the experience, competencies, qualifications and career interests of candidates. Such interviews provide significant insight into interpreting and improving the accuracy of the results of used tools and exercises.
- Psychometric tests. As the name suggests, these are used to measure certain psychological aspects of the person, such as his /her attitudes and behaviours, emotional adjustment, interests, interpersonal relations and motivation.
- Abilities tests. These tests measure an individual’s thinking, memory, reasoning and verbal and/or mathematical abilities. IQ tests fall into this category.
Uses and applications
Although the uses of ACs are multiple, they are mainly used to support decisions in the case of external recruitment, internal mobility programs, promotions and succession planning. They are also extremely useful in identifying high potential employees in that they measure competencies critical for future performance using real-world scenarios, notably the “Learning Agility” (a key determinant of high potentiality) of individuals.
Ensuring the success of your ACs
Most important issues to pay attention to when selecting / designing an AC are:
- Ensure the AC designed guarantees the utmost accuracy of its results, and in particular that:
- The objectives of the tests are precisely defined. The competencies assessed should for instance be representative of those that relate to the behaviours of the position to be filled;
- The exercises and tests of the AC simulate work situations in a realistic manner and that they have a proven degree of prediction for the competencies tested;
- The different exercises and tests can be related to one another so as to provide an overall assessment which can adequately corroborate their results; and
- Scoring of the exercises is objective and well documented, taking into account all the key findings of the assessors.
- Adequate planning and communication towards candidates and internal business partners;
- Ensuring assessors have the right qualifications and knowledge of the relevant business environment; and
- Appropriate feedback is provided to candidates and to internal business partners as regards the results.
Our experience shows that the most significant benefits that ACs bring to organisations are:
- Shorter decision-making processes
- Unique learning experiences for managers involved in their design, evaluation and debriefing processes
- Improved quality of debate between business representatives and HR professionals on staff selection issues and, more important
- Far better decision quality regarding external recruitment, internal mobility, promotions and succession planning issues.
And all this at costs that are … much less than what people typically associate with both internally designed or externally outsourced Assessment Centres!