The assessment center is not a place as its name
seems to suggest, nor is it a single process or method. Rather, an assessment
center employs multiple assessment methods and exercises to evaluate a wide
range of competencies used to make a variety of employment decisions (e.g.,
employee selection, career development, promotion). Assessment centers can be
used to assess small groups of people at relatively the same time. Many
assessment center exercises resemble work sample tests
designed to simulate the actual challenges found on the job.
Assessment center exercises can be
used to measure many different types of job related competencies, including
interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, planning and evaluating,
and reasoning and problem solving abilities. A frequently used assessment
center exercise is the in-basket test. A typical in-basket test is designed to
simulate administrative tasks. During this exercise, applicants are asked to
play the role of a person new to the job and are instructed to read and react
to a pile of memos, messages, reports, and articles.
Some assessment center exercises
can be used to evaluate groups and individual behaviors in group situations.
For example, in a leaderless group discussion, a group of applicants is tasked
with solving a problem or a series of problems in a limited amount of time.
Other assessment center exercises include, but are not limited to, job knowledge tests, personality
tests, and structured interviews.
Applicant performance is usually observed and evaluated by multiple assessors
(i.e., raters). When used for internal promotion purposes, assessment centers
are frequently designed to reflect values and practices specific to an
organization, but when used to assess external applicants, assessment centers
should be designed to focus on the job and level of the job (e.g., manager)
rather than practices unique to the organization. While assessment centers can
be designed for various types of jobs, they are particularly effective for
assessing higher-level managerial and leadership competencies. Assessment
centers require extensive experience to develop, considerable logistical
planning to set up, and numerous personnel to administer. Highly trained
assessors are needed to observe and evaluate applicant performance on the group
and individual exercises.
- Validity —
Overall, assessment center scores do a good job predicting occupational
success (i.e., they have a high degree of criterion-related
validity), but the level of predictive
validity can vary depending on the purpose of the assessment, the
extent of assessor training, and the assessment methods used (See Gaugler, Rosenthal, Thornton & Bentson, 1987);
Generally, there is little evidence assessment centers provide useful
information about the relative strengths and weaknesses of a given individual.
So while assessment centers are highly useful for making
selection decisions, they are less useful for providing comprehensive
Validity/Applicant Reactions — Applicants typically react
favorably to assessment center exercises and often perceive the process as
being very fair (i.e., as having a high degree of face validity);
Exercises simulating actual job tasks provide effective realistic job
- Administration Method — Used to assess small groups of people at more or less the same time; Can assess
individual performance either alone or in a team environment; Enables "hands-on"
performance by the applicant and typically in a simulated work setting
- Subgroup Differences — Generally little or no performance differences are found between men and
women or applicants of different races, although the presence of gender
and/or racial differences may depend on the competencies being assessed
- Development Costs — Often
costly to develop, both in terms of time and money; Usually requires
frequent updating because the scenarios and problems used in the exercises
are often remembered by the applicants long after the administration
(raising potential test security issues) and because exercise content may
become outdated over time (e.g., memos might be sent via e-mail rather
- Administration Costs — Usually
expensive to administer; Requires several assessors to observe and rate
applicant performance and may require a spacious testing location
conducive to rating many applicants at one time; Administration time often
depends on number of applicants
- Utility/Return On Investment (ROI) — Productivity gains realized by selecting managers and skilled
individuals average well above administrative costs
- Common Uses — Can be used for
promotion or selection purposes; Used to measure many types of job related
skills, but most widely used to assess candidates for leadership,
managerial, customer service, and sales positions; May require a
pre-screen to limit the number of applicants scheduled for the
labor-intensive assessment center process
(See Section VI for a summary of each article)
Arthur, W. Jr.,
Day, E. A., McNelly, T. L., & Edens, P. S. (2003). A meta-analysis of the
criterion-related validity of assessment center dimensions. Personnel
Psychology, 56, 125-154.
Caldwell, C., Thornton, G. C., & Gruys, M. (2003). Ten classic assessment
center errors: Challenges to selection validity. Public Personnel
Management, 32(1), 73-88.
Gaugler, B. B., Rosenthal, D. B., Thornton, G. C., & Bentson, C.
(1987). Meta-analysis of assessment center validity. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 72(3), 493-511.
Testing and Assessment: An Employer's Guide to Good Practices.
(2000). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training
Administration. Note: Article can be accessed at http://www.onetcenter.org/guides.html.
Woehr, D., & Winfred, A. (2003). The construct-related validity of
assessment center ratings: A review and meta-analysis of the role of
methodological factors. Journal of Management, 29(2), 231-258.
Zedeck, S. (1986). A process analysis of the assessment center method. In
B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior,
The following Society for
Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) website contains information on