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Assessment Centers as a Recruitment Strategy



“Assessment Centers – It’s Pertinence, Functionality and Application”


Primary Objective – The theme permeating this research is to know about the Assessment Centers inside out, its relevance in today’s businesses, functions and objectives.

Secondary Objective – To apprehend the application of Assessment Centers in various firms.


An Assessment Center is a process designed to assess whether candidates have the skills required for the job and the future potential that the organizations are looking for. It mainly comprises a range of activities or simulations designed to test these factors. Some of the activities that are included in Assessment Center are Psychometric Tests, In-basket Exercises, Group Exercises, Role Plays, Behavioural Interviews, Case Studies et al.

The primary objective of an Assessment Center is to match the right person with the available positions in an organization.

The assessment center method, in its modern form, came into existence as a result of the AT&T Management Progress Study In this study, which began in the late 1950s, individuals entering management positions in Bell Telephone operating companies were assessed and, from then on, their careers were followed.

The chief reason the assessment center method is valid in so many different countries is that it is an easily adaptable evaluation system.

Assessment Centre Method has a bearing on the following aspects of personnel management:

  • staffing: decision making on selection, promotion, turnover and dismissal;
  • staff development: determining educational and training requirements
  • improving performance in management/staff relationships;
  • bringing compensation policy in line with general policy objectives.


The Research will consist of Secondary Data (Reference Books, Websites, Business Journals and Articles) and Primary Data (Questionnaire, Interviews from Industry Experts)


Prof. Arvind Rajashekar, visiting faculty, IIPM.


A Research is something that always has a question or a problem on the other side of it. The purpose behind ay research is to question through the application of Sciences or otherwise. It is a systematic and an in-depth study with the use of Primary and Secondary Instruments to gain more or complete knowledge of the subject under study.

Research consists of Secondary and Primary Instruments


  • The Primary research consists of conducting a Questionnaire Survey with HR Professionals, business persons and Consultants.
  • For this purpose, I have kept a Sample Size of 20 Respondents.
  • The aim behind this survey is to get knowledge about Assessment Centers and its application and use by the Industry expert themselves and also Consultants who have applied Assessment Centers as a tool of Evaluation.


v The Secondary research consists of :

a. Books on Assessment Centers

b. Articles on the Internet

c. Articles published in Business Journals

d. HR Websites

e. Research Papers by Industry experts


1.1 Assessment Centers – A Gist

An Assessment Center (AC) is a process designed to assess whether candidates have the skills required for the job and the future potential that the organizations are looking for. It mainly comprises a range of activities or simulations designed to test these factors. Some of the activities that are included in Assessment Center are Psychometric Tests, In-basket Exercises, Group Exercises, Role Plays, Behavioural Interviews, Case Studies et al. Traditionally an assessment centre consisted of a suite of exercises designed to assess a set of personal characteristics, it was seen as a rather formal process where the individuals being assessed had the results fed back to them in the context of a simple yes/no selection decision. However, recently definite shift is seen in thinking away from this traditional view of an assessment centre to one which stresses the developmental aspect of assessment. A consequence of this is that today it is very rare to come across an assessment centre which does not have at least some developmental aspect to it, increasingly assessment centres are stressing a collaborative approach which involves the individual actively participating in the process rather than being a passive recipient of it. In some cases we can even find assessment centres that are so developmental in their approach that most of the assessment work done is carried out by the participants themselves and the major function of the centre is to provide the participants with feedback that is as much developmental as judgmental in nature.

The primary objective of an Assessment Center is to match the right person with the available positions in an organization.

Assessment Centre Method has a bearing on the following aspects of personnel management:

  • staffing: decision making on selection, promotion, turnover and dismissal;
  • staff development: determining educational and training requirements
  • improving performance in management/staff relationships;
  • bringing compensation policy in line with general policy objectives.
  • To align the strategic intent in line with the market requirements.

1.2 Definitions of an Assessment Center given by Consultants, Academicians & Practitioners

* Assessment Centres are often described as the variety of testing techniques that allow the candidates to demonstrate, under standardized conditions, the skills and abilities most essential for success in a given job. – Dennis A. Joiner, ‘Assessment centre in public sector: A practical approach’, Public Personnel Management Journal.

* An assessment center is a comprehensive standardized procedure in which multiple assessment techniques such as situational exercises and job simulation (business games, discussions, reports & presentations) are used to evaluate individual employee for variety of manpower decisions.

* An Assessment Centre consists of a standardized evaluation of behavior based on multiple inputs. Several trained observers and techniques are used. Judgements about behavior are made, in major part, from specifically developed assessment simulations. These judgements are pooled in a meeting among the assessors or by statistical integration process. In an integration discussion, comprehensive accounts of behavior, and often ratting of it, are pooled. The discussion results in evaluation of performance of the assessees on the dimensions/competencies or other variables that the assessment centre is designed to measure. Statistical combination methods should be validated in accordance with professionally accepted standards. – ‘Guidelines and ethical considerations for assessment centre operations.’ – 28th International Congress on Assessment Centre Methods

* The main feature of assessment centres is that they are a multiple assessment process. There are five main ways in which that is so. A group of participants takes part in a variety of exercises observed by a team of trained assessors who evaluate each participant against a number of predetermined, job related behaviors. Decisions are then made by pooling shared data. – Iain Ballantyne and Nigel Povah

* An assessment centre is a process in which individuals participate in a series of exercises, most of which approximate what they would be called upon to do in the future job. Assessors usually selected from higher management levels in the firm, are trained to observe the participants and evaluate their performance as fairly and impartially as possible. -‘Can assessment centres be used to improve the salesperson selection process’, E. James Randall, Ernest E. Cooke, Richard J. Jefferies, Journal of personal selling and sales management

* An assessment centre is a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional approach designed to provide reliable and valid information about a range of competencies of an individual considered to be necessary for successful performance at a target level in a specific job. – ‘360 degree feedback, competency mapping and assessment centres’, Radha R. Sharma

* Tata Management Training Centre’s definition of AC: AC is an integrated standardized process in which a series of exercises are used to assess people on pre-defined parameters. These pre-definedparameters define job success in a given organizationalcontext. Most of the exercises are simulation of job activities/work challenges that the candidate is expected to perform in the next level role/job.

1.3 History of Assessment Centers

Assessment Centre process was first used sometime between the two world wars. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War, prevented Germany from rearming and thus the traditional approach to the selection of officers, which was of observing their performance in war or in exercises was denied to them. German psychologists then devised this method which involved a combination of tests, simulations and exercises to identify the potential of officer candidates. The British Army used this methodology in the early days of Second World War when they established the War Office Selection Boards (WOSBs), again for the selection of officer candidates. However, it was brought into the private sector only in 1956 after AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph Company) used it for selection of high potentials for managerial positions. This was the first industrial application of the assessment centre methodology. Both individual characteristics of young managers as well as organizational settings in which they worked were studied and evaluation at the assessment centre was used to predict whether the participant would make it to the middle management in the next ten years or less. The sample included both recent college graduates and non-management personnel who had risen to the managerial positions relatively early in their career. The dimensions assessed included managerial functions like organizing, planning, decision making, general ability such as intellectual ability, personal impression, sensitivity, and values and attitudes, both work related and social.

The success of the earlier work of AT&T was followed by Standard Oil which was the second to a start assessment centres. This was followed by IBM, Sears Roebuck, General Electric, and Caterpillar tractors. By 1981 more than 2500 organizations applied this methodology to select potential managers

1.4 Assessment Centers in Asia

The first assessment centre in Asia was for selecting project leaders for the entrepreneurship development programme in Gujarat. Subsequently, efforts were made to introduce it in Larsen and Toubro . L&T did a lot of work on job profiling but never got to the stage of developing an assessment centre for potential appraisal. Crompton Greaves attempted to use an assessment centre approach for selecting their general managers from within. It is only in the 1990s that interest in assessment centres was renewed. This was a natural response to the need to ensure competent people manning strategic positions.

A large number of Asian companies have established assessment centres and many others are exploring. The companies that are trying out include : RPG Group, Escorts, TISCO, Aditya Birla Group, Eicher, Cadburys, Castrol (India), Glaxo, Grindwell Norton, ONGC, Mahindra and Mahindra, SAIL, Siemens, Wipro, Wockhardt, and Johnson & Johnson.

Different organizations initiated assessment centres for recruitment, selection, placement, promotion, career development, performance appraisal, and succession planning and development purposes such as identification of training needs, identification high potential managers, create a pool of managerial talent and multifunctional managers that would be available across the business group, employee recognition and fast growth. Philips, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, and Global Trust Bank are organizations that have been using assessment centres. Some of these organizations are, in the process of developing Indian managerial talent and measure it periodically.

Generally the competencies that are to be measured are determined by each organization by using methods such as job analysis, managerial aptitude profile surveys, identifying competencies in star performers, etc. A variety of assessment techniques are used in Asian organizations like in-baskets, business simulations, questionnaires, group discussions, role plays, interviews, case study, individual presentations, etc. While the need is felt by all organizations to test reliability and validity of the tools used, many of them are not testing them. Both internal and external assessors are used for evaluation. Assessor training is done either through in-house training programmes or with the aid of external institutions like Academy of HRD (Hyderabad), SHL (UK), etc. Some Asian organizations have also sought assistance from organizations abroad that are using assessment centres such as GE, and Motorola.

1.5 Training and Developmental Needs Analysis

The assessment centre methodology can be used to measure the abilities of individuals against certain critical criteria and identify their training and developmental needs. Such assessment centres are more diagnostic than evaluative and can be termed as development centres.

In the case of use of assessment centre methodology for early identification, promotion, and selection, a final ‘yes-no’ decision is critical. But in diagnostic assessment centres or development centres, final overall decision is insignificant. Each dimension must be measured with a high degree of reliability and validity because decisions are being made on each dimension. Therefore, the dimensions to be studied should be made as specific as possible.

Quick, easy training methods don’t change people’s skill levels. Skill acquisition requires intensive, time-consuming classroom training and must be coupled with opportunities for on-the-job practice and feedback so new behaviors are “set” in the individual’s repertoire. Because skill development takes a lot of time and effort, everyone cannot be trained in every skill. The assessment center method provides an effective means to determine training or developmental needs. Individuals then can be placed in the most appropriate program.

The assessment center method is an excellent diagnostic tool because it separates an individual’s abilities into specific areas (dimensions) and then seeks specific examples of good and poor behavior within each dimension. This helps the assessee and his/her boss determine more precisely what training and developmental activities are required. Almost all organizations using assessment centers for selection or promotion also use the information obtained to diagnose training needs. However, a major shift in focus is the large number of firms now using assessment centers solely to diagnose training needs.

1.6 Relationship between an Assessment Center and Development Center

The type of centre can vary between the traditional assessment centre used purely for selection to the more modern development centre which involves self-assessment and whose primary purpose is development. One might ask the question ‘Why group assessment and development centres together if they have different purposes?’ The answer to that question is threefold. Firstly, they both involve assessment and it is only the end use of the information obtained which is different i.e. one for selection and one for development; secondly, it is impossible to draw a line between assessment and development centres because all centres, be they for assessment or development naturally lie somewhere on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes; thirdly most assessment centres involve at least some development and most development centres involve at least some assessment. This means that it is very rare to find a centre devoted to pure assessment or pure development.. Also, it purely depends upon the Organization’s requirements, its policies and procedures whether it wants to conduct an AC or a DC.

It is easier to think about assessment centres as being equally to do with selection and development because a degree of assessment goes on in both. Development centres grew out a liberalisation of thinking about assessment centres and it is a historical quirk that while assessment centres were once used purely for selection and have evolved to have a more developmental flavour the language used to describe them has not. Another problem with using the assessment – development dichotomy is that at the very least it causes us to infer that little or no assessment goes in development centres. While you will hear centres being called assessment or development centres remember that assessment goes on in both and so to some extent at least they are both assessment centres. The end result of this is that it is not possible to talk about assessment or development centres in any but the most general terms. It is more useful to talk about the constituent parts and general processes involved in each. In these terms we can identify a number of differences between assessment and development centres that one might typically find:

Assessment centres usually –

* have a pass/fail criteria

* are geared towards filing a job vacancy

* address an immediate organisational need

* have fewer assessors and more participants

* involve line managers as assessors

* have less emphasis placed on self-assessment

* focus on what the candidate can do now

* are geared to meet the needs of the organisation

* assign the role of judge to assessors

* place emphasis on selection with little or no developmental feedback and follow up

* give feedback at a later date

* involve the organisation having control over the information obtained

* have very little pre-centre briefing

* tend to be used with external candidates

Development centres usually –

* do not have a pass/fail criteria

* are geared towards developing the individual

* address a longer term need

* have a 1:1 ratio of assessor to participant

* do not have line managers as assessors

* have a greater emphasis placed on self-assessment

* focus on potential

* are geared to meet needs of the individual as well as the organisation

* assign the role of facilitator to assessors

* place emphasis on developmental feedback and follow up with little or no selection function

* give feedback immediately

* involve the individual having control over the information obtained

* have a substantial pre-centre briefing

* tend to be used with internal candidates


2.1 Stages in a typical Assessment Center

A typical Assessment Center consists of the following stages. They are :

Pre AC Stage

During AC Stage

Post AC Stage


* Defining the objective of AC .

* Get approval for AC from the concerned officials.

* Conduct job analysis.

* Define the competencies required for the target position.

* Identify the potential position holder and send them invitations.

* Identify the observers.

* Train the observers.

* Design the AC exercises

* Decide the rating methodology.

* Make infrastructural arrangements.

* Schedule the AC.

* Informing the concerned people of the schedule.


* Explain participants the purpose of the AC, the procedure it would follow and its outcome.

* Give instructions to the participants, before every exercise.

* Distribute the competency-exercise matrix sheets among observers.

* Conduct all exercises.

* Conduct a discussion of all observers on every participant’s ratings, at the end of the session.

* Make a report of the strengths and improvement areas of every participant.

* Give feedback to participants.

* Get feedback from participants and observers about the conduction of AC.


* Compile reports of all participants and submit the list of selected participants to the concerned authorities.

* Make improvements in the design according to the recommendations.

* Evaluate the validity of results after a definite period.

2.2 Sequence of Steps of an Assessment Center

Sequence of Steps of an Assessment Center

( Source – ‘Assessment Center for Identifying potential project managers’ , a Paper for the 6th European Conference on Software Quality 1999 in Vienna )

2.3 Factors for Evaluating Assessment Center Design

Five Factors for evaluating the Center Design – The COLAT Model

(Source – Research Paper ‘Assessment of Assessment Centers’ by Dr. P. Sethu Madhavan)

Center Design

The following factors related to the centre design can be used to evaluate and compare the Assessment Centers s in the backdrop of best practices and benchmarks.

* Use of qualified resource persons, assessors and support staff

* Content validity of the centre and the competency profiles

* Use of triangulation and corroboration of assessment results

Organizational Preparedness

Organizational preparedness refers to following macro level factors, that need to be addressed adequately and established in order to make an assessment or development centre to work effectively.

* Policies and procedures

* Structure

* Clarity of organisational objectives

* Buy in, commitment and change management

* Communication

Linkages, integration and alignment

It has been observed that organizations vary considerably in ensuring the linkages, integration and alignment of ACs with the other organisational level factors and the individual level factors.

ACs, therefore can be evaluated based on the following best practice anchors falling under these dimensions.

* Alignment with core values, vision, mission and strategy

* Alignment and linkages with other key HR systems and processes

* Alignment with external professional bodies

ADCs should be “purposively” aligned with and derived from the strategy, vision, mission, values and culture of the organisation or the unit. The centre should be designed in such way as to ensure that it helps to meet the strategic objectives of the organisation

Quality of Assessment tools and methods

In many countries, professional associations and legal requirements dictate that ACs follow some standard practices in the selection, use and administration of assessment methods, especially the psychometric tests. India perhaps has been lagging behind in imposing national level professional standards and certifications to ensure competent and ethical use of psychometric tests. In the absence of any national level qualifications regarding the use of psychometric tests in India, many institutions have been doing a great service to fill this gap by offering, professional training and consultancy services. However, observations and experiences reveal that ACs still vary considerably on their eagerness to ensure quality of tools and methods.

* Quality of administration

* Reliability

* Validity

* Utility

* Reactivity

* Relevance

* Test fairness(Statistical)

* Technology and use of computers

Treatment of Participants and Data

Treatment of participants and data in assessment centers is very important from ethical point of

view. Some variables and indicators related to this dimension are listed below.

* Psychological fairness as perceived by the participants and stakeholders

* Right to information, informed consent and informed decisions

* Confidentiality and data protection

* Feedback policy

* Post assessment follow-up and support

2.4 Types of Assessment Exercises

Some of the widely used Assessment Center Exercises are as follows :

Assement Center Exercise

An in-tray or in-basket exercise asks to assume a particular role as an employee of a fictitious company and work through the correspondence in your in-tray. This exercise is designed to measure candidate’s ability to organize and prioritize work.

In a presentation exercise, candidate is given a topic or possibly a choice of topics and asked to make a presentation of around ten minutes with five minutes at the end for questions. This is designed to measure his presentation skills including the ability to organise and structure the information and to communicate his points clearly and concisely.

Group discussion exercises involve working with other candidates as part of a team to resolve a presented issue. These exercises are designed to measure interpersonal skills such as group leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and group problem solving skills.

Panel interviews are regarded as a more objective means of assessing the candidate’s suitability as he will be interviewed by between three and five people and therefore the decision is not reliant on just one person’s opinion. In addition, they are usually more structured than a one-to-one interview as the panel need to assess all of the candidates against the same criteria.

2.5 How Assessment Center Exercises are Conducted ?

The assessment centre method is utilized in a variety of settings including industry and business, government, armed forces, educational institutions, and safety forces to select individuals for supervisory, technical, sales, or management positions. One recent trend is in the development of mass testing. This is done by video-taping candidates as they perform various exercises and by using objectively scored exercises. This permits the assessment of a much larger number of candidates per day as the scoring is done later and requires far less observation and administration.

Assesment Centre Procedure

Assessment centres are usually used after the initial stages of the selection process, because of the large amount of time and expense in conducting them, and usually follow the initial job interview. Other measurements such as psychological tests may complement the selection process.:

They are commonly held either on employers’ premises or in a hotel and are considered by many organizations to be the fairest and most accurate method of selecting staff. This is because a number of different selectors get to see you over a longer period of time and have the chance to see what you can do, rather than what you say you can do, in a variety of situations.
Assessment Centres may be conducted by HR personnel within the employer company or by outside consultants. They are highly structured in their design, application, and assessment procedure and are specifically adapted to assess factors such as your level of skills, aptitude and compatibility with the organization’s culture. Each test measures a range of indicators within these factors.

During each test, a group of observers will rate the candidate on a range of set indicators, using a prescribed performance scale. Results are then cross compared against the same indicators, which are measured in other tests. Following test completion, observers meet to discuss the test results and reach a group consensus about the ratings.

At the beginning of the assessment, participant should receive an initial briefing about the timetable of tests, location of rooms etc. Prior to each test, he will be given instructions describing the exercise, his role, timeframes, equipment etc. He will not be told in detail about the individual indicators which will be measured. In addition, he is unlikely to receive feedback on the results, unless he have been successfully selected.

Assessment centers typically involve the participants completing a range of exercises which simulate the activities carried out in the target job. Various combinations of these exercises and sometimes other assessment methods like psychometric testing and interviews are used to assess particular competencies in individuals. The theory behind this is that if one wishes to predict future job performance then the best way of doing this is to get the individual to carry out a set of tasks which accurately sample those required in the job and are as similar to them as possible. The particular competencies used will depend upon the target job but one will often find competencies such as relating to people; resistance to stress; planning and organising; motivation; adaptability and flexibility; problem solving; leadership; communication; decision making and initiative. There are numerous possible competencies and the ones which are relevant to a particular job are determined through job analysis.

The fact that a set of exercises is used demonstrates one crucial characteristic of an assessment centre – namely that it is behaviour that is being observed and measured. This represents a significant departure from many traditional selection approaches which rely on the observer or selector attempting to infer personal characteristics from behaviour based upon subjective judgement and usually precious little evidence. This approach is rendered unfair and inaccurate by the subjective whims and biases of the selector and in many cases produces a selection decision based on a freewheeling social interaction after which a decision is made whether the individual is ‘face fit’ with the organisation.

2.6 Essential Elements of an Assessment Center

Assessment Centers must have the following criteria to be called so :

1. Job Analysis – To understand job challenges and the competencies required for successful execution of the job.

2. Predefined competencies – Modeling the competencies, which will be tested during the process.

3. Behavioral classification – Behaviors displayed by participants must be classified into meaningful and relevant categories such as dimensions, attributes, characteristics, aptitudes, qualities, skills, abilities, competencies, and knowledge.

4. Assessment techniques – These include a number of exercises to test the assessees of their potentials. Each competency is tested through atleast 2 exercises for gathering adequate evidence for the presence of particular competence.

5. Simulations – The exercises should simulate the job responsibilities as closely as possible to eliminate potential errors in selection.

6. Observations – Accurate and unbiased observation is the most critical aspect of an AC.

7. Observers – Multiple observers are used to eliminate subjectivity and biases from the process. They are given thorough training in the process prior to participating in the AC.

8. Recording Behavior – A systematic procedure of recording must be used by the assessors for future reference. The recording could be in the form of hand written note, behavioral checklist, audio-video recording etc.

9. Reports – Each observer must make a detailed report of his observation before going for the discussion of integration of scores.

10. Data Integration – The pooling of information from different assessors is done through statistical techniques.

2.7 Assessment Centers – Usage

Various Organizations use the data provided

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