What are assessment centers?

The evaluation of an individual’s potential to perform in a managerial capacity is an important problem for those responsible for the development of managers. Present methods of evaluating the development of managers have not changed significantly in several decades, while the types of service provided by state and local jurisdictions are becoming increasingly complex and important.

In order to make an effective assessment, we need more detailed information than that obtained through traditional methods. The qualifications needed for management responsibilities differ from those needed on non-management assignments. Exposures to simulated, as well as real, management problems and administrative experiences help establish an individual’s capabilities, as well as his or her like or dislike for management responsibilities.

A method that many companies and governmental organizations have implemented to identify management potential is the assessment center approach. In general, research findings on assessment centers are quite promising; the assessment center evaluations predict success in a given position considerably better than tests alone, biographical data alone, supervisors’ evaluations of performance, or ratings of promotional potential.

What is an Assessment Center?

An assessment center is a means of gathering relevant information, under standardized conditions, about an individual’s capabilities to perform a managerial position. In essence, an assessment center puts candidates through a series of group and individual exercises designed to simulate the conditions of a given job and determines if they have the skills and abilities necessary to perform that job. It does this by bringing out the candidate’s behavior relevant to the job, while being observed by a group of assessors. In addition, the assessors judging a candidate’s behavior see all individuals from a common frame of reference in the various assessment activities. These procedures help to insure that the judgments made are relatively free of the many forms of rater bias, are reliable, and can serve as the basis for meaningful predictions of a candidate’s potential.

Additional benefits of an assessment center include:

• Assessment centers measure job-related behaviors rather than other characteristics that are not directly related to effective job performance.

• Assessment centers measure a broader range of knowledge, skills, and abilities than more traditional methods, such as written tests or interviews.

• Assessment centers are standardized because testing conditions are similar for all candidates. This standardization insures that no candidate receives better or worse treatment than another.

• Assessment centers are fair regardless of age, gender or race. Unlike some testing programs, research has suggested that a candidate’s age, gender, or race has no influence on the assessment ratings received.

• Candidates typically view assessment centers as a fair promotional method.

• Assessment centers serve as a learning experience for assessors as well as for candidates. Assessors benefit from their training and experience as assessors; they can serve as a management-training tool that helps assessors improve their observational skills and their ability to accurately evaluate performance. Candidates benefit from the feedback they receive after going through the center. The assessment center identifies their strengths and areas in need of improvement.

• Assessment center ratings tend to be much more accurate than conventional ratings because the assessment center provides an opportunity for direct observation of behavior in a controlled setting with trained raters.