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Assessment Center Helps Find Team-oriented Candidates

May 1, 1994
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Organizations that place a high value on selecting the right people and developing them to be high performers often use assessment centers. By using these centers, employers can observe candidates in exercises or work simulations instead of only in an interview situation. While assessment centers produce positive results, most don't evaluate a candidate's ability to perform effectively on a team.

The assessment center at a division of Windsor Locks, Connecticut-based Hamilton Standard is an exception. Hamilton Standard Commercial Aircraft Electronics Division of United Technologies (HSCAE) manufactures environmental and jet-engine control systems for commercial aerospace applications. When Hamilton Standard was awarded a contract on the Boeing 777 in 1991, the company moved HSCAE to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Once in Colorado Springs, an HSCAE leadership team designed a flat organization based on self-directed teams to produce the relatively low volumes of high-quality products that were necessary at the plant. To allow the teams to follow the product through all areas of production, HSCAE decided to hire and train a multifunctional work force, certified in a variety of technical, business and people skills. HSCAE created an assessment center to find these new team members.

Because of the company's progressive job requirements and work environment, there were two critical considerations:

  1. Current team members needed to be involved in the selection process.
  2. The program needed to assess individuals' abilities to work in teams, learn such generic work skills as hand/eye coordination, follow written instructions and learn technical skills.

To meet these requirements, the company implemented a multi-step selection program. This process begins with an information session for candidates who submit resumes to the company. Brought in groups of about 150 people for an interactive two-hour session, candidates learn about the organization's product and HSCAE's employee expectations. They also learn what they can expect from the organization in terms of compensation, benefits, work environment and personal-development opportunities. At the end of the session, candidates are invited to complete applications.

Preparing current team members to participate on selection teams is a crucial second step. Individuals throughout the Colorado Springs facility go through extensive training to become certified in resume and application review, telephone interviewing, technical interviewing and consensus-exercise evaluation.

The selection teams begin to apply their training with the review of applications. Candidates are screened against criteria developed by the HR department, and high-potential candidates are invited to participate in the company's comprehensive assessment center.

The assessment-center process evaluates 65 to 70 candidates on a single Saturday. During the week prior to the Saturday session, candidates participate in two three-hour assessments. The first is a battery of tests that measure the candidate's generic work skills. Then, candidates complete the College Placement Exam, conducted by the local community college. This is used to validate high-school training. Although these assessments help HSCAE identify strengths and weaknesses, candidates aren't selected or rejected based on their results.

When the candidates come in on Saturday, 45 to 60 trained HSCAE employees conduct technical and general interviews and evaluate a Team Consensus Exercise, in which candidates participate during the three-hour evaluation.

In the technical interview, all candidates are presented with a flowchart of the manufacturing process, which is used to identify areas in which they could add value. Approved follow-up questions enable interviewers to assess four areas of concern: technical depth, technical breadth, ability to learn and desire to be cross-functional.

Next, the general interview evaluates a candidate's understanding of such business issues as the material flow process, configuration management, computer, finance and human resources skills.

In the Team Consensus Exercise, candidates work in teams of six to build a model airplane. Six trained evaluators assess the candidates in these areas of team performance: participation, support of the process, interpersonal skills, quality of thought, mode of behavior and flexibility.

In each of the above three assessments, candidates are given scores, which are loaded onto a spreadsheet to help focus discussion at a wrap-up meeting, held directly after the assessment center. At this time, evaluators discuss each candidate and all hiring decisions are made by group consensus.

After almost two years, the assessment center has achieved outstanding results. Through the center, HSCAE has been able to recruit and retain a talented, cross-functional work force whose certified skills cover more than 52 areas. Further, the teams have been effective at improving customer-acceptance rates while lowering costs, making HSCAE a highly competitive supplier of aerospace electronics.

Personnel Journal, May 1994, Vol.73, No. 5, p. 92.

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