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How Do We Know When Is the Right Time to Use an Assessment Center?

December 4, 2013

Dear Assessing Our Options:

You are in good company when considering the use of assessment centers for leadership assessment. An assessment center is -- by far -- the most comprehensive and accurate procedure for assessing someone’s readiness for a new leadership role or promotion to a higher leadership role. 

Before commenting, let’s define an assessment center. The International Congress on Assessment Centers describes one by several attributes. These include the use of multiple assessment methods (e.g., two or more job-related role plays) and multiple assessors to ensure the accuracy of ratings. In some cases these components are combined with a structured interview and a combination of psychological tests. 

You are correct, assessment centers are “pricey.” As with all things in life, “you get what you pay for.” You can easily spend $100,000 to design a good, job-related/validated assessment center. Then you have the cost of finding a location to conduct the center. Most centers assess six to 12 candidates at one time. The logistics of the assessment day gets complex and requires break-out rooms for the role plays, an assessor “safe room” and a main room for the coordination of the activities.

I’ve been designing and administering assessment centers for Fortune 50 companies for 30 years in the U.S., Europe and Asia.  But you described yourself as a medium-sized company having a “tight budget.”

To your question “When is it time to use assessment centers?”, it depends on the importance of the position, the volume of candidates you anticipate over several years, the resources you have, and the company’s willingness to develop a program to professional standards. 

Consider the following questions:

·                 Is the job important enough, and the volume of candidates large enough, to warrant the cost? This should be considered in your ROI study.

·                 Are you able to follow professional guidelines? This is your legal hurdle.

·                 Do you have support from senior management and your legal department? Here’s your reality check.

Being a medium-sized company on a tight budget, I recommend a hybrid approach. Consider using what is often referred to as an individual assessment. That is, have a psychologist administer job-relevant psychological tests (cognitive abilities and personality), interview your candidate and add one or two job-related “role plays” that are conducted between the candidate and the psychologist. We have used this approach for companies your size and with Fortune 500 companies for years, with excellent results.

SOURCE: David E. Smith, Ph.D., President and CEO, EASI-Consult, LLC, (Corporate Office) St. Louis, Missouri.