Dear Workforce How Do We Establish Assessment Centers?

What factors must we consider when establishing assessment centers?

September 7, 2011

Dear Unsure:

Assessment centers often serve multiple purposes insofar as they are used to develop internal talent and to select external job applicants. No matter its purpose, an assessment center uses a variety of techniques to measure traits or characteristics essential for managerial or executive-level jobs. Most assessment centers include some form of the following measurement tools:

  • Psychological testing, usually either personality or cognitive ability tests.

  • Interviews, usually behaviorally based structured interviews that require candidates to discuss how they have handled specific work-related problems.

  • Role playing. This refers to scenarios in which participants pretend to be involved in a work-related situation.

  • In-basket exercises require participants to handle different tasks, including answering e-mails and phone calls, solving business problems, scheduling and delegating tasks, and making decisions.

  • In business simulations, participants are given a body of information and expected to use it to build a business case for their strategic planning decisions.

Assessment centers have been shown to be quite effective for evaluations related to future job performance. This is largely due to the use of highly trained evaluators to help make expert judgments about participants. The tradeoff is the cost of using an assessment center, which could be quite expensive. Aside from the time involved, you likely will have to budget money to pay for the use of a team of experts associated with the assessment center. This includes a psychologist charged with writing reports that describe each individual's strengths and weaknesses in relation to their job requirements. Although an assessment center can be quite effective, make sure it is the right tool for your organization. Here are a few things to think about when considering whether an assessment center is a good choice:

What type of job or position are you looking to fill? Assessment centers make the most sense for evaluating applicants for high-level managerial and executive positions. They also are used to evaluate the potential of lower-level employees who could be groomed for higher-level positions. The high value of these types of positions, and the quality of information needed to make smart hiring decisions, justifies the expense of using an assessment center.

Do you have internal resources to develop an assessment center? Or do you wish to outsource? Creating a good assessment center takes a lot of time and effort. If you are planning on making the assessment center a long-term piece of your hiring and development plans, it would seem to make sense to develop your own content. This option also helps you spell out what it takes to be a high performer in your organization. If you do not wish to spend the time and money developing your own assessment center, there are organizations that could be hired to help you through the process.

Are you interested in using the assessment center to develop and evaluate existing employees, to select job applicants from the outside, or both? The content of an assessment center may differ slightly depending on how you plan to use it. The ideal situation is to use the assessment center to link your external selection and internal development programs so that the performance dimensions being evaluated are relevant for both. This allows you to be consistent in rating the factors that serve as gateways to higher positions within your organization.

SOURCE: Charles A. Handler, Ph.D., PHR, Rocket-Hire, New Orleans, December 23, 2005.

LEARN MORE: Please read a Dear Workforce article on How to Assess Informal Workplace Learning.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.