Assessment Centre Definition
An Assessment Centre is an event, not a location. and Assessment Centres are best understood not as a discrete process, but as having a number of key features. The main feature of Assessment Centres as we now understand them 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 behaviours. Decisions are then made by pooling shared data.
(Ballantyne & Povah,2004)
History of Assessment Centres
Early application of the Assessment Centre methodology can be traced to the officer selection process used by the German military following the First World War. Germany had turned into a Republic; this meant that it could not just pick officers from a ‘noble class’ which is what it would have done previously. Along with other concerns, such as the shorter enlistment times of a modern army, this meant that a new system had to be developed to identify the best candidates for promotion from a much larger pool. In order to achieve this, the multi-assessor and multi-event techniques common to modern Assessment Centres were used for the first time. The German army began using job simulations and other capability measurements to determine the calibre of candidates from ordinary recruits. In this case, the assessors were looking specifically for the leadership skills that would allow an ordinary soldier to succeed as an officer..
History of Assessment Centres in the UK
Similar to Germany, the first use of Assessment Centre methodology in the United Kingdom came in 1943 when the British War Office Selection Boards (WOSB) were created to identify potential officers for the British Army. Previously, British Army officers were selected on the basis of a short interview, with intuitive decisions being made about a candidate’s suitability for the officer role based on characteristics that often had little correlation with future performance. The WOSBs were initially modelled closely on the German approach, but a year later were refined to include more team-based exercises. In total, the WOSBs included a range of assessment components, from psychiatric assessments, intelligence tests and simulated command tasks to group problem solving, presentations and interviews.
The UK was also home to the first non-military use of assessment centres. Starting in 1945, the Civil Service Selection Board (CSSB) introduced the Assessment Centre methodology into their system for recruiting middle to high-level managers. This system included personality measures, verbal and non-verbal tests, interviews, an examination, individual exercises including a presentation, and group exercises. Assessors comprised civil servants and psychologists. Each assessor would share their inputs at the end of the centre, and then go on to independently rate each of the candidates.The UK was also home to the first non-military use of Assessment Centres. Starting in 1945, the Civil Service Selection Board (CSSB) introduced the assessment centre methodology into their system for recruiting middle to high-level managers. This system included personality measures, verbal and non-verbal tests, interviews, an examination, individual exercises including a presentation, and group exercises. Assessors comprised civil servants and psychologists. Each assessor would share their inputs at the end of the centre, and then go on to independently rate each of the candidates.
History of Assessment Centres in commercial organisations
The first known use of Assessment Centre methodology in the private sector was recorded in 1956, when the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) began its management progress study (MPS). A combination of consultants, psychologists and AT&T staff assessed individual characteristics of early-in-careers employees, such as their values and attitudes, intellectual ability, sensitivity, organising, planning and decision making using a wide variety of tasks including group discussions, in-tray exercises, group discussions, and more traditional paper and pencil ability tests. The organisational context in which they worked was also analysed. They used this information to make predictions about which members of staff would reach middle management within the next ten years.
Initially no decisions were made based on these assessments and no feedback was given to the participants or their line managers, to ensure that the effect of assessment did not impact the individual’s career progress. After 8 years AT&T gathered more data about the original participants, such as management level and salary progress attained. They compared this data to their original predictions. The Assessment Centre proved to be a strong predictor of future performance, and this prompted AT&T to begin using the Assessment Centre methodology for wider personnel decisions such as potential appraisal, promotions, etc. As word spread about the success of the AT&T study, other organisations such as Standard Oil, IBM, Sears Roebuck, General Electric, and Caterpillar tractors began using Assessment Centres. By 1981 more than 2,500 organisations had applied the methodology to select potential managers.
Assessment Centre Statistics
Studies on the use of Assessment Centres for selection within organisations in the UK give varying estimates of prevalence, from 38% (Bole, 1993) to 84% (AGR, 1999) with an emerging average value across the studies of around two-thirds of organisations (64%).
According to 2007 research by Employment Review, two-thirds (64%) of employers who do use Assessment Centres deploy them as part of their graduate recruitment programmes. The findings show that employers also use Assessment Centres when selecting senior managers (60%) or middle managers (62%).
Private sector service companies and public sector organisations in the survey were the most enthusiastic about Assessment Centres, with almost 60% believing them to be very effective.
Finally, more than nine out of 10 employers using Assessment Centres reported that they believe they are a very (47%) or fairly (48%) effective means of recruiting staff to fill vacancies.
A large, global survey of Assessment Centre practice was conducted by a&dc and Colorado State University in 2012-13. This survey explored typical practices in relation to various aspects of Assessment Centres, including design, assessors, technology and evaluation. You can download a copy of this survey report here.