Personnel Selection: Methods: Assessment Centers

An Assessment Center consists of a standardized evaluation of behavior based on multiple evaluations including: job-related simulations, interviews, and/or psychological tests. Job Simulations are used to evaluate candidates on behaviors relevant to the most critical aspects (or competencies) of the job.

Several trained observers and techniques are used. Judgments about behavior are made and recorded. These judgments are pooled in a meeting among the assessors or by an averaging process. In discussion among assessors, comprehensive accounts of behavior, often including ratings, are pooled. The discussion results in evaluations of the performance of the assessees on the dimensions or other variables.

  • Leaderless Group Discussion
    1. The leaderless group discussion is a type of assessment center exercise where groups of applicants meet as a group to discuss an actual job-related problem. As the meeting proceeds, the behavior of the candidates is observed to see how they interact and what leadership and communications skills each person displays (Schultz & Schultz, 1994).
    2. Problems with this technique:
      1. This type of exercise was not feasible for selecting candidates from a potential applicant pool of 8000 individuals because of the time and cost involved with training the individuals rating the applicants.
      2. Since every group would be different, individuals could argue that the process is biased or unfair.
      3. The process is not standardized.

  • Role Playing
    1. Role playing is a type of assessment center exercise where the candidate assumes the role of the incumbent of the position and must deal with another person in a job- related situation. A trained role player is used and responds "in character" to the actions of the candidate. Performance is assessed by observing raters.
    2. Problems with this technique:
      1. Since this technique is not conducive to group administration, test security would be an issue.
      2. Job content areas identified in the job analysis were not as amenable to this type of exercise as they were to the selection techniques utilized in the final test

    Assessment Center Exercises
    An Assessment Center can be defined as "a variety of testing techniques designed to allow candidates to demonstrate, under standardized conditions, the skills and abilities that are most essential for success in a given job" (Coleman, 1987). The term "assessment center" is really a catch-all term that can consist of some or all of a variety of exercises. Assessment centers usually have some sort of in-basket exercise which contains contents similar to those which are found in the in-basket for the job which is being tested. Other possibilities include oral exercises, counseling simulations, problem analysis exercises, interview simulations, role play exercises, written report/analysis exercises, and leaderless group exercises (Coleman, 1987; Filer, 1979; Joiner, 1984). Assessment centers allow candidates to demonstrate more of their skills through a number of job relevant situations (Joiner, 1984).

    While assessment centers vary in the number and type of exercises included, two of the most common exercises are the in-basket and the oral exercise. In a traditional in-basket exercise, candidates are given time to review the material and initiate in writing whatever actions they believe to be most appropriate in relation to each in-basket item. When time is called for the exercise, the in-basket materials and any notes, letters, memos, or other correspondence written by the candidate are collected for review by one or more assessors. Often the candidates are then interviewed to ensure that the assessor(s) understand actions taken by the candidate and the rationale for the actions. If an interview is not possible, it is also quite common to have the candidate complete a summary sheet (i.e., a questionnaire).
    Thus, a more recent trend over the past ten (10) years has been the development of selection procedures which are based upon the assessment center model, but which can be turned into low- fidelity simulations (Motowidlo, et al., 1990). Some low-fidelity simulations involve having an applicant read about a work situation. The applicant then responds to the situation by choosing one of five alternative answers. Some procedures have the applicant choose the response he/she would most likely make in a situation and the response that he/she would least likely make. These samples of hypothetical work behavior have been found to be valid predictors of job performance (Motowidlo, et al., 1990).

    Recently, the in-basket has become a focus of interest because of it's usefulness in selection across a wide variety of jobs (Schippmann, Prien, & Katz, 1990). A variety of techniques have been used to develop in-baskets. Quite often information on an in-basket's development is not available for review because the reports do not contain the critical information. It is not uncommon for armchair methods to be used, or for in-baskets to be taken off the shelf. A recent review indicated that nearly 50% of the studies do not describe how the in-basket was constructed (Schippmann, et al., 1990). There is also a great deal of variation among the ways in which the in-basket is scored. There is a range of objectivity in scoring with some scoring systems utilize almost entirely human judgment, while others utilize a purely objective approach. The in-basket exercise may be thought of as an approach which assesses a candidate's "practical thinking" ability (Scribner, 1986; 1984), by having a candidate engage in implicit problem solving for a job-relevant task.

    It is now well recognized that a content valid approach to constructing an in-basket is one which is professionally accepted as a technique which has passed legal scrutiny. However, despite the acceptance by the courts and practitioners, the reporting basis for content validity is often deficient. Schippmann et al. (1990) point out that all the studies they reviewed failed to establish a link between the task portion, and the knowledge, skill, and ability portion of the job analysis in order to provide a firm foundation for the construction of the in-basket. Often there has been no procedure for translating the job analysis information into development or choice of the test.

    Like all assessment center exercises, oral exercises can take many forms depending on the work behaviors or factors of the job being simulated. Common forms of oral exercises include press conference exercises, formal presentations, and informal presentations (briefing exercise). In oral presentation exercises, candidates are given a brief period of time in which to plan/organize their thoughts, make notes, etc., for the presentation/briefing. Traditionally, the audience is played by the assessor(s) who observes the presentation and makes ratings. Candidates may also be asked a series of questions following their briefing/presentation. The questions may or may not relate directly to the topic of the presentation.

    Today, the assessment center method is utilized in a variety of settings including industry and business, government, armed forces, educational institutions, and safety forces to select individuals for supervisory, technical, sales, or management positions. These assessment centers vary in length, time, and selection of exercises. The current trend is in the development of assessment centers amenable to mass testing. The traditional assessment center exercises require the use of live raters, and generally are not able to assess more than a few candidates per day. This then becomes an extremely costly form of selection for organizations. Today, the use of audio taping, and the use of objectively scored in-basket exercises permits the assessment of a much larger number of candidates per day, because the rating of the exercise takes place at a later date. This allows a more widespread use of the assessment center technique, because it is becoming a more time and cost effective method.