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Assessment Centers & Psychometrics Overview

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What is an Assessment Center?

The term assessment center has been widely used in the fields of industrial psychology and human resources management for more than 50 years. It can be simply defined as a series of exercises held by an employer aiming to measure certain knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) that can be measured more objectively than in an interview. It is designed to flow in a structured and timely manner, assessing candidates objectively to unleash their potential. The results generated from the overall evaluation of the candidate’s cognitive abilities and personal profile is used to ascertain if there is a match between the company’s culture, the job position, and the job role needs on one hand, and the candidate’s profile, on the other hand.

The duration of the assessment center varies from few hours to few days, depending on the position that the candidate is applying for in the organization and the total number of applicants. As for the location, it is either conducted in the company itself or at the premises of the consulting company hired or at an external venue.

History of Assessment Centers

For the past few decades, assessment centers have emerged as a popular approach for managerial and non-managerial positions selection and development; and have demonstrated to have substantial validity. Historically, they have been applied most frequently for managerial jobs ranging from supervisor to executive, later on widening the scope to non-managerial jobs as well.

The history of assessment centers can be traced back to the 1930’s after Germany was defeated in World War I. In order to rebuild their armed forces back again, they implemented the concept of assessment center to select their officers, using situational tests for leadership whereby psychologists were the assessors. During World War II, the US adopted this practice likewise, to help objectively select both military and civilian recruits for their surveillance activities.

In the 1970’s, AT&T became the first private company to have implemented assessment center as a method of assessing its managers’ potential. Soon after, this methodology spread in organizations such as IBM and JC Penney.

The rapid emergence of global businesses has increased the need to design assessment centers that are applicable across diverse cultures and nations, subsequently moving to every industrialized country in the world.

Assessment Centers: Methodology, Purpose, and Benefits

The purpose of assessment centers can be classified across three domains: selection, development and promotion. Candidates who participate in various simulation exercises are evaluated by assessors on dimensions related to a specific role in the organization. Most common exercises used are: role-plays, presentations, group discussions, in-trays, and competency-based interviews (CBIs). Additionally, assessment centers may encounter online assessments as well, as will be further discussed.

Each exercise provided in the assessment center, aims to measure a certain set of competencies that are either core, cross-functional, or functional. The behaviors and observations made during the exercises, will then be compared to the key behavioral indicators and organizational competencies serving to fulfill the requirements of the specified job. Accordingly, decision makers are given a solid ground upon which they can recruit, identify development needs, or decide if the candidate is ready for promotion.

The candidate’s profile demonstrated through these assessments enables the HR and relevant parties to assess existing performance as well as predict future behaviors. Furthermore, psychometric evaluations provide a clear picture of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, ; hence allowing the management to take objectiveactions accordingly.

The participation of several assessors in the evaluation process, along with having an objective criterion to assess all participants; gives employers the opportunity to base their decisions on merit only, without the interference of personal biases and preferences.

Online Assessment Tools

In parallel to the offline exercises, candidates may be required to undertake online self-scoring psychometric tests.

A “Psychometric assessment” entails both cognitive abilities testing and personality profiling. Ability assessments cover but are not limited to: verbal, numerical, logical, diagrammatic and inductive reasoning and critical thinking modules. Whereas, personality profiling identifies the degree of fit between the candidate and the role based on his/her personality characteristics andbehavioral tendencies, which may include assessing such aspects as personality traits, competencies, leadership styles, the factors which motivate and demotivate the candidate in work contexts, contribution of candidates in team settings, etc.  

The main advantage of utilizing online tools; is the reduced time-to-results, cost efficiency, and ability to host the test to a vast number of people without having the need to invite them over. Some organizations may even use those online assessments as an initial screening tool to proceed solely with candidates with certain proficiency level, having an adequate fit with the culture of the organization and the targeted vacancy/ job position.  

To conclude…

Assessment centers have been proven to be successful over the past years and continue to be used as one of the significant and useful tools for decision making in many organizations due to its high level of accuracy, objectivity, and effectiveness. While acknowledging the success of conducting assessment tests, experts are constantly working on enhancing both offline and online assessment tools to adapt to the arising trends in businesses.

According to research, the best practice to assess an individual is to combine interviews, assessment centers, and online psychometric assessments in order to retrieve the maximum observations possible from a candidate to be able to comprehend and link different factors and aspects, which will ultimately result in a more comprehensive and objective decisions.