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An Ultimate Guide to Assessment Center Development Center

Learning and Development |

An Ultimate Guide to Assessment Center Development Center

What Is an Assessment Center Development Center?

An assessment center development center is a detailed evaluation of an individual’s skills, organizational fitment and developmental needs by assessing them on various competencies, using multiple tools, required to be successful on the job. An assessment center is used by organizations to evaluate their prospective or current workforce for various reasons, such as recruitment, training needs identification, high-potential identification and succession planning.

Why are Assessment Centers Used?

Source: Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations published in Journal of Management


Types of Assessment Centers

Traditional Assessment Centers

As a part of assessment centers, organizations selectively send employees to an offsite, outside the office’s confines, to disconnect from the day-to-day routine, build employee engagement and enhance self-awareness. Participants undergo several activities such as role-playing, group discussions, behavioral interviews and business case presentations. Meanwhile, experienced assessors observe and evaluate the participants based on their demonstrative behavior. Toward the end of each activity, assessors collate their observations and discuss each participant’s performance. Once they reach an agreement on individual performance, they create a manual report, based on which participants get one-on-one feedback.

Physical assessment centers are not rolled out to all job levels considering the high-stakes and costs involved. They are best suited for senior managers, CXOs and the likes. Also, since this method brings about the significant inconvenience of managing logistics, using this approach is not recommended.

Virtual Assessment Center

A virtual assessment center is the online version of a traditional assessment center that provides a holistic understanding of a candidate without compromising the quality and standard set by physical assessment centers. Just as employees undergo some activities in a traditional assessment center, virtual assessment centers provide a whole range of activities in a simulated virtual environment. A virtual assessor(s) is present to overlook some of the activities.

Akin to physical assessment centers, virtual assessment centers have multiple tools mapped to behavioral competencies. The tools are administered online, followed by automated reports, eliminating the hassle of logistics, reducing manual effort and curbing the overhead costs in conducting extensive in-person assessments – all this without hampering the standardization and accuracy of the results. 

Virtual assessment centers are best suited for individual contributors and managers.

Blended Assessment Centers

A blended assessment center is an alternative to traditional assessment centers. The blended approach is a mix of both physical and online tools. In a blended assessment center, few competencies are mapped using online tools with life-like simulations while the rest are assessed based on physical exercises. While the physical part of the assessment remains the same, the total score is calculated based on the performance in both physical and virtual assessment centers. In a physical or blended center, the assessors are physically available to observe and evaluate participants. In contrast, assessors are also available online in a virtual center. Ratings are compiled to provide a holistic view of the assessee after the exercises. This is followed by one-on-one feedback sessions by the assessors to further employee development goals.

A blended assessment center is best suited for mid to senior-level and leadership roles.


comparison table


What Is the Purpose of an Assessment Centre?

The purpose of an assessment center is to enhance the efficiency of talent management processes. Assessment center tests and exercises are used for three primary purposes: to predict future behavior to make better talent decisions, to diagnose development needs, and to groom potential employees.

Assessment development centers are popularly used for the following initiatives in an organization:


Purpose of an Assessment Center


Identification of High-Potential Employees

High-potential employees are 91% more valuable to a business than non-high potential workers.

High-potential employees can raise the performance bar of other workers. Adding a star performer to a team alone boosts other team members’ effectiveness by 5-15%. Assessment centers help organizations identify and develop high-potential employees to assume additional responsibilities and drive growth. This creates a pool of managerial talent and multi-functional managers that is available across the business group.


Identification of Training Needs

Companies that invest in employee training enjoy a 24% more profit margin versus companies that don’t.

Training is an integral part of employees’ career growth. If not given the right training, they tend to leave their jobs within the first year. To bridge skill gaps, assessment development centers enable organizations to identify training areas for their current employees and take adequate initiatives to develop their workforce skills. Assessment center development centers provide employees and organizations with concrete data on the improvement areas. This report serves as a benchmark to further the cause of training the workforce/employees.


Leadership Development

82% of managers, peers and direct reports of trained people witnessed positive behaviors among leaders after implementing a leadership development program.

Top talent and effective leaders are required to address diverse challenges and to position the organization toward success. Companies witness astounding results when they improve their approach toward training and developing managers and leaders. The organizations that use assessment center tests to develop their managers report higher sales, lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction and lower absenteeism.


Succession Planning

Unsuccessful role transitions lead to a 20% lower employee engagement and a 15% lower team performance.

Feedback from assessment centers helps organizations identify whether they can handle the challenges offered in the next higher position. They act as a catalyst for change, as leaders learn about the gaps between their mindsets and skills and what is required to lead effectively. At an organizational level, this information can target specific growth and development programs. This can lead to important information for succession planning by allowing the organization to assess whether it has the number of employees required to move into key roles in the future.

Did You Know?

  • Assessment centers were first used in World War II by Germany to shortlist their officers. The United States' Office of Strategic Services also implemented assessment centers to select military and civilian recruits for espionage activities in World War II. The officers were not evaluated based on their tolerance and physical strength, but the candidate's degree of composure as they completed the exercise. Source: Chapter 2- One History of the Assessment Center (Scott Highhouse & Kevin P. Nolan) in The Psychology of Assessment Centers edited by Duncan Jackson, Charles E. Lance, Brian Hoffman.
  • Assessment centers were initially known as Selection Assessment Boards when adopted by the British Office of Strategic Services in WWII. Source: 'Spies and Saboteurs' by Dr. W.J. Morgan (1955, London – Victor Gollancz Ltd).
  • American Telegraph & Telephone (AT&T) became the first private sector company to use assessment centers as a method of assessing its managers’ potential in the 1950s.
  • AT&T Human Resource director Dr. Douglas Bray undertook a 25-year study that tracked the careers of managers as they progressed in the company’s hierarchy. Source: https://www.apostrof.international/2017/10/history-assessment-centers/

The Assessment Center Process

‘Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations’   published in the Journal of Management, enumerates ten essential elements of assessment centers:


Assessment Center Process


Job Analysis

This incorporates an extensive job analysis to determine knowledge, skill and attributes (KSA) to assess job performance. It depends on the purpose of assessment, the job’s complexity and prior knowledge about the job. Competencies are defined based on the organization’s vision, values and objectives.


Behavioral Categorization

Participants’ workplace behaviors during ACs must be categorized into relevant groups such as competencies, related behavioral indicators, aptitude, ability, knowledge or broader performance groups.


Multiple Assessment Methods

Assessment centers incorporate multiple exercises, including either behavioral simulation or a combination of
behavioral, psychometric, competency-based interviews, or situational judgment questions. Data points enable evaluation and validation. However, the tools should undergo a trial to ensure the custom tools gauge requisite and relevant behavioral information. 


Tool-Competency Mapping

Once the competencies are identified via job analysis, they are then mapped to different assessment tools. As research demonstrates that assessing fewer competencies is a better predictor of performance, at least two tools are employed to map a single competency.


Simulation-based Exercises

The assessee is required to respond to work-related scenarios while being observed by assessors. The wide spectrum of these exercises includes in-basket, group discussions, role-plays, case study presentations, business games and fact-finding exercises. At least two simulation exercises are required for an in-depth understanding of an individual’s performance.



Assessors play a crucial role in observing and assessing the participants. Assessors with diverse backgrounds and experience observe each participant in at least one simulation exercise. The assessor to assessee ratio is minimized to decrease the cognitive load. To eliminate bias, assessors do not evaluate someone they know. Moreover, the assessor will evaluate different participants in each activity. 


Assessor Coaching

Before assessment centers, assessors need to undergo two forms of training – behavioral and frame-of-reference. In behavioral training, assessors observe, record and evaluate the assessee’s behavior during simulation exercises. In the latter form of training, assessors receive directives on calibrating scores according to pre-decided competencies and relevant behavioral indicators.


Behavior Analysis and Rating

Assessors must follow a process to capture relevant behaviors during assessment center tests. This may comprise making notes, behavioral checklists or behaviorally anchored rating scales. Observations may occur post hoc by accessing audio or video clips of test-takers during behavioral simulation exercises.


Data Consolidation

Assessors evaluate candidate performance
based on their observable behavior through various assessment techniques. During an integration discussion, assessors capture relevant behaviors. Overall assessment rating is used for selection while a combination of OARs and competency ratings are used for development purposes.



Procedures such as exercise content and duration, role-player behavior, number of participants in group exercises, questions asked by assessors, exercise sequence and scoring are controlled to give a fair chance to the candidates as standardization is crucial for selection and promotion. Exceptions in adherence to standardized procedures are permitted to accommodate candidates with a disability.


How Do You Design an Assessment Center?

Designing an assessment center, first and foremost, requires an organization to:

Design an Assessment Center

Define the Objective

Defining a clear objective before exposing their employees to an assessment center should be an organization’s foremost consideration. If there is a need to identify the skills required by the workforce to be effective in a target role, organizations should begin by analyzing the factors that aid in employee performance. Problem-solving, collaboration and others are the skills or behaviors required for a particular position. Assessment partners can help create an organization-wide competency framework if it is not already set up. By having multiple discussions with the stakeholders, assessment partners create a comprehensive organization-wide framework and create job-role wise competency frameworks.

Zero-in-on the Job Levels

Since conducting assessment centers incur expenses, the human resources department and other key stakeholders should narrow down the job roles against various assessment center techniques. The methods to assess and develop individual contributors, first-time managers, mid to senior-level management, and leadership positions can vary. Ideally, the exercises must accurately reflect the variety and demands of the target role. Subject matter expertise is of utmost importance to establish which roles are more suited for a particular technique.

Map Competencies to Relevant Tools

Correlating the competency frameworks to relevant exercises goes a long way in realizing reliable and credible outcomes. When organizations try to map their competency frameworks without expert guidance, their return on investment may get affected. An expert in the domain should be consulted for competency-tool mapping to avoid such a scenario. Assessment center exercises can include situational judgment questions, personality, cognitive tools, case studies, group discussions, role-plays and various other simulation online and offline tools. However, if you do not have in-depth knowledge of these tools, your assessment and development plans would fail to deliver quality results.


Assessment and Development Centers: Best Practice Guidelines

Assessment centers can address the majority of an organization’s learning and development needs if implemented in the right manner. End-to-end management of the practice can be achieved by implementing the following steps with expert help:

Step 1: Sensing

Step 2: Creation and customization of tools

Step 3: Administration and management

Step 4: Offline activities (In case of blended assessment)

Step 5: Report generation




The sensing exercise involves understanding the role and levels under consideration. This step is executed by interacting with some key stakeholders with a detailed understanding of the organization-wide and role-specific expectations. Once SMEs understand the organizational requirements, a position analysis questionnaire is shared with the organization to capture relevant details about critical incidents and experiences specific to a particular organization/profile. This is followed by focused group discussions and visionary interviews with key stakeholders to understand the competencies relevant to employees’ success in a specific role/within an organization. SMEs then scan through the details captured in the sensing exercise and identify the tool composition based on the same. Post this exercise, a tool – competency matrix – is shared with the client for validation.



Competency-Tool Mapping in a Virtual Assessment Center. Each competency is mapped to at least two tools

Creation and Customization of Tools

After the finalization of the matrix, experts create assessment tools’ content specific to organizational needs. The psychometricians then validate the tools, and the content is sent to the client for validation by their internal stakeholders. Assessment creation is based on the bluebook approved by the company. Additionally, the difficulty level is based on the target audience for whom the ADC is designed.

Administration & Management

Online proctoring enables participants to appear in the assessment remotely, using laptops or PCs. The test centers are either suggested by experts or the organization in the presence of a proctor. Since there are multiple tools involved, different test links are created for various tools and shared with the participants. This also provides a break to the test-takers between sections.

Offline Activities (In Case of Blended Assessment)

On the day of in-person activity, candidates engage in individual and group exercises onsite in the presence of trained assessors. The assessors observe job-specific behaviors and rate participants accordingly. The assessors then collaborate their offline and online ratings in the form of a report. A short debriefing may happen on the day of the assessment center, but detailed developmental feedback happens after the report generation.

Report Generation

Assessment center reports serve as a benchmark for employee development plans since the evaluation is based on multiple inputs. Observations about behaviors are made from specifically developed assessment simulations. These judgments are pooled in a meeting among the assessors or by a statistical integration process.




Assessment Center Tools

Assessment Center Tools


Offline Tools

The offline tools give a personal touch to the assessment center approach and enable assessors to closely assess participants’ relevant behaviors. The offline tools are used in conjunction with the online tests to offer a more comprehensive picture of the participants.


Case Study Presentation

Offline case study of real business-related dynamics enables candidates to evaluate multiple problems, the proposed solutions to which they need to explain to assessors in a one-to-one presentation, followed by a Q&A round.


 Group Discussion

As a group plays the role of a think tank assigned with a task, assessors observe and evaluate candidates on the competencies under consideration. 



This exercise allows the assessors to test candidates’ responses and behavior with others when put in a spot. It is a useful way of assessing a candidate’s social and communication skills, empathy and the ability to influence others in job-relevant situations.


Competency-based Interview

It attempts to uncover past performance with questions that require candidates to describe past experiences. This activity can offer good evidence of how candidates behave in real situations and their values, attitudes and motivations.


Group Activity

Group activity provides useful evidence of teamwork and the ability to interact and communicate with others. It can also assess the ability to flex their approach and style to others.


Online Tools

Online tools mirror real-world scenarios in a simulated environment. They enable the participants to take assessments remotely since there are no physical elements to the online version.


Personality Assessment

It evaluates an individual on the ‘Big Five’ factors divided into 26 facet-like constructs, further mapped to competencies to know the candidate’s behavioral inclination. It is a valid, standardized and structured way to identify personality traits and types in the candidates.



Cognitive Abilities

It measures the candidate’s intellectual skills such as observation, memory, visual processing, mental flexibility, critical thinking and decision-making. It tests whether candidates have certain abilities required for the job.



Situational Judgment Test

It is an online questionnaire that assesses the judgment required for solving hypothetical and challenging situations that one might encounter at work.



Case Study Simulator

In a case study simulator, candidates look through information folders, seek answers to a few questions, and solve the problem within the available time and resources.



In-box Exercise

Candidates receive background information about the proposed role, a series of emails in their mailbox and are expected to provide the best possible responses. It can assess a candidate’s ability to plan and prioritize their time and problem-solving skills.



Domain Expertise

Technical knowledge of the job role is crucial. Online assessments cater to multiple job-roles and job-levels. They test a candidate’s grasp on domain expertise and efficiency in their line of work.



Measure’s candidate’s behavior in real business situations by evaluating behavioral competencies and reasoning. Candidates are marked on their approach and decision-making skills. It is suited for junior to mid-management.


What to Expect from an Assessment Center

Organizations that chose assessment centers over other methods of evaluation experienced better employee performance. The decision to performance correlation proved to be highest for assessment centers. The following figure demonstrates how new-age practices impact the assessment landscape by enabling organizations to make better people decisions.



Organizations are increasingly undertaking the assessment center approach due to the following reasons:

Relevant Content in a Simulated Environment

Assessment centers prove to be more efficient since they effectively measure participants’ competencies in a simulated environment. Additionally, candidates can easily relate to the assessment center content as the replication of real-world scenarios appears realistic to them. Assessment centers prove to be a reliable solution, especially while assessing mid to senior management, leadership roles and others with high-stakes job roles.

Constructive & Actionable Feedback

Assessment centers stand out among other forms of assessments. A standard assessment center is not only aimed at pre-assessment but employee development tools. The performance and their scores are collaborated by assessors, after which they are given constructive feedback. This is contrary to traditional forms of assessments where the task ends with report generation. The one-on-one feedback sessions act as a mirror for test-takers and help them carve a development journey. A group-level analysis helps organizations identify a particular department’s training needs.

Future of Assessment Centers

For over a decade, organizations have preferred going the traditional assessment way as it provides an element of human intervention. However, given the intense manual effort involved, there are several reasons why L&D and HR teams find it difficult to justify employing physical assessment centers.

As the talent management landscape continues to evolve and adopt modern technologies, human resource experts can now leverage technology to train and develop their workforce. To avoid the consequences of relying on a traditional assessment center, organizations are gradually adopting online tools to expedite the process, in addition to giving credible outcomes at par with the physical approach. Virtual assessment centers can overcome most pitfalls in physical assessments while greatly expanding the potential pool of applicants available to the organization.

A globally competitive marketplace mandates organizations to sync their strategic aims with the market requirements to ensure business continuity. Virtual assessment centers can prove to be efficient and effective in achieving the desired results. It is a time and cost-effective medium, and the assessments can be taken remotely. Meanwhile, blended assessment centers that incorporate both technological and human elements are increasingly becoming a go-to option for vital organizational planning initiatives. 

Increased computational power enables the use of statistical calculations that reveal different perspectives about issues such as validity. Participants’ micro-behaviors, such as eye-movements, perspiration levels, movement between items when dealing with issues, can be captured and analyzed using technology. With the use of algorithms and big data, assessment results can be assimilated, and feedback reports can be generated within hours of completing a virtual assessment center. The possible advantages of the technological advances are manyfold: the accuracy of assessments can potentially increase through the combination of many data points; the speed at which assessment results are available increases; the richness of feedback can increase.


How Mercer | Mettl Can Help


Mercer | Mettl is committed to the evolving needs of talent management and development. This is why we offer two methodologies for conducting hassle-free assessment centers – virtual and blended. With subject matter experts, a pool of experienced assessors on board, and a suite of interactive tools and exercises, Mercer | Mettl can play a significant part in the hiring, training and development of your workforce.



What does the assessment center mean?

An assessment center is a human resource management tool to holistically assess an individual’s competencies for role and organizational fitment and gauge developmental needs. With the help of various assessment & development center exercises, organizations witness individuals in the simulation of the role for which they are considered. The process of assessment development center helps organizations better predict their performance and potential for the proposed position.


What happens in an assessment center?

Depending on the various forms of assessment centers, i.e., physical, virtual, or blended, and their objectives, individuals are asked to participate in multiple activities to gauge fitment, readiness, or developmental needs. Assessment center tests range from psychrometric to situational judgment, from case studies to in-box, from group discussions to business presentations. Individuals are called to an assessment center in the case of a traditional approach or sent the link to a virtual center, where they are offered tests and situations that mirror real workplace situations of that job in that organization. Individuals have to perform the tests to the best of their abilities that allows the organization to predict their performance based on how they perform on the simulation of the job.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of assessment centers?

The most significant advantage of assessment centers is that they are accurate predictors of performance since candidates attempt tasks closer to real work situations. This gives both the assessors and the candidates an accurate picture of what lies ahead. Thus, assessors can make better hiring decisions, and candidates get more realistic expectations about their role, ensuring a prolonged employment association. The only disadvantage is that designing an assessment center involves creating customized exercises for every organization and job role, which can be a slightly drawn-out process because of multiple stakeholders’ involvement.


How to run an assessment center?

Running an assessment center requires the following steps:

Sensing: Understanding the role at hand, its competencies, and the broad objectives of the exercise 

Creation and customization of tools: Mapping every competency to two or more tools according to job role and level.

Administration and management: Depending on the type of the assessment center, organizations usually partner with an assessment provider to oversee the management and administration. 

Report generation and developmental plans: Analytical and data-backed reports that match competencies indicate strengths and weaknesses and give developmental recommendations.


What is the development center?

The development center in HRM is used for development and organizational planning initiatives, which include training needs identification, high-potential identification, leadership development and succession planning. The difference between the assessment center and the development center is that an assessment center is often used during hiring and selection, and a development center is used for individual and organizational development purposes.

Originally published December 4 2019, Updated August 3 2021

Megha Singh

Written by

A writer at heart, Megha has been in the content industry for 4 years. Starting her career from print, her journey spans across IT, legal and consulting industries. She has been associated with Mercer | Mettl as Assistant Manager, Content Marketing for 2 years.

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