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An Ultimate Guide to Assessment Center Development Center

Learning and Development | 10 Min Read

The ultimate guide to assessment center development center

Understanding development center vs. assessment center in HRM

The key difference between an assessment center and a development center lies in its objectives.

An assessment center is a tool to evaluate an individual’s suitability for specific job roles. It includes several tools like aptitude tests, personality evaluations, virtual assessment center case study simulators and interviews. It helps organizations better predict candidate performance and potential for a proposed position.

On the other hand, a development center in HRM is used for organizational initiatives such as training needs identification, high-potential identification, leadership development and succession planning. While virtual assessment tests are often used for recruitment, development centers help identify professional strengths and challenges.

Therefore, an assessment center development center is considered a more holistic approach. It brings together the best of both platforms in one comprehensive evaluation process.


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 provision offers both the assessors and the candidates an accurate picture of what may lie ahead. Thus, assessors can make better hiring decisions, and candidates gain a more realistic insight into their roles, ensuring a long employment association. The only disadvantage is that designing a candidate assessment center involves creating customized assessment development center exercises for every organization and job role, which can be a trifle lengthy process because of multiple stakeholders’ involvement.

An assessment center development center (ACDC) refers to any platform- virtual or physical- that helps evaluate professionals for job fitment, aptitude, and other essential competencies. This elaborate guide deep dives into its key elements, the difference between assessment center and development center, and more. You will also learn about designing an assessment development center following the best practices and using recommended tools.


Chapter 1: The fundamentals of assessment center development center

An assessment center development center is a combination of an assessment center and a development center. It is a platform offering a detailed evaluation of an individual’s skills, organizational fitment and developmental needs – ACDCs work by assessing candidates on various competencies required to be successful on the job.

Assessment center development centers have three primary uses:


1. Personnel selection and recruitment

2. Identification of strengths and areas for training and development

3. Development and grooming of professionals to accelerate their growth path


Types of assessment center development center


Organizations employ one of the three major types of assessment center development centers. They are:





Traditional assessment centers

Traditional assessment centers involve a physical location. As part of the assessment process, organizations selectively send employees to a site away from their workplace, with the following objectives:

  • To encourage a disconnect from the daily routine
  • Building employee engagement
  • Helping boost employees’ self-awareness

Alternatively, traditional assessment centers may also involve inviting job applicants to the assessment center for tests and interviews.

The Traditional assessment center method

Participants in a traditional assessment center in HRM 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 agree on individuals’ performance, they create a report based on which participants get one-on-one feedback.


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/ 


Limitations of traditional assessment center tests

Physical assessment centers are usually not feasible for all job levels, considering the stakes and costs involved. Also, traditional assessment centers can involve several logistical and operational hassles. Therefore, not many experts recommend this approach for a regular assessment or evaluation process.

Virtual assessment development centers

A virtual assessment development center is the online version of a traditional assessment center. It allows a holistic candidate evaluation without compromising the quality and standard set by physical assessment centers.

Virtual assessment center platforms and virtual assessment development centers accommodate a range of traditional tools used in assessment centers in a simulated virtual environment. However, wherever necessary, virtual assessors overlook the virtual assessment center activities that are conducted via assessment center software.

Virtual ACDC process

Virtual assessment and development center exercises are mapped to behavioral competencies relevant to a specific role. The exercises are administered online, followed by automated reports, eliminating logistical hassles, reducing human effort and curbing the overhead costs in conducting extensive in-person assessments.

We’ll discuss the applications of virtual assessment development centers in Chapter 2.

Blended assessment development centers

A blended assessment-development center is an innovative hybrid approach that combines the best features of traditional and virtual assessment centers. It elevates the design of a traditional assessment center by combining conventional offline activities with online assessment center exercises. Resultantly, there is room for a comprehensive blended approach that supports multiple styles of learning and learners.

The process of a blended assessment development center

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. The physical part of the assessment remains the same. However, the total score is calculated based on the performance in both physical and virtual assessments. Ratings are compiled to provide a holistic view of the candidates after the exercises. One-on-one feedback sessions by the assessors follow this process to further development goals.

Traditional AC Blended AC Virtual AC 
Scale Not scalable Partially scalable Fully scalable 
LogisticsExtreme logistical hassleLimited logistical hassleZero logistical hassle
Ease of managementTime-consumingLess time-consumingLeast time-consuming
CostHighly ExpensiveMedium expenseLeast expensive
Best suited forSenior leadershipLeadership, senior & mid-managementMid-management, junior management, IC roles


Chapter 2: Applications of assessment development centers

As hinted in the first chapter of this guide, assessment center tests and exercises are used for three primary purposes: to predict future behavior to make better talent decisions, diagnose development needs, and groom potential employees.

The applications of various forms of assessment centers include:

  • High-potential identification
  • Training needs identification
  • Leadership development
  • Leadership hiring
  • Succession planning

Using ACDCs for Hi-Po identification

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

Assessment centers and development centers help organizations identify and develop high-potential employees who can assume additional responsibilities and drive growth. They ensure objective evaluations via real-life workplace scenarios.

Identifying professional training needs to bridge the skill gaps

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

The role of an assessment center in training and development pans out across hierarchies. To bridge the skill gaps, assessment development centers enable organizations to identify training areas for their current employees and take adequate initiatives to develop their workforce’s skills. Besides, assessment center development centers provide employees and organizations with concrete data on improvement areas. Moreover, the ACDC’s insights serve as a benchmark to further employee training and development.

Leadership development

Assessment centers in human resource management have proven to be an extremely insightful tool to develop professionals in leadership roles. The predictive capabilities of development and assessment center tests can help deploy exercises that test leadership competencies relevant to a specific industry or organization.

Qualities to test before selecting future leaders through the assessment centre include responsiveness to change, ability to command the respect of their peers, critical thinking and risk-taking appetite. Through a series of simulation exercises, these qualities can be tested using the assessment centre.

Akindele Afolabi
How to Use Assessment Centre in the Selection and Development of Future Leaders in your Organisation

Leadership hiring

Regular assessment center methods in HRM can also be customized into leadership assessment centers that enable organizations to hire exclusively for leadership roles. Leadership assessment centers measure key leadership attributes like ethics, civic-mindedness, innovation, team development abilities, self-development awareness, ability to negotiate and influence, etc. In most cases, assessment centers are designed to simulate day-in-the-life experiences in fictitious organizations. This helps observe candidates and their behavior in fictitious leadership roles. The insights can be very helpful in making the right leadership hiring decisions.

Succession planning

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.


Chapter 3: Designing an assessment center: Essential elements and best practices

A standardized assessment center method (or process) is meant to offer holistic insights into candidates’ potential and personality to measure their job-fitment. There are several essential elements involved in the process: job analysis, simulation exercises, behavior ratings, competency mapping etc.


Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations’ published in the Journal of Management, enumerates ten essential elements of an assessment center HR design:

  • Job analysis
  • Behavioral categorization 
  • Multiple assessment methods
  • Tool-competency mapping
  • Simulations
  • Certified assessors
  • Assessor coaching
  • Behavior analysis & rating
  • Data consolidation
  • Standardization

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

The element of behavioral categorization is among the most frequently recommended assessment and development centers’ best practices guidelines. For a successful ACDC design, organizations must categorize desired workplace behaviors into relevant groups such as personality indicators, aptitude, communication abilities, interpersonal skills, etc.


Multiple assessment methods

Assessment and development centers should include multiple exercises and a combination of behavioral, psychometric, competency-based interviews. Mixing up the right set of assessment methods ensures better objectivity and an evaluation process that guarantees holistic insights.


Tool-competency mapping

Once the competencies are identified via job analysis, they should be mapped to different assessment tools, and at least two tools should be used for measuring one competency.



Including simulations that mimic real work scenarios helps design an assessment center that can offer an in-depth understanding of an individual’s on-the-job qualities. The wide spectrum of simulation exercises includes in-basket, group discussions, role-plays, case study presentations, business games and fact-finding activities. Candidates are required to respond to these scenarios while assessors observe them.



Assessors play a crucial role in observing and assessing participants in an assessment development center. Experts recommend choosing assessors with diverse backgrounds and experience to observe each participant in at least one exercise. Furthermore, to eliminate biases, the chosen assessors must not know the participants they assess.


Assessor coaching

Before participating in an assessment center process, assessors need to undergo two forms of training – behavioral and frame-of-reference. In behavioral training, assessors observe, record and evaluate the candidate’s behavior during simulation exercises. In the latter, 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 process may comprise making notes, behavioral checklists or behaviorally-anchored rating scales. Observations may occur later by accessing audio or video clips of test-takers taken during behavioral simulation exercises.


Data consolidation

Organizations should have a standard process for assessors to evaluate candidate performance. During an integration discussion, it can benefit in devising overall assessment ratings and other forms of data consolidation.



Standardization is vital for procedures like finalizing exercise content and duration, role-player behavior, number of participants in group exercises, questions asked by assessors, exercise sequence and scoring, etc. Standardization ensures that all candidates receive an equal opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. However, organizations can always permit exceptions to accommodate candidates with disabilities.


An efficient design for an assessment center in HRM includes these ten elements in various combinations. You will notice examples of such combinations in a typical assessment center process, discussed in the next chapter.


Chapter 4: Process of an assessment development center

Assessment and development centers can address an organization’s most learning and development needs if implemented correctly. Hence, one must understand the various steps involved in rolling out the process.


process of an assessment and development center


Step 1: Sensing


The sensing exercise is divided into three core phases:


1. Defining the objective


2. Underlining the job levels


3. Choosing a competency framework


Sensing phase 1: Defining the objective


Organizations should have clarity about why they want to use an assessment center development center. Concerning the various applications and possibilities elaborated in the previous chapter, an ACDC can be employed for more than one objective. A clear goal ensures that the rest of the steps follow without challenges. Choosing a type from the various assessment center examples, shortlisting the assessment and development center exercises, designing the type of questions, etc., all depend on the goal of an assessment center process.


Sensing phase 2: Underlining the job levels


The methods to assess and develop individual contributors, first-time managers, mid to senior-level management, and leadership positions vary. Ideally, the exercises must accurately reflect the variety and demands of the target role. Also, subject matter expertise is critical to establish better-suited roles for a particular assessment center technique.


Sensing phase 3: Choosing a competency framework


If organizations need to identify the skills required by the workforce to be effective in a target role, they should begin by analyzing the factors that aid employee performance. For example, competencies such as problem-solving skills, collaboration and creativity may be essential for a certain job role. However, competencies such as adaptability, strategic vision and people skills may be a priority for another job role. Hence, setting up a relevant, role-specific competency framework is crucial for the success of an assessment center process.


Sensing phase 4: Mapping competencies to relevant tools


Subject-matter experts specializing in assessment center tools and activities can help correlate various competencies to relevant assessment center exercises.

Exercises for an assessment center in HR can include situational judgment questions, personality, cognitive tools, case studies, group discussions, role-plays and various other simulation tools, online and offline. However, your assessment and development plans would fail to deliver quality results if you do not have in-depth knowledge of these tools.

Here’s an example of competency-tool mapping in a virtual assessment center development center:


Competency matrix


Step 2: Customization of tools


After the completion of the first three sensing phases, experts customize the assessment center tools to match the organization’s requirements. After evaluating and validating these customizations, the company is ready to roll out the assessment development activities.


Step 3: Administration and management


This step involves the deployment of resources, setting up the systems and appointing assessors. The logistics and duration of this step depend on the type of assessment center chosen by the organization. A physical assessment center’s administration and management requirements vary significantly from its virtual counterpart or a blended ACDC alternative.


Step 4: 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 occurs after the report generation.


Step 5: Report generation


Assessment center reports serve as a benchmark for employee development plans and personnel selection. Observations about behaviors and performance are made using specifically developed assessment simulations. Further action depends on these reports’ comparison and analysis.

Here are examples of insights provided by an assessment center report:






Chapter 5: Top 12 assessment center tools

Depending on the various forms of assessment centers, i.e., physical, virtual, or blended, and their objectives, individuals are evaluated using an array of tools and exercises. Assessment center tools help gauge fitment, readiness, or developmental needs. They can range from psychometric to situational judgment, from case studies to in-box exercises, from group discussions to business presentations. While we have highlighted a few of these tools in the earlier chapters, we’ll take a more detailed look at 12 of the most popular ones here.


|  Personality profiler         |  Cognitive abilities test         |  Situational judgment test         |  Case study simulator         |  In-box exercise         |  Domain skills test         |  Presentation exercise         |  Group discussion         |  One-to-one role-play         |  Competency-based interview         |  Group activity         |  Caselets


Personality profiler

Personality Profiler is a type of assessment that helps identify personality traits and types in the candidates. It is a valid and standardized method to evaluate an individual on the Big Five traits like extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.



Cognitive abilities test

A cognitive abilities test measures a candidate’s cognitive skills such as observation, memory, visual processing, mental flexibility, critical thinking and decision-making. Different types of cognitive ability tests can help predict performance and determine a candidate’s job fitment.


cognitive ability test

Situational judgment test

A situational judgment test consists of a 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 in the available time and resources.



In-box exercise

Candidates receive background information about the proposed role via 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 time and problem-solving skills.



Domain skills test

Domain skills tests or domain expertise tests cater to multiple job roles and job levels. They test a candidate’s grasp on domain expertise, technical knowledge, and efficiency in their line of work.

Presentation exercise

A presentation exercise tests candidates’ patience, ability to perform under pressure, deal with repeated questioning, and their time management skills. There may be several ways of administering a presentation exercise in an assessment development center. Candidates can be given a topic on which they can prepare and present. Alternatively, candidates could be given an existing presentation and asked to discuss and talk about it in front of assessors.

Group discussion

In a group discussion, candidates are asked to talk about a common topic while the assessors observe. They evaluate the candidates for skills like the ability to work in a group, communication skills, people skills, behavior, professionalism, etc.

One-to-one role-play

Role-plays put candidates in mock professional positions and situations. The 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

A competency-based interview is a great tool to get to know the candidates and their professional experiences. It can also help uncover several strengths and areas of improvement as the candidates respond to the interviewer’s questions. The questions are directed at specific skills and competencies, and the answers are compared against pre-determined criteria.

Group activity

An assessment center group activity tests the candidate’s problem-solving skills and ability to perform in a group. The candidates are presented with a set of problems for which they need to arrive at solutions together.


Caselets help measure a candidate’s behavior in real business situations by evaluating behavioral competencies and reasoning. Candidates are marked on their approach and decision-making skills. This type of assessment center tool is best suited for junior to mid-management roles.


Chapter 6: The future of assessment development 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.

The following figure demonstrates how new-age practices impact the assessment landscape by enabling organizations to make better people decisions.




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. The possible advantages of the technological advances are manifold: the accuracy of assessments can potentially increase through the combination of many data points; the speed at which assessment results are available increases; and the richness of feedback can increase.

The role of assessment centers in organizations is constantly growing. From hiring to using assessment centers in performance appraisals, companies are constantly experimenting with the online assessment center platforms and tools.

Moreover, 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.

How Mercer | Mettl can help



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


Originally published December 4 2019, Updated August 17 2021

D'ipanjenah Ali

Written by

D’ipanjenah is a writer and marketing professional associated with Mercer Mettl since 2020. Her working style thrives on a balanced approach towards standard insights and novel trends. She utilizes creative content and digital strategies to help brands start important conversations. When not reading/writing, she enjoys art and parents a calico.

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