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An assessment center is a platform to evaluate an individual’s suitability for specific job roles. It includes several exercises 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. A traditional assessment center involves in-person discussions and group exercises for which candidates are invited to a specific venue. With the advent of virtual alternatives, it is now possible to host such activities and interviews on digital platforms supporting remote evaluations.
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.
This comprehensive handbook dives deep into assessment centers and their key elements, their applications, process and more. You will also learn about designing an assessment development center following the best practices and using recommended tools.
An assessment center development center(ACDC) 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
Organizations employ one of the three major types of assessment centers. They are:
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:
Alternatively, traditional assessment centers may also involve inviting job applicants to the assessment center for tests and interviews.
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.
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 problems. Therefore, few experts recommend this approach for a regular assessment or evaluation process.
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 will discuss the applications of virtual assessment centers in Chapter 2.
A blended assessment center method 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.
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|
|Logistics||Extreme logistical hassle||Limited logistical hassle||Zero logistical hassle|
|Ease of management||Time-consuming||Less time-consuming||Least time-consuming|
|Cost||Highly Expensive||Medium expense||Least expensive|
|Best suited for||Senior leadership||Leadership, senior & mid-management||Mid-management, junior management, IC roles|
The most significant benefit 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 immensely helpful in making the right leadership hiring decisions.
Feedback from assessment center HR 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.
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.
The sensing exercise is divided into three core phases:
1. Defining the objective
2. Underlining the job levels
3. Choosing a competency framework
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
| Personality profiler | Cognitive abilities test | Case study simulator | Presentation exercise | One-to-one role-play
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.
A cognitive abilities test measures a candidate’s cognitive skills such as observation, memory, visual processing, mental flexibility, critical thinking and decision-making. Several types of cognitive ability tests can help predict performance and determine a candidate’s job fitment.
A presentation exercise tests candidates’ patience, ability to perform under pressure, deal with repeated questioning, and their time management skills.
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.
The tools highlighted in the previous chapter are essential to conducting various assessment center exercises. The latter comprise a range of interactive sessions, interview rounds and assessments to gauge the candidates’ core competencies.
Examples of these exercises are:
Assessment center written exercise examples include writing reports, drafting press releases, letters, emails or even proofreading texts written by someone else.
Employers strategically use this exercise to observe participants’ behavior in low-pressure situations.
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.
Assessment center interview questions are chosen to understand the candidate’s industry knowledge, skill level, experience, etc.
They assess a candidate’s ability to deal with real-life work-related situations.
They offer a great way to observe candidates in high-pressure work situations.
This exercise evaluates various approaches to a specific problem and the ability to derive a fruitful/logical outcome.
They help assessors understand how well a candidate is likely to excel in a specific industry or discipline.
Inbox exercises are simulation tests where candidates receive emails, calls and memos, which they must attend to by prioritizing, organizing and scheduling in a limited time.
Tests to measure cognitive intelligence and personality traits ensure a holistic candidate evaluation.
As stated in the previous chapter, exercises in the form of spot presentations and planned presentations offer critical insights into participants’ expertise, experience and key professional competencies.
The purpose of such an exercise is to observe candidates and their abilities to respect, collaborate and engage with other people.
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.
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.
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.
An example of an assessment center is a virtual interactive conference where professionals discuss, or debate a given topic. Such exercise helps assess communication skills, personality traits, ability to work in a group and lead, industry knowledge and other vital competencies. On-site case study analyses and planned presentations to elucidate specific ideas are also candidate assessment center examples that help in recruitment, L&D (Learning & Development) and HiPo (high potential) identification.
The twelve best tips to succeed at an assessment center are:1) Research: Learn all you can about the type of assessment center, the agenda, the company’s vision and mission, expectations from your role, etc., 2) Prepare: As part of your core preparations for an assessment center test, it is vital to rehearse your ideas and presentation skills, 3) Follow the best practices: This applies to group activities and discussions, virtual assessment platforms and your overall professional behavior, 4) Double-check your connectivity: A speedy internet connection is imperative to succeed in any online assessment center activities, 5) Be punctual: Whether it is a virtual, on-site or blended assessment center, showing up five minutes before the scheduled time always makes things smoother. 6) Practice MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions): It would be extremely helpful if your assessment center exercises include aptitude tests or other psychometric assessments, 7) Ensure technical performance: The best way to prevent embarrassing tech faux pas is by testing any equipment or drives well before the assessments begin, 8) Be ready for surprises: Even if you thought you were 100% ready for an assessment center, there is no way to know what could go differently. Hence, it is wise to be prepared for unexpected challenges and not let them throw you off your game, 9) Take a proactive approach: Most assessment centers focus on leadership qualities and high potential. Therefore, being proactive will allow you to stand out and help you display your passion for the job, 10) Avoid negative self-talk: If you are not mindful of the way you speak to yourself, you may end up hurting your performance at an assessment center. It is crucial to stay motivated and use the right words when giving yourself a pep-talk before any assessment center exercise.
If you are a candidate, an assessment center can be an excellent platform to gain insights into the company culture, the type of work and other crucial details about the workplace. Therefore, while the assessment center design caters to candidate evaluation, you can use it as an opportunity to gauge the company as well. You can expect interviews, interactive sessions, briefings about the assessment process, assessor introductions and details about the selection criteria. If you are an employee participating in assessment centers, you can expect stimulating industry discussions, test of core competencies for identifying skill gaps, your employer’s plans, etc.
Originally published December 4 2019, Updated August 1 2022
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.
Assessment Center Development Center, commonly known as ACDC, is a comprehensive tool used by organizations to evaluate prospective or current employees for workforce management and planning. ACDCs can be implemented virtually, physically, or in a blended format, using a suite of assessment tools.