Are Assessment Centres Worth the High Cost?

If you do an internet search in relation to assessment centres surprisingly not a lot of information appears other than organisations advertising how they deliver them.

Indeed, not a great deal of information is written on them in relation to how reliable or valid they are as a selection method.  However, one such article published by Personnel Today (2017) illustrates the fact that 9 out of 10 companies using assessment centres do find them of value.  Slightly more than half of 91 organisations surveyed (53%) felt the costs were justified despite the considerable costs.

What Roles Are Assessed the Most

It probably doesn’t come as to much of a surprise, but Graduates are the main group to undertake an assessment centre.  Senior and middle managers are also often asked to undertake an assessment centre. Fewer than half (46%) of employers using assessment centres, ask line managers to go through this process.

Of course, if going for a CEO or COO position it is quite common for candidates to undergo an assessment centre process.

Types of Exercises Used

Thankfully, the assessment of individuals in quite informal settings does largely seem to have been abandoned.  But it may still arise on a more one-to-one social setting, particularly for the senior positions.  Many different types of assessments can be utilised with candidates undertaking personality profiling; analysis exercises; briefing exercises; stakeholder interviews; presentations and one-to-one interviews.

Certainly, over the past number of years we are seeing the development of virtual assessment centres.  Potentially a very cost-effective way to assess large numbers (particularly with graduates).  However, relying solely though on computer-based methods does not necessarily provide for the ‘social interactions’ both the candidate and the prospective employer expect as part of the recruitment process.

How do you Design and Deliver an Assessment Centre?

In order to ensure that practice can be improved in Assessment Centre practice the British Psychological Society has published guidance closely based on ISO 10667 (International Standard on Assessment Service Delivery).  This is a working document with excellent advice for anyone commissioning a service provider to run an Assessment Centre.

In any assessment process it is important that participants in Assessment Centres are assessed fairly and effectively, respective of their well-being and rights.  It should also be both a positive engagement for participants as well as a learning opportunity for them.

Practical Tips on Assessment Centres

The following is really a summary of good practice in Assessment Centres, taken from the BPS publication.  These are showing the stages in the process which are particularly useful in ensuring the identification of those most talented for the role in question.

Stage 1 – Contracting and Scoping

The Client should consider the provider’s competence to deliver the Centre and to comply with all legal and regulatory requirements.  It is important to specify the purpose and scope of the service; outline both the Client and Service Provider responsibilities; and, sign off on the design, resourcing and implementation of the Assessment Centre.

Stage 2 – Design and Planning

Setting the standards and planning processes for the Assessment Centre delivery is a key element of a successful Centre.  The service provider needs to carefully explore these with the Client and to also consider alternatives.  Therefore, identifying the Assessment Criteria; the Centre Context; Assessment Methods; Exercises; Logistics; and Role Competence all are major factors here.

Stage 3 – Preparing for the Assessment Centre

Once the design of the Assessment Centre has been completed preparing the nuts and bolts of the Assessment Centre is of crucial importance.  Clearly the participants rights and the protection of their data particularly under the General Data Protection Regulations is paramount.  Factors such as providing feedback; identifying a suitable venue; preparing all materials; contingency planning; IT technical support; preparing Assessment Centre personnel; timetabling; registration of participants; obtaining consent from participants in the use of their personal data; meeting requests for accommodations for disability related or other needs; and dealing with grievances and concerns.

Stage 4 – Centre Delivery

The service provider will assign a Centre Manager on the day to ensure the smooth running of the Assessment Centre.  It is also essential that records of candidates’ performance are secure and kept confidential.  Quality assurance is essential as well as ensuring that candidates know who to approach if they have any concerns or queries.

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Stage 5 – Integrating the Data

Assessment Centres do generate considerable amounts of data.  In a selection process the Centre identifies how the candidates meet the job requirements based on meeting the job requirements.  It is important to state though that the Client is responsible for all decisions about the candidates as a result of the Assessment Centre outputs.

In collating information arithmetic approaches, i.e., the use of a scale (say) 1 – 5.  Research indicates that this increased validity of the Assessment Centre rather than a consensual method of determining final scores through discussion by Assessors.

This stage also allows for the opportunity to develop feedback for participants

Stage 6 – Communicating Outcomes

Communicating the outcomes of an Assessment Centre need to flow from the service provision agreement with any decisions using the information resting with the Client.  Clearly the service provider needs to deliver the reports as per their agreement with the Client and ensure they are accurate.  The reports must only be used for the intention of the Assessment Centre.  Feedback for participants is a key aspect in communication and therefore feedback must always be offered; who will provide the feedback; mode of feedback as well as to the content of the feedback.

Stage 7 – Post-Centre Review

In order to learn from and improve future practice it is always essential to review the learning points from the Assessment Centre.  To do this the Centre Manager shall collate feedback from Assessors, Candidates; IT support; and Client.

Testing Talent’s Approach to Assessment Centres

At Testing Talent, we have undertaken considerable numbers of assessment centres for both public and private sectors.  Over the past twenty years we have introduced more online psychometric assessments to provide objective information.  This is probably more to do with the fact that for senior appointments, many individuals have been well coached.  Certainly, our experience in designing specific exercises dependent on the job role allows us to target the core competencies needed by the individual to ‘fit’ the organisation’s needs.

Therefore, a balanced approach of both exercises and psychometric assessments provides a rich overview of whether the candidate can do the job and how they will ‘fit’ into the organisation.

About the Author

Blogs Dominic McCannyDominic McCanny is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and specialises in the area of recruitment and selection using psychometric tests and assessment centres.  For an informal discussion around your next recruitment competition call him.

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