Value of Assessment Centres in Recruitment

Assessment centres assist the whole process by giving candidates experience of a microcosm of the job while testing them on work-related activities as individuals and in groups. Interviewers can assess existing performance and predict future job performance.

Design of an assessment centre should reflect:

* the ethos of the organisation
* the actual skills required to carry out the job
* potential sources of recruits
* the extent to which recruitment is devolved to line managers
* the HR strategy.

Changing organisations should assess learning ability in candidates, whereas ‘steady state’ organisations can assess existing skills and abilities which can immediately be used. Centres which look for potential should be developed differently from those which are looking for current knowledge and skills.

The assessment centre should reflect the reality of the job and the organisation. New recruits have high expectations of their job and disappointment can be a destructive influence if the assessment centre has encouraged them to believe the job or organisation fits their values if, in fact, it does not.

To predict job performance, it is important to determine the present and likely future job skills. In addition to the exercises, interviews should be used because they have face validity (they feel ‘right’ to candidates and selectors) but they cannot be used to predict performance (correlation levels are very low from research). Tests are only valid if the candidates for the job match the norm group used to design and validate the test. Tests should only be used as one piece of evidence and other measures should be compared with them. Research has shown that well-designed assessment centres with a variety of activities can reach 0.8 predictive validity in assessing future performance.

Research has also shown that candidates who attend assessment centres which genuinely reflect the job and the organisation are impressed by that company, even if they are rejected. Attendance at an assessment centre can help the candidate to assess working for the organisation. The tasks set should link with the job description and person specification. It must appear fair as a selection process in the time taken, the number of tasks set and the opportunities for candidates to show different aspects of their abilities.

Essential design criteria

The essential design criteria should include:

  • Duration of the centre (one day might be insufficient for more senior posts)
  • Location (reality or ideal surroundings and accessibility for candidates with disabilities)
  • Number of candidates brought together (five may be too few for comfort under observation and more than eight gives problems in sharing the assessed time)
  • Candidate background and comparability of past experience
  • Number, mix, and experience of assessors.

The essential and desired skills or competencies should be matched to techniques and tasks which can test them. Depending on the nature of the job, the tasks might include individual or group work, written and/or oral input, written and/or oral output, in-tray, analytical work, individual problem solving, group discussions, group problem solving, tasks which match business activities, personal role-play and functional role-play.

Group exercises should be as real as possible, should set goals and have a limited time, should require candidates to share information and reach decisions and should require the candidates to read the brief very carefully. Assessors can assist in a role-play if they are trained to facilitate discussion and assist in group decision-making. Reasonable preparation times before exercises should be offered.

The tasks might need to encourage competitiveness or co-operation, to test for creativity or for building on the ideas of others in a productive manner. The opportunity to compete with others will assist some candidates to perform better. In organisations wishing to improve their diversity, elements of competition should be decreased in favour of increased opportunities to co-operate, as these skills are likely to encourage wider participation.

Presentation exercises can be valuable if the job might require this skill and there can be benefit in allowing considerable preparation time for the exercise. If individual work is part of the job, tests can be used. These ‘psychometrics’ are defined as all the methods which are used to test skills and abilities and thus attempt to predict performance through individual tests and exercises – for more information see our factsheet on psychological testing.

Observation

There should be a number of senior observers/selectors to ensure greater objectivity through a range of views. Selectors must be trained to observe, record, classify and rate behaviour and seek evidence accurately and objectively against the job description and person specification. Selectors preferably should also have had some training on interviewing skills and in managing diversity, and have good listening skills. Assessors might also be used to observe and comment on behaviour although they do not necessarlity take part in final selection decisions. Better recruiters train candidates to some extent so that they are starting from the same level of awareness about the process. Pre-screening may be useful to gauge whether candidates can cope with an assessment centre.

A feedback session with either an occupational psychologist or someone trained to deliver professional feedback is of benefit to candidates and indicates the organisation takes selection seriously. The whole process should be perceived as fair by the candidates.

Assessment centres can improve the predictability of selection processes when well designed with a clear job description and person specification in mind. They are valuable when there are many good candidates and the consequence of inappropriate recruitment is expensive or carries business risk.

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