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What Are Assessment Centres?

8 Dec 2014
Michelle Lownie

What are assessment centres

Assessment Centre Overview

Recorded instances of Assessment Centres can be traced back to 1942 when they were used by the War Office Selection Boards. Their introduction stemmed from the failings of the existing system - officers who were predicted to be successful were being returned to unit as "unsuitable".  Unsurprising as the selection criteria covered mainly the candidates' social and educational background.

The Assessment Centre process subsequently introduced was an attempt to accurately elicit the types of behaviour that an officer was required to display in order to be successful.  Tasks included - leaderless group exercises, selection tests and individual interviews by senior officers and a psychiatrist. The new system resulted in a huge drop in officers being "returned to unit" as unfit for duty. Post war years the system was so successful it was introduced for selection to the Civil Service and a variation of it is still used for officer selection in the armed forces to this day.

A recent survey by the CIPD showed that 40% of employers utilised the assessment centre method, particularly at management level. The Assessment Centre offers a structured and objective approach to recruitment.  The pass / fail criteria gives a real focus on what the individuals can bring to the role and it is specifically designed to meet the needs of the organisation - short and long term.

It consists of a broad range of selection methods that reflect the skills, personality and values that the successful individual needs to possess.  The assessment centre helps the organisation to identify strengths and potential development areas in relation to the role. The range of exercises used allows individuals to demonstrate key competencies throughout the day whilst enabling the qualified assessors to objectively gather the evidence required from several sources rather than purely from one interview.

It is vital that the assessment centre reflects the ethos of the organisation and the skills required so that candidates are left with a positive feeling even if they are unsuccessful in being awarded the role. The range of tools available is varied and the careful selection of a combination of these tools will allow candidates to demonstrate their abilities in relation to the role. Certain exercises can be developed to reflect the role i.e: Presentations or Group Exercises.

A mix of the following tools would suit the needs of most assignments;

  • In trays
  • Structured Competency Based Interview
  • Role Play - Coaching / Counselling / Appraisal
  • Case Study
  • Formal Presentation
  • Group Exercise
  • Psychometrics - measuring Aptitude and Ability and Personality and Values
  • Occupational Personality Questionnaire OPQ32 / Management & Graduate Item Bank

The exercises can be a mixture of

  • Strategic
  • Tactical
  • Operational


Michelle Lownie
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