Assessment centres for recruitment and
Originally issued November 1999; latest revision January 2008
This factsheet gives introductory guidance. It:
• discusses the role of assessment centres in selecting candidates
• offers guidance on essential design criteria
• includes the CIPD viewpoint.
In a recent CIPD survey1
, 47% of employers surveyed had used assessment centres in
some way as a method to select applicants. One of the strengths of assessment centres
is that they allow a broader range of selection methods to be used in the recruitment
process. For more ifnroamtion on that process generally, see our
• Go to our factsheet on Recruitment
The role of assessment centres
Effective recruitment processes should:
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
The 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.
An assessment centre should reflect the reality of the job and 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.
Attendance at an assessment centre can help the candidate to assess working for the
organisation. New recruits have high expectations 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. Furthermore, candidates who
attend assessment centres which genuinely reflect the job and the organisation are
often impressed by that company, even if they are rejected.
The cost of an assessment centre needs to be compared with the potential cost of
recruitment error (probably between £5,000 to £50,000, depending on seniority and
potential for business errors).
To predict job performance, it is important to determine present and likely future job
skills. In addition to 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 (research shows that correlation levels are very low). 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 the results from them. Research shows that well-
designed assessment centres with a variety of activities can reach 0.8 predictive
validity in assessing future performance.
Design of the assessment centre
The design criteria of the assessment centre 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
• 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 key steps2
for running a successful assessment centre include:
• be clear about objectives
• look for competencies, not just ‘nice to haves’
• ensure the assessment reflects the working environment
• limit the competencies that you measure
• have a good variety of exercises to let candidates shine
• don’t overlook the details when staffing
• don’t cut corners on training observers
• give feedback to everyone – not only the successful candidates.
The essential and desired skills or competencies should be matched to techniques and
tasks which can test them.
Helen Bradley and Nigel Povah3
list four broad categories into which the most
popular assessment tools fall:
• application or nomination forms
• questionnaires, such as psychometric, 360-degree or self-perception
• assessment-centre exercises or simulations - these have high face validity as
they are designed to replicate the kinds of tasks we complete in our daily work
– such as meetings, report writing, presentations, dealing with emails,
performance reviews, meetings with external clients, and so on. Again, these
are standardised, and provide objective behavioural evidence of current
capability, which serves as a good indication of future potential.
See our factsheets on selection interviews, psychometric tests and 360 degree
feedback for more information on these topics.
• Go to our Selection interviewing factsheet
• Go to our Psychological testing factsheet
• Go to our 360 feedback factsheet
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 for the necessary skills can be used.
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
Assessment centres can improve the predictability of selection processes when well
designed with a clear job description and person specification in mind. They are
useful as one element of effective recruitment. They are also valuable when there are
many good candidates and the consequence of inappropriate recruitment is expensive
or carries business risk.
1. CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF PERSONNEL AND DEVELOPMENT.
(2007) Recruitment, retention and turnover 2007. London: CIPD. Available
2. HALL, L. (2007) How to set up an assessment centre. In: The guide to
assessment (2007) People Management supplement. October. Available at:
3. BRADLEY, H. and POVAH, N. (2006) How to choose the right assessment
tools. In: The guide to assessment (2007) People Management supplement.
October. Available at: http://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/pm/supplements/
CIPD members can use our Advanced Search to find additional library resources on
this topic and also use our online journals collection to view journal articles online.
People Management articles are available to subscribers and CIPD members in the
People Management online archive. CIPD books in print can be ordered from our
• Go to Advanced Search
• Go to our online journals collection
• Go to People Management online archive
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Books and reports
INCOMES DATA SERVICES. (2005) Assessment centres. HR Study 800. London:
PEARN KANDOLA OCCUPATIONAL PSYCHOLOGISTS. (1996) Tools for
assessment and development centres. London: Institute of Personnel and
WOODRUFFE, C. (2007) Development and assessment centres: identifying and
developing competence. 4th ed. London: Human Assets.
MURRAY, M. (2005) How to design a successful assessment centre. People
Management. Vol 11, No 4, 24 February. pp44-45.
SUFF, R. (2005) Centres of attention. IRS Employment Review. No 816, 28 January.
This factsheet was written by Paula Grayson and updated by CIPD staff.