Assessment center

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Excerpt from a typical evaluation model
Overall view of the evaluation sheet

An assessment center ( AC ) ( Engl. Assessment "assessment") is a method for assessing people, especially in the areas of personnel selection and personnel development . In addition to the results of work simulations or other exercises (role plays, group discussions, conceptual exercises, etc.) and their evaluation by trained observers ("assessors"), performance tests or personality tests can be used to assess people.


Like all personnel selection procedures , the AC also has two functions:

  • The examination of a selection of competencies (professional, social, etc.). The "stress resistance" (due to the exam-like situation) is also observed.
  • The justification of the personnel decision: In order to protect the company from legal action (failure to observe the principle of equality ), the selection process creates comprehensible and verifiable decision criteria.


In some writings, there are preliminary stages of AC in the Chinese selection process for public servants who were selected using “ test batteries ”. This was not yet a question of psychological procedures; only the standardization of the exercises shows the proximity to the assessment center selection procedure.

AC go back to tests that the German Reichswehr subjected officer candidates after the First World War. In 1920 the University of Berlin founded a psychological research center on behalf of the Reichswehr Ministry. Johann Baptist Rieffert, head of the institute, developed the AC process. His approach was to take a holistic view of the candidate. Psychological test procedures were later used for the first time to select officers, pilots, drivers and radio operators. From 1927 onwards, no officer in the Reichswehr could be appointed who had not previously successfully passed the army psychology selection process. At that time there were “leaderless group discussions” for the first time. The aim was to separate the selection of officers from the social background and status of the participants and to find out more about the personality of the applicants. These innovations in the diagnostic procedures for personnel selection should enable the diagnosis of the whole personality and thus ensure equal opportunities and fairness in the selection. It is not yet taken into account that these methods cannot depict the overall personality, but can only be viewed depending on the situation.

During the National Socialist regime, Hermann Göring changed the psychological selection of officers and replaced them with an intensive examination of party-political sentiments and selection according to race.

During the Second World War, the AC principle was also used in Great Britain under the influence of William C. Byham for the selection of officers and Douglas Bray in AT&T for the observation of junior staff. At AT&T, for example, from 1956 to 1966 a study (Management Progress Study) was carried out on over 400 young managers at a high scientific level. The success of this study forced the process to become widespread in the 1960s and 1970s both in the USA (here mainly for the selection of agents) and in Europe.


AC run for one or more days and are therefore costly and time-consuming. AC can be used for very different positions. This includes management positions, but also trainee programs and volunteer positions, especially in large companies.

An invitation to participate in an assessment center is not always preceded by an application for a job. Company-internal ACs are also possible, for example as part of a potential analysis , which serve to select a pool of suitable candidates for management tasks (development center).


Variations or further developments, which essentially use the assessment center method, are:

  • Individual assessment (center): Mostly for top management. Reasons for single ACs in practice are: diagnostic and data protection advantages; the applications must remain "secret" (the candidate has not yet given notice of the "old job"); it is about sensitive parts of the company that “everyone” should not see; There are not enough applicants for certain positions, etc.
  • Management audit . Compared to the AC, the management audit is usually carried out by external consulting firms in order to evaluate managers and executives. The aim of this audit is less the isolated psychological analysis of a candidate and more the concrete consideration and evaluation of individual management skills and development potential.
  • Development AC / Development Center / Learning Potential AC : are mostly used for the targeted development (further development) of employees.
    Examples: in the course of an organizational change and the associated new tasks that existing employees are to take on (selection and development of the people concerned) or to develop company-specific, very well-trained trainees , junior managers , etc.
  • Evaluation ACs: to control qualification measures. For example, after training, it is assessed (“evaluated”) whether the candidates have also adopted the content in practice or in their own behavioral repertoire.
  • Online assessment is used as a simple and inexpensive alternative.
  • Computer-aided selection of personnel: The observations in the AC are recorded and evaluated using a computer. This is used for efficient data management and improved evaluation objectivity . Likewise, for example, observers can be reminded of missing entries or all observations can be processed directly on a server.
  • Potential assessment: The potential assessment is offered for schoolchildren and young professionals to evaluate their own strengths. This aptitude diagnostic instrument is used to clarify potentials and abilities, with a focus on analyzing one's own strengths.

Other terms under which ACs can be found in the practice of personnel development are: Personnel development / development seminar, selection seminar, officer applicant testing center, advancement seminar, position determination seminar, development center, potential analysis seminar, extended psychological examination. (Often the reason for choosing an alternative name is that the invitation to an AC creates fears in the participants, which is to be prevented in this way).


A person's natural response to severe stress is to flee or attack . It is precisely this high level of stress that each candidate is exposed to. The stress (flight or attack instinct) is combined with various performance tests and group dynamic tasks . In other words: The DUT should be tested in an extreme situation.

The main methods of assessment centers are:

  • structured interviews (often at the beginning),
  • Group discussions (everyone against everyone), usually a result found in the group is to be presented afterwards,
  • Post basket exercises, helicopter view (a questionnaire following the post basket exercise in which the candidate has to justify his individual decisions),
  • Role play (critical supervisor-employee discussions, colleague discussions, sales talks ),
  • Presentation tasks, individually or in small groups,
  • Case studies ,
  • Fact finding ,
  • Questionnaires ( psychometric test procedures: personality and performance tests), intelligence tests , in writing and on the PC,
  • Final interview with evaluation and, if applicable, job offer,
  • In the case of longer AC, also dinner invitation (fork test).

Almost all of the components of the AC have to be completed within the specified time frame, and the performance tests in particular are designed in such a way that hardly all tasks can be completed.

Quality criteria

The Association Assessment Center Working Group has defined nine quality criteria:

  • Requirements orientation: In the run-up to the implementation of the assessment, the areas of competence and observation with the field of work and the objective of the assessment should be clearly defined and the content should be planned.
  • Behavioral orientation: The participants are assessed on the basis of their actual behavior when processing specific assessment work assignments.
  • Principle of controlled subjectivity : In order to ensure the high level of informative value, the staff must be specially trained for observation in the assessment. In addition, at least two observers should supervise the assessment.
  • Simulation principle : In order to be able to observe existing skills and assess development potential, real and typical requirements from the world of work are specifically simulated.
  • Transparency principle: To ensure transparency, all those involved should be fully informed about the implementation, goal and process and the subsequent use of results.
  • Principle of individuality : Each participant should be observed and assessed individually. This should include individual, meaningful feedback for each participant after each assessment assignment.
  • System principle : An assessment is always integrated into a larger context, which means that connection security etc. should be guaranteed. This principle also includes that at least two work orders per competence area must be carried out in order to be able to achieve reliable results.
  • Learning orientation of the process itself: The process should always be adapted to new requirements and target groups and be subject to ongoing development.
  • Organized process control: The development, implementation and evaluation of an assessment is usually a complex, dynamic process, the processes of which have to be organized.

Strengths and weaknesses


AC serve the aptitude psychological analysis of a test person . Depending on the character and personality of a person, skills and abilities are used differently to solve problems . These very individual problem solutions are assessed individually by the AC.

It is characteristic of an AC that the persons to be assessed can be observed and evaluated over a longer period of time not only in one situation (e.g. the “classic applicant interview”), but in several situations (behavioral simulations, work samples). In particular, trained observers can determine interpersonal communication skills and leadership qualities that cannot be derived with the same certainty from job references.

It is important that in the AC a distinction is made between already existing abilities, skills and competences etc. and not yet developed, but basically developable abilities etc. (see potentials).


Conflicts of interest in the assessment center

Critics deny the suitability of the measurements or the effectiveness of ACn. Accordingly, the possibility of manipulation and conflicts of interest are the strongest indicators of the lack of benefit. In addition, the transferability of the results to the actual requirements is questioned.

The strong focus on the participant's personality is also criticized. So far, organizational psychology has not been able to prove that people with certain characteristics can lead particularly successfully. This is justified by the fact that certain properties, such as intelligence, are converted into behavior in very different ways by people. Yet in practice the idea of ​​the "great charismatic leader" seems tempting.

Possibility of manipulation

In particular when using personality tests for the selection of employees, there is the problem that the results can be manipulated by the test person : The questions almost always reveal which character traits their answer suggests and which of them are rated positively for the (management) position.

Even if skillful control questions attempt to ensure the coherence (inner consistency) of the response behavior, the problem remains. The mere fact that the test person believes that he can manipulate the test result in his own way leads to a falsification of the results. Studies have shown that test subjects who were asked to manipulate results were also able to do so.

On the other hand, it is argued that people can behave appropriately in different roles. The ability to recognize the need for adjustment and then to act accordingly (or to show the response behavior) can also be counted as a test result. In some tests, a “consistency index” and the recording of the response behavior allow the test result to be interpreted at this level as well. However, this level of assessment far exceeds that of most ACs.

Conflicts of Interest

The possibility of manipulation and a high economic pressure are ideal conditions for falsifying the results. AC represent a very expensive selection process. In order to justify the costs to the company, AC should deliver high quality results. The nine quality criteria developed by the “Assessment Center Working Group” serve to minimize the numerous possibilities of falsifying results, but falsifications cannot be completely prevented.


In the USA, AC in the form they exist in Germany are rather unknown outside of the military. Instead, the most important selection tool in the USA is the behavioral interview . One of the main reasons lies in the legal opinion of US citizens: in the event of an appointment or promotion decision, the company is threatened with legal action if someone feels disadvantaged because of a certain group affiliation (gender, skin color, etc.).

As an example, the energy company Duke Power can be cited because it hired high school graduates based on the grade and a cognitive test. The court sentenced the company on the grounds that white people are three times more likely to graduate from high school than black people - that is an undue disadvantage for the latter.

In Europe, AC are particularly widespread in German and English-speaking areas.

In Asia, AC are also a method of employee appraisal, but with a different focus. The group orientation, for example in Japan, is seen as a great strength of every company. As a result, “assessment” is often understood either as a pure assessment (filling out a form) or as group training (the whole department takes the same AC test).


  • Claus D. Eck, Hans Jöri, Marlène Vogt: Assessment Center: Development and Application. 3rd, revised and updated edition. Springer, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-662-47741-0 .
  • Christof Obermann: Assessment Center . 5th edition. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2012.
  • Klaus Kastberger : In the Assessment Center: Language in the Age of Coaching, Controlling and Monitoring , Verlag Bibliothek der Provinz, Weitra 2007, ISBN 978-3-902416-08-7 .
  • Ain Kompa: Assessment Center. Inventory and criticism . 7th edition. Hampp, Munich 2004.
  • CE Lance, AG Gewin, F. Lievens, JM Conway: Revised Estimates of Dimension and Exercise Variance Components in Assessment Center Postexercise Dimension Ratings . In: Journal of Applied Psychology . 89, 2004, pp. 377-385.
  • Martin Kleinmann: Assessment Center . Series Praxis der Personalpsychologie. Hogrefe, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-8017-1493-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Assessment Center in DORSCH Lexicon of Psychology
  2. a b Werner Sarges (Ed.): Further developments of the assessment center method . 2nd Edition. Hogrefe, Hogrefe, 2001, ISBN 3-8017-1447-0 Downloadable article (PDF file; 537 kB)
  3. ^ Udo Konradt, Werner Sarges: E-Recruitment and E-Assessment . Hogrefe, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-8017-1652-X .
  4. Merkle, K., Thielsch, MT & Holtmeier, S. (2009). IT meets HR: Computer-aided personnel selection - between psychometrics and user experience. In T. Brandenburg & MT Thielsch (eds.), Praxis der Wirtschaftspsychologie: Topics and case studies for study and practice (pp. 155–173). Münster: Monsenstein and Vannerdat . PDF file
  5. Elliot Aronson, Robin M. Akert, Elliot Aronson, Timothy Wilson, Timothy Wilson, Robin M. Akert: Social Psychology . Published by Pearson Education Germany, 2006, ISBN 3-8273-7276-3 .
  6. Assessment Center e. V.
  7. Assessment Center Working Group (Switzerland)
  8. Werner Sarges (2009): Why assessment centers often fall short and also usually try to measure the wrong thing. Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 53 , 79–82. Article to download (PDF; 137 kB)
  9. cf. Compa 2004
  10. ^ Alfred Kieser, Mark Ebers (Ed.): Organization theories . 6th edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-17-019281-7 .
  11. a b Viswesvaran and Ones, 1999; Martin, Bowen and Hunt, 2002.