What is the origin of the Assessment Centre?

The history of how and why assessment centres developed will help you to appreciate what the original users were trying to achieve and how you can best illustrate your knowledge, skills and attitudes during the exercises.

Selecting people based on their ability to do the task required has long been established in the selection of military personnel. There are several examples throughout history, but it was between the world wars that the German Army used the original assessment process to select officers. In the book 'Spies and Saboteurs', by Dr W.J.Morgan (1955, London – Victor Gollancz Ltd), the author describes how a German psychologist, Dr Simoneit watched officers performing a variety of tasks.

Some of these task involved certain tests, the forerunners of today's exercises, and the officers were rated on how well they performed and chosen for promotion accordingly. He started this research in order to gain a better understanding of why certain officers did not exhibit or act in the way they had said they would once they were promoted.

Dr Simoneit's work formed the foundation of what became known as 'An Assessment' in the German army. Further psychological and scientific methods were added to his original work. The virtues of this system were recognise by the British Government and a Selection Assessment Board was created using its own testing methods. American Intelligence also recognised the benefits of such selection methods and added further psychological tests and more exercises to their assessment days.

These tests were intended to identifying those candidates most suited to intelligence work. Dr WJ Morgan in his book clearly illustrates that it is how you performed your tasks, whether as an individual or within a group, that matters not how quickly an exercise was done. This was reflected in the scores of participants, those who scored highest had shown the qualities required for an intelligence or spying role; that of leadership, adaptability to different situations, the ability to find a solution to a problem and the ability to work as team member.

Although these original assessment days had a military bias and their specific exercises are unlikely to be used in a commercial or public sector environment it is still important to be aware that each exercise has been designed to assess you behaviours in performing a task. No matter how trivial or petty an exercise may appear to you remember that the original psychologist designed it to assess how you display the behaviours required for the role. 

For example, An In-tray exercise may seem boring or unnecessary for the role you've applied for, but the assessors may want to see your approach to the tasks as well as how you prioritise the items.

The reason for using an assessment center is that the organisation wants to see how candidates actually behave in the exercises. These behaviours will then be compared to the key behavioural criteria which have been specified for that role.

Always remember that the assessment centre exercises are designed to judge how well you exhibit the required behaviours of the job you are applying for. This is by assessing to what extent you are able to: 

  • Exhibit the correct level of knowledge,

  • Display the right type of skills, and

  • Demonstrate the attitudes of the role.

Within the human resources industry these are commonly abbreviated to KSA's – Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes. You can't afford to leave anything to chance or assumption during your Assessment Centre. Your assessor can ONLY give you credit for the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA's) that you exhibit during the exercises. So, 'if you know it, you have to show it', to those watching you..

You may also be interested in:

What is an Assessment Centre, Types of Assessment Centre, Competencies and Behaviours, Assessment Centre Exercises, In-Tray Exercise, Presentation Exercise, Group Exercises and Role Play Exercises.

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