Assessment Center

The invitation to the assessment center is the prelude to discovering talent!

The invitation to the assessment center marks a decisive moment in the recruitment process and symbolizes the transition to a more intensive examination of applicant qualifications. Assessment Center, AC for short at the forefront of the selection processright after the interview. With an impressive history of over sixty years of research and application, ACs have established themselves as one of the most effective methods for identifying and assessing the potential and skills of applicants.

At the assessment center, participants are confronted with a series of tasks and situations. In particular the Assessment Center Test plays a central role in this process. It includes specifically designed exercises and questions aimed at this, evaluate participants’ critical skills and problem-solving abilities in a controlled environment.

These tasks, from the moment of their conception, reflect the dynamic demands of the modern job market and are designed to test not only the candidates’ technical skills, but also their soft skills and problem-solving abilities.

Today, digital transformation is redefining the business environment and ACs are also facing the challenge of adapting. They must not only take into account the rapidly changing needs of the market, but also retain their essential strengths.

For companies, ACs are an indispensable tool that offers deep insights into the skills and behavior of potential employees – far beyond what can be captured in conventional job interviews.

They provide a platform for applicants to demonstrate their skills in realistic contexts. However, the success of these processes is based on meticulous planning and implementation that integrates and reflects the latest trends and challenges.

Assessment Center (AC) at a glance:

  • Broad applicationEstablished since the 1980s, ACs offer a wide range of diagnostic procedures for talent selection and development.

  • Versatile proceduresACs are a collective term for a wide variety of diagnostic exercises aimed at identifying potential and skills.

  • High accuracyProfessionally conducted ACs make it possible to precisely identify the skills and potential of applicants and employees.

  • Objectivity and acceptanceACs use sound methods to strengthen objectivity in the selection process and promote acceptance among all those involved.

  • Risk minimizationYou minimize the risk of wrong appointments and support effective personnel development.

  • Dependence on professional implementationThe effectiveness of ACs depends largely on their professional application. Unprofessional implementation can significantly impair acceptance and accuracy.

  • Best practices and topicalityFor the success of ACs, it is crucial to incorporate the latest scientific findings and best practices into their design and implementation.

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Assessment Center Definition

What is an assessment center?

An assessment center (AC) is a procedure that consists of various exercises and tests (“methods”) in which observers (“assessors”) assess various management and leadership-relevant characteristics (“traits”). The goal is “to assess”i.e. the suitability of applicants for certain positions or the development potential of employees thoroughly assess. It combines various tests, questions and exercises aimed specifically at creating a comprehensive profile of participants’ skills and potential.

The specific selection of these elements is adapted to the individual requirements, whereby the duration of the AC is usually between one and three days, including preparatory training for the assessors. These, typically a mixture of managers, HR experts and psychologists, carry out an objective assessment of the candidates based on the exercises carried out.

History of the Assessment Center

The beginnings of the Assessment Center lie in the German armed forces. In the 1920s, the psychologist Professor Riefert developed a procedure for the fair and objective selection of officer candidates (pilots and radio operators) on behalf of the Reichswehr Ministry. The basic idea was that a series of psychological selection procedures were used and the applicants were assessed by a group of observers. The core element was the so-called “round interview” (a leaderless group discussion), in which applicants with leadership potential were identified, regardless of their formal status (e.g. title of nobility).

This method was taken up by military psychologists in other countries and transferred from there to the business world. In the 1950s and 1960s, companies like IBM, AT&T and General Electric started using assessment centers. The results were scientifically evaluated and the assessment center proved to be a method that can predict leadership quality, career progression and professional success.

Today, assessment centers are a widely used personnel policy instrument, both as a selection procedure and as a development center for employee development.

Procedure of an assessment center

Requirements analysis

First and foremost is the requirements analysis: what are the criteria and requirements critical to success that are to be assessed in the assessment center? To this end, systematic interviews are often conducted with current (successful) job holders, company management or other stakeholders. The starting point is usually the approach based on critical incidents, i.e. the requirements that are critical to success.

Requirement profile

Based on the requirements analysis, the competencies to be assessed are then formulated in the assessment center (example below). It is important that these competencies are not only named, but also described in as much detail as possible.

In practice, therefore, the competences listed above would still have to be filled with content (definition, examples) in order to develop complete competence models.

Rating scales

In order to translate the observations in the assessment center into assessments, you need rating scales. So-called BARS (Behavioral Anchored Rating Scale) are commonly used, in which the gradations of the scale are specified with behavioral descriptions. Here is an example in which the individual gradations are not described, but at least the two poles are.

Example of Behavioral Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)


The selected exercises, such as group discussions, role plays and the fact-finding exercise, serve to evaluate the competencies defined in the requirements profile in a practical way. Each of these assessment center tasks is carefully selected to test specific competencies and skills of the participants.


  • Group discussionswhich show how participants act in team settings and demonstrate leadership qualities.
  • Role playswhich put participants in specific conflict situations to assess their empathy and conflict resolution skills.
  • Case study analysesin which participants analyze complex business scenarios and develop solution strategies to demonstrate their analytical and decision-making skills.

Assignment of competencies/exercises

The key challenge is to specifically assess each competency through at least two different exercises to ensure a comprehensive and fair assessment. This multi-trait/multi-method approach ensures an objective judgment.

Example of skills exercise matrix in the assessment center

Assessor training

The observers in the assessment center are usually high-ranking managers of the company. Normally, candidates should not be direct employees of the assessors. In observer training, the assessors are prepared for their role: they learn about the exercises and skills, practise assessing and evaluating (often using video recordings) and are made aware of possible observation and assessment errors.

Information for participants

As with any aptitude assessment procedure, transparency towards the participants is very important. They must be informed in advance about the aim of the assessment center, its procedure, content and observation criteria. The possible consequences of the assessment center must also be clearly communicated. Sometimes candidates are also given the opportunity to prepare for individual exercises (e.g. a self-presentation).

Performing the exercises - observation and assessment

During the exercises, the candidates are observed and the assessors take notes in which they record the candidates’ behavior. It is important to separate assessment and evaluation. This means that the criteria-oriented assessment only takes place after the exercises on the basis of the notes; each assessor carries out the assessment individually.

The assessment center is conducted by trained moderators. They ensure that the exercises run smoothly and that the assessors adhere to the rules of the assessment center (e.g. assessment only on the basis of observable behavior).

Aggregation of the results

At the end of the assessment center, all assessments are entered into a table (often online) and an average value is calculated for all exercises and observers. For the feedback to the candidates, the overall assessments are then enriched with concrete examples of behavior from the individual exercises.

As a rule, the assessments of the individual assessors are averaged (per assessor and candidate) and then further averaged (across all assessors) in the so-called observer conference to produce an overall assessment of each individual candidate.

Feedback to the candidates

Feedback is usually given to the participants in several stages. First, the result is reported back to the candidate by an assessor, who also informs the candidate of the personnel decision resulting from the assessment center. This is followed by a consultation with an external or internal expert (psychologist) and then a further interview with the line manager of the candidate in question.

Why are assessment centers carried out?

Assessment centers are carried out for various reasons:

Reason 1
  • As part of the application process for a specific position, the assessment center for personnel selection. The company wants to identify the most suitable candidate for a particular position from among various internal or external applicants.

Reason 2
  • As part of the application process without a specific position/job. Many companies offer applicants (often with an academic degree) a trainee program, at the end of which the company and the trainee decide together which job is the most suitable. The application phase is therefore about identifying interdisciplinary qualities and potential that are required for various types of subsequent tasks.

Reason 3
  • For the identification of management trainees. Here, employees who have qualified through good performance and positive assessments from their superiors are tested for their suitability for future management tasks. Here, the result of the assessment center is often a recommendation or non-recommendation of the participants for inclusion in a management trainee pool.

Reason 4
  • The assessment center procedure for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of candidates and planning individual support and personnel development.

What exactly does an assessment center do?

Assessing the potential of (future) employees is a core task of HR work. Of all management diagnostics methods, an assessment center – provided it is designed and carried out according to the rules of the art – is the most suitable method.

Strengths and weaknesses

A professionally designed and conducted assessment center is a proven tool for evaluating candidates’ skills, competencies, potential and soft skills.


1st advantage
  • Proven good predictive quality for later professional success, especially for management tasks

2nd advantage
  • High level of acceptance among candidates due to the high level of transparency of the process and the involvement of experienced managers in the assessment; elimination of the “nose factor“, largely objective assessment

3rd advantage
  • By preparing and conducting the assessment center, managers learn to assess and evaluate employees in a structured manner
4th advantage
  • The competence-based assessment shows structured fields of action for personnel development
5th advantage
  • The risk of incorrect appointments (and their subsequent costs) is reduced


1. disadvantage
  • Assessment centers that are not carefully designed and conducted prevent acceptance by candidates and assessors
2. disadvantage
  • Developing the competencies, designing the tasks, training the assessors and conducting the assessment centers are time-consuming

Challenges and solutions

A critical aspect of conducting ACs are the challenges, which can be both organizational and technological in nature. Some companies were faced with the difficulty of effectively designing ACs in an increasingly digitalized working world. In particular, the need to adapt traditional exercises for virtual formats posed a considerable challenge.


  • Adaptation to virtual formats: Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have developed innovative solutions to move their ACs to virtual environments. This included the use of video conferencing tools for interviews and group discussions as well as the development of online simulations and exercises that allow candidates to be assessed in a remote setting.

  • Technology-based monitoring and evaluation: To overcome the challenges of objectivity and accuracy in virtual ACs, companies are increasingly turning to technological solutions. This included specialized behavioral observation software that allows assessors to effectively evaluate candidates even when they are not physically in the same room.

  • Digital skills development: Some companies took the opportunity not only to adapt their ACs, but also to integrate the digital competence of their participants as a key aspect of the assessment. This reflected the growing importance of digital skills in the modern working world.

These adjustments required not only a re-evaluation of the content and format of ACs, but also a cultural shift within organizations to take full advantage of virtual assessment processes.

Despite initial concerns about the effectiveness of virtual ACs, many companies have found that these adaptations are not only feasible, but also beneficial for expanding the talent pool and reducing logistics and costs.

Assessment Center

Selection process and assessment of the potential of internal and external applicants.

Validity of the Assessment Center

  • In recent years, numerous studies have been brought together to determine the validity of the Assessment Center (so-called “meta-analyses”). “Validity” means how accurately a procedure predicts subsequent career success and is expressed with a number between -1 and +1. If a procedure had a validity of 1.00, it would accurately predict subsequent career success; with a validity of 0.00, it would be no better than chance.

Many have drawn the false conclusion from these results that intelligence tests are superior to assessment centers as a selection procedure – especially as it is far less time-consuming to carry out an intelligence test.

However, this conclusion is wrong, as apples and oranges are being compared here. Intelligence tests primarily predict “task performance” (i.e. how well someone performs their tasks). However, professional success depends not only on the quality of task completion, but also on how someone fits into a company – in other words, how good a colleague and employee they are, so-called “corporate citizenship behavior“. The latter, in turn, can be predicted very well by assessment centers.

Consequently, an assessment center should not only include behavioral observations, but also intelligence and personality tests in order to achieve the highest possible predictive quality.

Types of assessment centers

Assessment centers (ACs) offer a variety of specialized procedures that are tailored to the different requirements and objectives of companies.

Each type focuses on specific aspects of candidate assessment and development:

Individual assessment center

Used for individual assessments, especially for high-ranking management positions. Customized exercises and tests are used to evaluate the individual’s suitability and potential for specific roles in detail.

You can find out more about the Individual Assessment Center here: Individual Assessment

Development Center

Focused on Personnel development without direct selection decision. Participants receive comprehensive feedback on their performance, promote their strengths and identify areas for development through a variety of exercises.

More about Development Center.

Learning Potential Assessment Center

Developed by Prof. Werner Sarges, focuses on the assessment of participants’ learning ability. The candidates’ ability to adapt to new situations and information is tested through targeted preparation and feedback after each exercise.

Project Assessment Center/"Dynamic AC" / "Scenario Assessment"

Aims at a practical assessment through the joint processing of a project from. Various phases of the project serve as the basis for exercises that simulate realistic and company-specific challenges.

Special features of the Online Assessment Center

The adaptation to virtual formats is a direct response to modern requirementsDigital tools are used to conduct interviews, group discussions and specific exercises. These formats require special attention with regard to technical requirements and Data protection.

More about Online Assessment

Duration and procedure of an AC

Whereas in the 1990s assessment centers often lasted three or more days, today assessment centers tend to last two to three days. The shortening of the procedure and the resulting reduction in the number of exercises does reduce the validity of the procedure – but companies accept this for economic reasons.

Who should carry out the AC?

Assessment Center Expert
  • Development of assessment center exercises, competencies and rating scales: here you should not necessarily reinvent the wheel and get help from assessment center experts (e.g. md gesellschaft für management-diagnostik).
  • The moderators have an important role in the assessment center process. They ensure quality and compliance with standards. If necessary, they must also give the assessors critical feedback if they do not adhere to the standards and rules of an AC. For this reason, many organizations prefer to use external experts as moderators – not only because they are more readily accepted by managers, but also because they bring additional psychological expertise to the process.
High-ranking managers
  • The assessors should preferably be high-ranking managers. Sometimes, however, external experts are also called in to observe the assessment center. There are usually two to three assessors per group.
  • Last but not least, the candidates are participants in the assessment center. If there are group exercises, there are between four and six participants per group. Often there is a multiple of this number in total, the participants, observers and moderators are divided up for the individual exercises, with the composition of all participants changing from exercise to exercise.

Preparation for the assessment center

The most important tip for assessment center preparation is not to let yourself get nervous. While it is helpful to talk to others who have already been to the assessment center, the tips and advice you get from former candidates should be taken with a grain of salt.

Two things are important: firstly, to be active, i.e. to give the observers sufficient opportunity to collect observation material. Secondly, not to play a role, but to be who you are.

A management audit is also a variant of the assessment center procedure and requires preparation. Read more about audit preparation for employees.

Skills and competencies sought

It is helpful to think about what the observers want to assess or see in the assessment center. At most companies, it’s something very similar: smart, cooperative, team-oriented candidates who are willing to engage in conflict and work hard to achieve results.

Two things are important: firstly, to be active, i.e. to give the observers sufficient opportunity to collect observation material. Secondly, not to play a role, but to be who you are.

8 typical tasks

1. group discussions

This is the classic assessment center: the candidates are given a topic or task to work on as a group within a given time (usually 20 to 40 minutes). Here, of course, the cooperation within the team should be observed, to what extent the candidates respond to each other, but also express their opinions clearly.

2. self-presentation

An assessment center often begins with the participants introducing themselves individually to the observers. This self-presentation can sometimes be prepared at home. Be careful not to over-prepare at the expense of naturalness and authenticity!

3. role play

The candidates receive a brief introduction to the situation in which they find themselves beforehand. They are asked to have a conversation with a role-player (a professional role-player, a psychological expert or sometimes one of the assessors) who plays the role of a customer, an employee or a colleague. There is almost always a conflict in the situation that needs to be addressed and resolved.

4. post basket exercise

The inbox exercise simulates part of a manager’s day-to-day work: you receive a pile of paper (but often also on the computer) with various messages, letters, e-mails and other information. The candidate must read this information, prioritize it and take appropriate action (e.g. how to plan their schedule in light of the actions to be taken or how to respond to the letters and emails). The main aim here is to test the candidates’ organizational skills.

5. case studies

Here, the situation of a company (usually not your own) is presented on 10-30 pages, the candidate has to analyze it and make decisions. Similar to the inbox, the first thing to do here is to set priorities and not get lost in the mass of information. Unlike in the post-basket exercise, however, the decisions here are not only of a practical but also of a strategic nature – and that is also what the observers want to assess.

6. brain teaser

The candidates are given an estimation task(individually or as a group exercise), e.g. “How many car tires are sold in Germany each year?”. They are not asked to answer these directly, but to think aloud how they derive the answer (in the example: how many cars are there in Germany – how often are the tires changed – how many change to winter tires). Correctness of the answerbut how resourceful the candidate is in the process of deducing the answer.

7. presentations

Candidates are asked to present a topic spontaneously (“ad hoc presentation”) or with preparation. Here, of course, communication and presentation skills are the focus of observation.

8. tests and questionnaires

Unfortunately (from the psychological expert’s point of view), psychological tests and questionnaires are rarely used in assessment centers. “Unfortunately” because they significantly improve the quality of an AC. If tests are to be used, the best tip is to approach them well rested and spontaneously, without worrying too much.


Assessment centers are a tried and tested method for identifying potential within a company – for external and internal candidates, for selection and for promoting individual development.

For assessment center participants, these procedures offer the advantages of transparency, objectivity and clearly structured feedback.

Disadvantages can only be identified when these are planned and implemented unprofessionally, for example without trained observers or defined requirement criteria.


What exactly are assessment centers?

Assessment centers (ACs) are structured procedures for evaluating candidate competencies that comprise a combination of various tasks, exercises and simulations. They aim to assess behavior and skills with regard to specific professional requirements.

What questions are asked at the assessment center?

Questions asked in ACs cover a broad spectrum, from situational and behavior-based questions to those that test specific skills or problem-solving abilities. They can refer to past experiences, hypothetical scenarios or subject-specific knowledge

How can you prepare for an assessment center?

Thorough preparation includes researching the company and the specific AC exercises, strengthening relevant soft skills, practicing case studies and group discussions, and preparing for psychometric tests.

How does an assessment work? / How does an AC work?

An AC typically begins with an introduction, followed by a series of individual and group exercises, presentations and interviews. Assessors observe and evaluate the participants based on predefined criteria. The process often ends with a personal feedback meeting.

What do you do in an assessment center?

Participants complete various tasks including group discussions, role plays, presentations, case study analysis and psychometric tests to demonstrate their suitability for a position or development program.

What is particularly examined in an assessment center?

ACs focus on a variety of competencies, including teamwork, leadership potential, communication skills, analytical thinking, problem solving and adaptability.

What is the best way to prepare for an assessment center?

Start preparing early, find out about the format and content of the AC, practise relevant skills and task types, and seek feedback from practice sessions or mentors.

Is an assessment center difficult?

The difficulty of an AC depends on the specific requirements and the design of the procedure. However, with thorough preparation and the right attitude, participants can optimize their performance and successfully master the challenges.

What should I bring to the assessment center?

Bring official identification documents, writing materials and, if indicated, specific documents such as your CV or certificates. It is also advisable to provide note material for personal comments and feedback.