Assessment Center Managers

Assessment centers are widely used, the majority of companies use them for selection and/or development – especially for positions where potential and soft skills are to be assessed, i.e. positions for current or potential future managers.

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  • Assessment centers are proven and frequently used procedures for assessing managers, but also other employees – existing and potential future ones.

  • The basic principle is that the participants perform various tasks and exercises and their behavior is recorded and subsequently evaluated by trained observers.

  • The assessment is structured on the basis of observable behavior and on the basis of defined criteria (competencies) and behavioral descriptions. Observation is not or not only carried out by experts, but also by managers who have been prepared for their role as observers through targeted training.

  • The success of assessment centers depends on thorough preparation, implementation and planning of the follow-up; “self-made” assessments often do not produce reliable results and sooner or later generate resistance among those affected.

  • Professionally designed, implemented and executed assessment centers can significantly improve the quality of various personnel measures(hiring, promotions, personnel development).

What is an assessment center?

Assessment centers belong to the class of aptitude diagnostic procedures for organizations. If the assessment center is primarily concerned with leadership skills, this is referred to as management diagnostics.

It is a procedure for measuring the leadership potential, competencies and skills of managers and prospective managers. The focus here is less on the assessment of professional skills and more on the assessment of “soft skills“.

It is used for selection (recruitment or promotion) or as part of management development(Development Center).

Usually, various tasks and instruments are used in an assessment center – simulations, psychometric procedures (tests) and interviews. The participants’ behavior is observed and evaluated by trained observers, usually experienced managers.

The following principles apply:

  • The observers (mostly managers) are prepared for their role through training (observer training). They learn about the methodology of the assessment center, how the observers are observed and assessed according to criteria, which tasks and exercises are used and how to avoid mistakes in the assessment and evaluation.

  • The assessment center is also accompanied by trained moderators, either internal HR employees or external consultants with a background in psychology. Some companies only use employees or employees of consulting companies with a psychologically sound scientific education as moderators(psychologist orpsychologist with a diploma). M.Sc. Psychology).
    The moderators ensure that the process is correct in terms of organization and content, e.g. that the assessments actually only refer to behaviour observed in the exercises and not to things outside the exercises (e.g. experiences with candidates in everyday working life or statements made at lunch together): Experiences with the candidates in everyday working life or comments made at lunch).

  • Observation and assessment are strictly separated, i.e. during the exercises the observing managers record the candidates’ behavior. The assessment will only take place after the respective exercise has been completed.

  • The evaluation is structured and criteria-oriented, i.e. there are fixed criteria that are clearly defined. The candidates’ behavior is then evaluated, e.g. on a five-point scale. The individual levels of this scale are also described (so-called “Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales” or BARS ). Below are two examples – in the first example only the two poles of the rating scale are described, in the second example also the individual levels.

graphic about Assertiveness in assessment center
Example of a rating scale where only the two ends of the scale are described
Example of a behavior-based rating scale
  • The assessment center consists of various exercises; different criteria (usually derived from the company-specific competency model) are evaluated in each exercise. Ultimately, you then have assessments (“traits“) of each candidate from different sources of information (“methods“), in psychology this is therefore referred to as a multi-trait/multi-method approach. (Below is an example of an assessment center with four exercises and seven criteria.
graphic table assessment center topics
Example of a criteria exercise matrix for an assessment center
  • At the end of an assessment center, an overall rating is determined for each participant in the “observer conference“, often by calculating the average value across all exercises for each criterion.

  • In the case of assessment centers with external applicants, you can then create a ranking based on the overall ratings and hire the most suitable candidate. Sometimes a “cut-off value” is also set, i.e. a minimum level of skills that the company expects from applicants.

  • The assessment center concludes with a feedback meeting with the candidates, in which the results are communicated and explained to them.

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Various designations and differences

Companies are sometimes very imaginative when it comes to finding names for assessment centers for internal candidates. As the term “assessment center” has a negative connotation for some, there are many other terms, such as “development day”, “personnel development seminar”, “orientation seminar”, “orientation meeting” or “management retreat”.

It is not easy to differentiate between an assessment center and other aptitude diagnostic procedures, as there are various terms that overlap to some extent. An assessment center is generally understood to be a procedure in which several participants come together – even if they do not necessarily complete exercises together.

In contrast to this, there are individual diagnostic procedures, such as the “Individual Psychological Assessment“), the management audit or management appraisal.

What are the benefits of an assessment center for managers?

The most important benefit is the objective, neutral assessment of (potential) employees. On the basis of these assessments, the risk of incorrect personnel decisions is demonstrably reduced.

In the case of external applicants, the certainty of the hiring decision is increased because, in addition to the available information (application documents, CV, interview), a further perspective on the applicants is obtained.

Internal participants usually have some information at their disposal: Performance data, often even external assessments (employee appraisals or even 360° feedback). But here too, an assessment center can provide important additional information about managers:

  • Employees’ assessments and evaluations are often highly subjective. As a rule, these are based on a single source of assessment: the line manager.

  • The assessment of employees is based on past behavior and performance. However, the future requirements, especially when moving from employee to manager, look very different (example: the best salesperson is not always the best sales manager) and the expected performance in a new role cannot simply be extrapolated linearly from past performance.

Assessment Center Managers

A method for measuring the leadership potential, competencies and skills of managers.

Management assessment center: Procedure

An assessment center usually lasts between one and three days. Participants often have to complete tasks in advance, e.g. complete tests and questionnaires or prepare a presentation about themselves.

Below is an example of a typical two-day assessment.

How do I prepare for the assessment center for managers?

Basically, any tips you get from others (and this includes guides such as “How to pass an assessment center”) should be treated with caution. A special assessment center training can help to reduce one’s own fears of the procedure, but it often leads to participants playing a role in the assessment center (and then being rated poorly).

We recommend the following practical tips for assessment center preparation:

  • Take the preparation tasks (if there are any) seriously. If there are tests and/or questionnaires in advance, these should be completed in peace and quiet.

  • Most tips on how to behave in a certain way at the assessment center backfire. Instead of focusing on displaying a certain behavior, you should concentrate fully on the tasks and master them to the best of your ability.

  • In principle, you should present the observers with sufficient behavior so that they have a solid basis for their assessment.

  • Because: only what the candidates do and say is observed and evaluated, not what they think. This means: you have to be active, it’s better to say more than too little.

  • In group exercises in particular, however, it is important to respond to the other participants and not just present yourself.

  • The best preparation is to be aware of your own strengths and abilities. Discussions with colleagues can be helpful here, as can self-assessment questionnaires from the Internet, such as this one self-assessment questionnaire md to find out more about your personal management profile.

  • It is also helpful to mentally put yourself in the role of the observer and think about what they might want to see and hear. What is evaluated positively is usually not surprising – active, socially competent, committed and reflective participants.

In addition to the assessment center for managers, the management audit is also a diagnostic procedure and requires preparation. Read more about audit preparation for employees.

Frequent exercises and tasks in the assessment center for managers

Every assessment center for managers is different in terms of the scope, number and type of exercises as well as the criteria. Nevertheless, there are a few “classics” that are used in many assessments.


Candidates are often asked to prepare a presentation about themselves and their career when they are invited to the assessment.

Presentation exercises

Sometimes a current topic from the corporate environment is also to be dealt with – with or without preparation. However, there are also presentations on non-subject-related or self-selected topics, in which case communication is assessed above all.

Sometimes the presentation is followed by a questioning or discussion, where you want to see how someone can defend their point of view against resistance.

Role-playing games

Typical exercises include the “appraisal interview“, in which candidates have to criticize an employee – a typical management situation. However, there are also conflict or negotiation situations that are carried out in the form of a role play. The role-play partner is either the moderator or a trained role-player, e.g. an actor.

In-basket exercise

A typical working day is simulated here: you receive a series of memos, notes and e-mails, often together with a work calendar. Candidates should recognize the dependencies between the individual pieces of information and how the measures are prioritized. Today, the mailbox is often processed digitally on the computer.

Psychometric tests and questionnaires

Psychological tests and questionnaires are increasingly being used in assessment centers, as they have been shown to provide important additional information about participants. Cognitive performance tests (“intelligence tests“) in particular provide a good indication of the intellectual performance potential of (future) managers.

Case studies

The participants work on a complex business case(alone or together with others), which is then presented to the observers.

Group discussions

Group discussions are the classic assessment exercise for managers. The beginnings of the assessment center lie in this exercise, which was also called “leaderless group discussion” or “round table”. This exercise is very popular among observers, as it supposedly shows “how good a team player someone is” or “whether someone has leadership potential”.

Unfortunately, it has been shown that the assessments of group discussions are not very valid, as group discussions are often dominated by loud, extraverted participants, so that quieter (but often smarter) participants hardly get a chance to speak. In practice, therefore, hardly any group discussions are conducted in assessment centers today.


In recent years, assessment centers for managers have often been carried out in the form of company-related scenarios, which means that the individual exercises build on one another. Below is an example of such an assessment center:

Assessment center example in scenario form

Valuable tips and common mistakes

The most common mistake is that companies conduct assessment centers for managers but invest few resources in preparation. For example, external applicants are invited, conduct a group discussion together, do a role play (e.g. a sales talk) and are then interviewed by all observers together. In the end, the observers decide who receives an offer.

However, the assessment is not criteria-oriented, the observers are not prepared for their role as observers and the assessment is based on instinct.

If you are planning to carry out an assessment center for managers, you should get help from external experts at least for the design of the assessment, and ideally also for the implementation.

The “Forum Assessment“, a working group in which assessment center experts come together, has very helpfully produced “Standards for Assessment Centers“, which can be downloaded free of charge.

graphic the standard of assessment center
Overview of the assessment center standards of the "Forum Assessment"

Five helpful tips for designing an assessment center for managers

  • An assessment center should not be too short; the more different exercises and instruments are used, the more meaningful the results will be. Of course, the effort involved should be in good proportion to the importance of the decision. However, there should be at least five different instruments and exercises, ideally supplemented by psychometric tests and an interview.

  • It is important that the tasks, exercises and procedures are as varied as possible, and ideally that psychometric procedures are also used.

  • The training of observers is important. Not only to increase the quality of observation, but also to create acceptance for the procedure within the company.

  • In assessment centers with internal candidates, there are never pure selection or development assessments. This means that there must always be a follow-up program in which individual development plans are drawn up with the participants – even if the AC is purely a selection procedure (e.g. to appoint a group of management trainees).

  • As an observer in an assessment center, you should practice humility. From the role of the observer, one is tempted to over-critically evaluate the behavior of the participants (“I would have done that with my left hand…”). It is therefore important to have future observers carry out tasks themselves (as participants) for training purposes during the observer training so that they recognize how difficult it is for participants to find and present good solutions under time pressure in an examination situation.

Online assessment center for managers

Not least due to the time of the pandemic, but also due to growing environmental awareness, assessment centers are not only taking place on site, but also online. This is similar to the familiar video conferences – participants work on tasks and exercises on screen. The observers then also record their observations on screen and make assessments using prepared online forms or special software for managing assessment centers.

Initial empirical studies show that the quality of online assessment centers does not differ from that of on-site assessment centers.

Assessment Center Managers