Assessment in HR

The term “assessment” causes the adrenaline level to rise in many applicants or managers. Yet many people know neither the exact contents, nor the functioning and framework of an assessment.

An assessment is part of the HR selection and development process. Candidates are usually put to the test over a period of 1/2 – 2 days in the setting of various assessment exercises.

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What is an assessment? 

“Assessment” or “psychological diagnostics” is a subfield of psychology and at the same time an important part of the professional activity of psychologists. Psychological diagnostics is always in demand when rational decisions have to be found or substantiated. In this sense, it provides the methodological foundation for decisions.

In the HR sector, assessment is used to make strategic decisions in the areas of recruitment, selection and development on a methodologically sound and structured basis with increased certainty. Especially wrong decisions on appointments with their implications on cost are avoided. In addition, succession planning is facilitated and employees can be offered internal career mobility. This has the effect of achieving sustainable employee loyalty to the company.

Single or multiple exercises, tests, role plays and interviews can be used for an assessment. The goal of the employer is to better get to know the different competencies and personality traits of the candidates.

An assessment is generally developed and conducted with a specific job profile in mind. In the case of a potential analysis, however, the evaluation is usually broader.

What types of assessment are there?

The different types of assessment are used depending on the objective and setting. Basically, they can be divided according to the setting:

  • Group assessments and 
  • individual assessments

 can be distinguished. According to the objective 

  • the selection assessment, 
  • the development assessment or 
  • the career assessment 

can be differentiated. Finally, it is also differentiated according to the physical situation: 

  • the face-to-face assessment (past standard)
  • the remote assessment and 
  • the online assessment 

are differentiated. These different types of assessment are briefly explained below.

Group assessment (assessment center)

An assessment center is a form of assessment with several participants and several observers (assessors) and usually extends over several days. Depending on the assessment, the participants go through various exercises in the group, individual exercises and test procedures. It is typical for group assessments that the observers rotate in such a way that a candidate is observed by as many assessors as possible.

Individual assessment

The individual assessment is a form of assessment with one participant and at least two assessors. It usually lasts half a day to a full day. The target group for individual assessments is management and specialists. Here, too, various exercises and tests are used to check previously defined competencies.

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Selection assessment

The selection assessment is used in personnel selection. The aim is to select from among the applicants the person whose profile best matches the requirements of the position for an existing or newly created position.

Development assessment

In a development assessment, a person’s potential is evaluated. This type of assessment is often used in the promotion of young talent to determine whether a person is suitable for a management position in the future. The development assessment forms the basis for the targeted professional development of individual persons.

Career Assessment

Based on the profile of their strengths/weaknesses the career assessment gives the candidates a career perspective. This by giving them the opportunity to use their strengths and overcome weaknesses. It is also suitable for discussing means that promote personal development with a view to reorientation or repositioning.

Remote Assessment

In full remote mode, all persons involved in the assessment (candidate, assessors, role players) are in different locations and communicate with each other via a video platform. In various hybrid remote modes, the connection of individual participants can vary in different settings – e.g. if only one assessor and the candidate are on site and a second person participates remotely. 

Online Assessment

Online assessments are a collective term for an assessment procedure to be completed via the Internet to assess professional aptitude. Another, less frequently used term is e-assessment. It belongs to the group of psychological test procedures. In aptitude diagnostics (occupational profiling), they are understood to assess and predict occupationally relevant biographical and psychological variables for estimating aptitude. The importance of diagnostic and performance prediction procedures that are decoupled in terms of time and place is increasing with the advance of digitalization.

What is meant by an “assessment center”?

As described above, an “assessment center” is a comprehensive form of group assessment usually in groups of 4-8 people and with various forms of tests and exercises, with multiple assessors and with different settings (group exercises, individual exercises, individual tests) over 1-2 days.

However, the term “assessment center” is often used in HR for individual assessments when multiple exercises and tests take place.

When does an assessment make sense?

In HR, thanks to the assessment, decisions in personnel selection and personnel development are made on a methodically sound and structured basis with increased certainty.

Especially wrong decisions on appointments are avoided. In addition, succession planning is facilitated and employees can be offered internal career mobility.

This has the effect of achieving sustainable employee loyalty to the company.

Assessment is used for the following issues:

Job vacancy / applicant selection

This is the classic situation when it comes to finding the most suitable person for a vacant position.


Promotion usually involves management positions. Therefore, an assessment in this context focuses on the potential in management and leadership.

Potential analysis / personnel development

In this form of assessment, the potential of employees is evaluated. The resulting strengths/weaknesses profile is broadly based in order to capture the different types of competencies (cf. assessment services) and to enable the person to develop his or her career accordingly.

Succession planning

As with staffing, this is about filling a position that becomes vacant due to age. Often, internal candidates are preferred and a transfer of know-how is initiated.

Selection for training and trainee positions

Here, too, it is an apprenticeship or trainee position that is to be appointed in the best possible way. Therefore, the potential is also evaluated.

In the context of change projects, the following situations become the occasion for assessments:

Internal (career) mobility

In the context of change projects, positions are sometimes eliminated or the job profile changes in such a way that the previous job holders are not necessarily the best choice. In order to avoid dismissal, an internal reassignment is therefore considered, for which the assessment serves. This is the basis for up- and reskilling.

Reorganization / Restructuring

In the case of major changes in the organization with corresponding changes in job requirements, the assessment is the basis for the best possible use of human resources.

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What exercises and tests are used?

With the assessment center, the employer has the chance to thoroughly screen applicants. This gives him more time to get to know applicants in a variety of situations. 

Often, one or more online tests are conducted before exercises with personal presence. The evaluation of these tests is then available for the face-to-face assessment center and allows the assessors to specifically examine individual topics in greater depth. 


Typical examples for the content of (online) tests are: 

  • Assessment of skills: e.g.
  • verbal skills (language tests)
  • numerical skills
  • – knowledge tests
  • – intelligence tests
  • – personality tests
  • characteristics
  • interests
  • Motives and motivation
  • Behavioral tendencies
  • work environment preferences
  • preferred approaches/leadership characteristics


Classic exercises

In an assessment center, the following exercises are very often used:


In this exercise, you briefly introduce yourself personally and professionally. The self-presentation should last five minutes and should give a first impression of the person. In some cases, specific guidelines are given about the content of the self-presentation. One guideline may be that the self-presentation should focus on one’s greatest (professional) success. Subsequently, questions are also asked.

What is important is the persuasiveness, the rhetorical skills and the sales element.

Mail basket exercise

The mail basket exercise is the simulation of a work situation. The candidates receive a “mail basket” with 10 to 20 documents that have to be processed within a specified, short period of time. The problems to be solved are varied and not exclusively of a professional nature. As a rule, queries are not possible. Each document has certain framework conditions that must be taken into account, e.g. a fixed deadline. Sometimes these framework conditions can overlap, so that one is forced to set priorities. 

This test shows how good one’s own organizational, action and decision-making skills are – especially under time pressure. 

Case study

In a concrete case related to the company, one is confronted either alone or in a group with a problem for which a solution must be elaborated. The result is either submitted in writing or presented in a presentation. Here, it is not necessarily the concrete result that counts, but how the problem-solving process is carried out. 

Usually, no expertise is required for these case studies, as the point of this exercise is to test analytical and creative skills, strategic thinking, and teamwork.

Role play

The role play usually involves a realistic, job-related conflict situation that needs to be resolved. A difficult situation is simulated in a two-person meeting, e.g. an employee interview, a complaint meeting or a sales meeting. For example, the candidate has to take on the role of a manager who calls an underperforming employee to account.

The focus is on leadership skills and dealing with employees/customers. The focus is on the ability to deal with conflict, persuasiveness and the willingness to compromise. 

Group discussion

With other candidates in a group, one is asked to discuss a given topic in a controversial way. Sometimes a role in the discussion may be given. 

In addition to direct comparison with the other participants in the discussion group, one looks at rhetorical skills, persuasiveness, and willingness to compromise.


Presentations are one of the most popular exercises in the assessment center. In presentation exercises, participants are asked to prepare and structure a specific topic or given material and present the results to a group. 

The presentation tests various skills in the assessment center: organizational-analytical skills, technical knowledge, linguistic confidence and presentation in front of a group.

New exercises

In some cases, new exercises are also used, such as:

Escape Room

One room, five people, and the last seconds of the 45 minutes slowly tick away. Participants climb on tables, move shelves, and feverishly figure out how to escape the room – escape into the new job. 

The gamification approach not only tests relevant skills, such as analytical thinking, teamwork and subject-specific skills, but also sets the company apart. What sounds fancy here is in practice an innovative approach to assessment.

How does an assessment work?

The design and execution of an assessment center is highly individual. At its core, it is geared to the requirements and needs of the company and the position to be filled. Nevertheless, there are some recurring patterns in the process:

Phase 1: Self-presentation

  • Professional career to date
  • Key milestones and achievements
  • Strengths with reference to the position

Phase 2: Exercises

  • Mail basket exercise
  • Intelligence test / concentration tests
  • Technical presentation / Individual interview

Phase 3: Role plays

  • Solve case study / fact-finding exercise
  • Group discussion
  • Social competence and assertiveness

Phase 4: Feedback

  • Reflection of the self-assessment
  • Feedback from observers
  • Final assessment

The following flow chart gives a visual overview of these standard assessment center phases.


Assessment Center Process

Usually, after the AC, the employer invites the candidate to an interview in which he/she is allowed to interpret certain situations in the training and to critically question his/her own behavior.

At this point, assessors have long since extensively explored, analyzed and evaluated the candidate’s behavior. These assessors are usually experienced HR specialists, managers and employees from the specialist areas. Often, trained psychologists also belong to this group. Based on the observations and notes the assessment sheets and the assessors’ personal assessments of the candidate’s professional and personal competencies are recorded and evaluated.

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What is the duration of an assessment center?

An assessment center can consist of several rounds and last up to three days. However, a typical individual assessment today lasts a ½ – 1 day. In addition, there are some terms that employers use interchangeably. For example, if there is an “applicant day”, “selection seminar”, “multi-day selection process”, “applicant test” or “testing procedure”, there is often an AC behind it. Make sure candidates are aware of this. 

Who is involved?

Of course, the candidate(s) will be there. To prevent subjectivity and misinterpretation, there are always at least two experienced assessors. They carefully compare individual perceptions during and after the assessment. Depending on the topic, these can be both, external and internal, to the organization.

Step by Step Description

Together with about 4 to 8 participants you take part in different exercises. The number of candidates can already give an indication of how many applicants are likely to be hired. Most assessment centers follow a similar process. For example, a one-day assessment center might run like this:

  • Welcome of the applicants, information about the daily schedule
  • Short presentation of the participants
  • Group discussion on a specific topic
  • break
  • Distribution of questionnaires and solving of test items
  • Lunch break
  • Division into small groups and role play
  • mail basket exercise
  • small break
  • Interviews with the individual candidates
  • final interview
  • End of the event

Advantages and disadvantages of an assessment center

The assessment center has recently found more and more supporters and is also being used more. However, there are also voices that point out possible shortcomings and disadvantages of an assessment center. Below are the advantages and disadvantages:


For companies:

If the assessment center is conscientiously designed and also precisely tailored to the position to be filled, then it will avoid serious errors in recruitment. This then saves costs, because inadequate employees cause financial damage due to the uncompleted tasks and the necessary new recruitment. In addition to this fundamental advantage, the following arguments are also mentioned:

  • An AC is suitable for the selection of both external and internal applicants. 
  • The AC creates an overview of the available potential and direct comparison of the applicants.
  • As a group situation, the AC can provide valid statements about the communication behavior of the participants due to the longer observation period. 
  • Observers who come from within the company are sensitized to leadership problems, leadership behavior and the observation and evaluation of employees.
  • It usually has a motivating effect on participants if they are familiarized with the requirements and expectations of the company in the course of the AC.
  • Measurability of soft skills.
  • The personnel development and training needs can be determined for each employee.

For candidates:

An AC has definite advantages over the classic job interview. Applicants have sufficient time and opportunities to present themselves. In addition, the tasks are evaluated individually. If someone doesn’t really succeed in one task, then they have the chance to make a better impression in the next tasks. In addition, the same questions are often asked in the interviews, so you can prepare yourself for them.

At the end of the assessment center, candidates usually receive detailed feedback on their performance and results. You can take a lot away from this for yourself, as you become aware of your strengths and weaknesses here. This awareness will help you in your further job search.

An AC is also a good opportunity to network, as you will meet interesting and capable people – both among your fellow candidates and among those who represent the company.


For companies:

An AC incurs costs and time. These must be seen in relation to the costs of a wrong appointment. 

Critical voices point out that assessment centers can have a lack of significance. This is true if the exercises are too standardized and are not organized in a way that is specific to the company and the job. In this case, doubts about the professional relevance of the assessment center exercises and their prognostic significance are certainly justified. The success of the assessment center requires that the selection process is conceived and carried out tailor-made. This can also be a question of cost. 

Basically, there is also the risk of observation errors (e.g. the halo effect). Therefore, it is important to use skilled and experienced assessors who, if possible, have participated in a specific observer training. Such training helps to avoid observation deficiencies and errors on the part of the assessors in the assessment center. 

For candidates:

Candidates are under stress, there is a lot at stake (the job), and for most it is a completely new situation. Employers want authentic behavior. However, this cannot be guaranteed under these conditions.



Please find below the advantages and possible shortcomings at a glance.




Certain success characteristics of a position can be tested by specifically recreated situations.

Criteria for job success are not precisely defined and cannot be verified by tests. To counteract this, company- and job-specific requirements must be formulated precisely in form of an expected behavior and measurable.

Representative sample of subsequent work activity.

Applicants can “put a good face on the matter” and play act. The true personality remains hidden. To reduce this effect, the AC should feature a mix of tasks (individual exercises, interactive exercises, psychometric procedures) and the applicant’s appearance should be critically scrutinized (interview, reference check).

Required qualifications are tested under stress and time pressure – simulation of work reality.

Exercises often have nothing to do with the intended profession. In reality there are recovery phases, in the AC you are permanently under observation. The conception must be aligned to the specific job. In addition, the positive atmosphere of an assessment center can counteract this.

Several candidates are made comparable. Observation errors such as antipathy and sympathy are reduced by the number of observers. Objective assessments through a fixed set of requirements.

The individuality of the observers can never be excluded 100%. In a professional observer training, individual characteristics in perception and evaluation can be reflected and thus reduced

Many skills can be tested within a short time. Tasks provide information about several qualifications.

The method is inflexible. Applicants cannot be invited spontaneously. Cost-intensive and time-consuming procedure. The effort is indeed given, but the error rate in personnel selection and thus possible follow-up costs decrease significantly.


We wish you success with your next assessment center!

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