Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

A Survey of the Assessment Center Process in the Public Sector

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

A Survey of the Assessment Center Process in the Public Sector

Article excerpt

The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a survey of personnel professionals and public safety officials in public sector organizations. The survey addressed personnel selection methods in use today with special emphasis on the assessment center. The survey instrument was mailed to 105 personnel managers in state and county governments, and to 440 police and fire chiefs in cities of 50,000 or more population. 105 usable responses (19%) were received.

This is the first such comprehensive survey reported on since the surveys by Yeager(1) and Fitzgerald and Quaintance.(2) This survey concentrated on issues addressed in the contemporary research literature. They include: (1) The use of job analyses for selection tests; (2) the type of selection test used for positions under test; (3) the types and processes used in assessment centers, including the number of candidates, the use of performance dimensions, the time involved, scoring procedures and related issues, validation strategies used for assessment centers, and feedback from and to participants; (4) costs including assessors and consultants; (5) assessors - who they are and their training; (6) assessment center results including unwanted gender or other bias; (7) litigation and results; and (8) assessment center issues of concern to the respondents.

This survey addressed many selection methods, but its primary emphasis was on the assessment center method. The assessment center is a process, not a place. The primary tools used in an assessment center are simulations of the real world of work. Trained observers (assessors) watch the candidates perform tasks in the simulated environment and evaluate their performance. The assumption is that the observed performance is a predictor of performance on the job and an indication of the candidate's knowledge, skills, and abilities related to the job.

As of 1981, over 44 percent of 156 federal, state, and local governments used the assessment center.(3) As of 1985, 32 of 73 metropolitan fire departments used the assessment center, especially for promotion.(4) Assessment centers are also widely used in the United Kingdom.(5)


Two hundred twenty cities of 50,000 population or larger were randomly selected from the 1992 - 1993 Municipal Executive Directory,(6) and 105 state and county human resources directors were randomly selected from the 1992 Who's Who in the International Personnel Management Association resources directory.(7) The survey questionnaire was prepared in final form by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Center for Business and Economic Research and mailed.

The respondents reported that the median number of people served by their respective departments was 151-400 thousand. The median number of employees in these departments in 1993 was 101-250.


Fifty-one respondents identified themselves as part of law enforcement departments, 30 were from fire departments and 18 were affiliated with human resources and other departments (table 1). The total number of usable responses was 105.

Table 1: Number of Respondents, by Departments

Department               Number responses       Percent

1. Law Enforcement              51              51.5
2. Fire                         30              30.3
3. Other                        18              18.2
4. None indicated               6               Missing

Job Analyses

Eighty percent of the respondents reported using job analyses as the basis for employee selection tests. These analyses were conducted by the human resources department (55%), by the respondent's department (24%), by consultants (17%), or by a Civil Service Commission or similar activity (5%).(8)

Types of Selection(9) Tests

Table 2 shows the types of selection tests for four classes of positions defined as follows: (EX) Executive, department/agency chief and principal deputies. (MM) Middle management, those who report directly to the executive level. …

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