The first use of assessment centers dates back to World War I when Germany used the method to select their officers. During World War II, the practice was adopted by the United States’ Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to help them objectively select both military and civilian recruits for espionage activities.
In the 1950s, American Telegraph & Telephone (AT&T) became the first private sector company to use assessment centers as a method of assessing its managers’ potential. Dr Douglas Bray, in his role as director of human resources at AT&T, directed a landmark 25-year study that followed the careers of managers as they progressed up the company ranks.
The study showed that the assessment center method could successfully predict a person’s success in a particular job. Assessment centers were subsequently implemented throughout AT&T and the method later adopted by many other companies such as IBM, Sears, Standard Oil, GE, and J.C. Penney.
Assessment centers came to Europe through the subsidiaries of these major American groups and some British companies. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the concept of behaviour analysis for recruiting graduates or sales personnel caught on in France. Air France, Carrefour and Monoprix were some of the first companies to test assessment centers.
Today, the assessment center method is used by organisations all over the world in both private and public sectors as a means to better select employees and identify their areas for development. This assessment approach is based on professional role plays and observations of behaviours including expertise and interpersonal communication skills.
In 1975, the first guidelines on the use of assessment centers was created as a statement of the considerations believed to be most important for all users of the assessment center method. Developed and endorsed by specialists in the research, development, and implementation of assessment centers, the guidelines ensure the integrity of the process, the validity of the data, qualifications of assessors, and the rights of the participants. The guidelines have since been revised several times to reflect current legality issues, global insights, and technological advances in the field.
 The most current version of the Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations was endorsed by the 38th International Congress on Assessment Methods in Alexandria, Virginia in October 2014.
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