Three Things to Consider When Moving Brick & Mortar Assessment Centers Online


As the popularity of virtual assessment centers increases, more and more organizations and consultancies are moving their brick and mortar assessment centers online. Last year, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study found that 66% of North American companies already use virtual assessment centers. But the transition is not as simple as one might think. Here are the three biggest considerations.

The main reasons for this digital transformation of the assessment center practice are enhanced efficiency, lower cost, and better representation of today’s jobs. There are several software platforms built specifically for delivering virtual assessment centers that streamline many administrative and assessor processes and better simulate how employees actually perform their jobs – using email, video conference, voicemail, and chat. Click here to see an example. 

But moving from the traditional, brick and mortar model is not that straight-forward. Here are the three main things to consider as you move your assessment centers online:

1. What’s the business case?

Whether you are buying assessment centers from a consulting firm, running internal assessment centers within a corporation, or running a consultancy, your most important driver is probably increased efficiency. The administrative burden of assessment centers is high and technology can certainly help to reduce it – technology can manage assessors’ schedules, let participants self-schedule, and administer the entire center without a pile of papers and binders. Additional cost-savings include travel and lodging for participants, assessors, and administrators; facilities cost; and decreased number of assessor hours per participant with streamlined assessor processes (like integration discussions and report writing). At the same time, technology makes the assessment center globally scalable, capable of reaching more participants, at more times, and in wider geographic locations. With technology, the assessment center no longer has to be an event that participants have to wait for, it can be a service offered on a daily basis.

These technological enhancements can drive the overall cost of the assessment center down by as much as 80%, while increasing capacity of the center and its geographic reach. For consultancies, this results in increased profits for their services. But there is a flip side – if the purpose of your center is networking, exposure to executives, team-building, or a rite of passage, then the online option may not be right for you as you lose some of the super high-touch, pampered feel.

2. Should you use your own assessors?

Once you implement technology, it changes the quality of experience for assessors. They go from in-person interactions with participants at a nice location to sitting alone in their offices and rating pre-recorded videos; from attending a two-day off-site event a few times per year to blocking off hours in their calendar and automatically receiving role-play and scoring appointments. That’s a very different experience from what your managers, executives, or senior consultants are used to as assessors.

Then there is the question of accuracy. Research shows that professional assessors (like psychologists) provide more accurate and unbiased ratings of participants then line managers (Lievens, 2002). Of course, managers’ involvement in the assessment center is critical to ensure buy-in but perhaps in virtual centers, their role is better suited as coaches helping participants digest feedback and create development plans.

For consultancies, this question has far bigger implications as it directly touches their business model. There is certainly great value in the expertise of senior consultants – their ability to integrate assessment results and interpret them from the perspective of the clients’ context. Many consultancies do elect to use their own consultants as assessors also in the online model to preserve the core value they provide for their clients.

3. Should you move your existing exercises?

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to move your exercises online exactly as they are. Depending on the platform you choose, the assessment center exercises will need to follow a particular format and you may find that some exercises (like the leaderless group discussion) are very difficult to administer in an online environment. Most virtual assessment centers follow the day-in-the-life model and so require that the exercises are linked under the same scenario. Additionally, it’s very difficult to make quick, in-time adjustments to the process when participants and assessors are geographically dispersed, and so the virtual assessment center has to be well designed and bullet-proof from the gecko.

There is, of course, benefit in having custom content that closely reflects the realities of the target role and company. However, there is also something to be said about the validity and benchmarks of the off-the-shelf content. Establishing validity of any custom content takes time and money and you might even be disappointed by the results – meta-analyses point to the decreasing predictive validity of assessment centers (Arthur et al., 2006) and increasing adverse impact (Dean et al., 2008). If knowing that the center is a good measure of competencies, predicts performance, and limits adverse impact is more important to you, than you should consider using off-the-shelf content.

The digital transformation of assessment center practice is in full swing but moving to an online model isn’t as straight forward. There are several factors to consider, including the business case, role of managers and consultants as assessors, and transitioning existing content vs. using off-the-shelf exercises. Each side has its benefits and drawbacks and the trick is in finding the right balance for your company.  


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About the Author

Martin Lanik is the CEO of Pinsight, a virtual assessment center platform. Pinsight virtual assessment center evaluates the competencies needed to execute specific business strategies, predicts when leaders will be ready to execute those strategies, facilitates continuous development, and tracks improvement of abilities in real-time. More than 100 companies - including AIG and CenturyLink – have implemented their programs, which have been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Chief Executive, Chief Learning Officer, and Martin holds a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Colorado State University. Learn more at

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