Assessment Centre Group Exercises
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A group exercise is an assessed discussion exercise that involves a small group of candidates (usually 8 to10 people), following a question posed by a member of a firm’s recruitment team.
Candidates are usually given some information relating to a business scenario before the group exercise begins, with a short amount of time available to read this and make notes. You will then be asked to join the other candidates, and you will all be briefed to discuss the information provided and reach a conclusion.
Normally, these exercises are restricted to about 10 minutes, so it is important to work fast.
A common variation is for each person in the group to be assigned an individual role and given some extra information only he/she sees, in addition to the common information.
The group exercise at an assessment centre will be observed by recruitment staff. The performance of each individual member will be strictly assessed and almost certainly rated in relation to a set of performance criteria or key competencies, such as leadership, enthusiasm or persuasiveness.
Crucially your assessors will be looking for evidence of:
- Logical arguments and strong communication skills
- Confidence/strength of character
- Commercial awareness
As such, it is very important that:
- You are not overbearing and don't interrupt others
- You are clear, concise and confident
- You are consistently positive in your approach and don't criticise or moan
- You include others and make sure everybody in the group has an equal opportunity to speak
- You make your points and if criticised, are prepared to stand up for yourself and diplomatically argue why your opinions are valid
- You do not sit quietly while other candidates make their points without making your own
- The group reaches a conclusion in the time allocated
Finding a way to stand out from the others is not easy – but represents the key to success.
Be inclusive and self-assess yourself about halfway through the interview.
You need to contribute otherwise interviewers will not be able to assess you. If you know that you are prone to being quiet – or quite dominant in a group – you may need to moderate your communication so that you include yourself and other people.
Make sure that you follow the instructions that are given to you at the start of the exercise – ensure that you link information back to the brief that you are given. Try and prioritise, and watch the time (but also make sure that you are accurate). It may be sensible not to use other people's names during the exercise unless you are 100% sure that you are correct.
Try to show your understanding of the firm’s services by relating these to the project (if possible). Do not make it obvious but try to 'work the room', involving everyone and motivating other people.
If available, use the whiteboard and try to establish a leadership role early on. Bring other people into the discussion by passing ideas around, stay focused on the objective and make it known that you are aware of the amount of time left and that there is a deadline. If you can, try to dictate the pace of the discussion in your favour, be confident and enthusiastic, and think carefully about your ideas before you voice them.
Tip: One of the surest ways to improve performance on the day is to get very familiar with how group exercises are structured. Your competency will get better and you'll feel less anxious in the real situation. You can practice for your assessment centre using providers such as JobTestPrep and Assessment Day.
Group exercises can take several different forms. Here we cover three of the most common:
You'll be given a brief, based on a realistic business scenario, with certain challenges to overcome.
Different members of the group may be told to act in a particular way, or represent a particular department, as part of their brief.
The aim is for the group to reach a satisfactory conclusion that the majority of the participants are happy with. See this article for more details on how to approach a case study.
If the company you are applying to is especially interested in the leadership qualities of its candidates, you may be asked to take it in turns to chair a roleplay meeting or lead a discussion group.
The key here is not to be too overbearing: you need to recognise the strong points of others in the team and delegate appropriately. Choose the best person for each task, and monitor rather than trying to get involved in everything.
This more informal task is self-explanatory: participants sit together and discuss specific topics, often news-based.
As such, it's always a good idea to read the regular news and financial news before the assessment centre. Be sure to listen carefully to what others say and make insightful replies. Don't be critical of others' opinions.
Assessment centre group exercises are used as one of the final stages of an application process, and they are most often seen in graduate program recruitment although they are used for some experienced professional roles too.
The assessment centre is usually a full day of exercises and interviews that includes several applicants, sometimes for different roles, and puts them into different situations where they can be assessed on certain skills, attributes and competencies that cannot easily be discovered through a CV, resume or psychometric testing.
In a group exercise, you will be put into a small group, usually eight to ten people, and asked to answer a question together. Sometimes this might be a case study based on a realistic work-related problem, or it might be a challenge like building the tallest tower out of office equipment.
During the group exercise, you will be assessed on soft skills like communication, listening, leadership and teamwork as well as your business acumen and knowledge of the company you have applied for.
Assessment centre group exercises can come in various forms, but they are usually based on finding a solution to a problem.
You might be given a case study based on something that you might come across when you are working in the business, with a detailed brief that you must discuss with others to find a conclusion. This is the type of group exercise that is most often used on the assessment day.
Some are more practical, where you will need to work together to create something – these are also used as team building exercises and need creativity as well as teamwork to be successful. You might be asked to build the tallest tower or work out a way to safely transport an egg from a high window to the ground.
Some group exercises are built around a scenario that needs you to role play to find a conclusion. In this case, members of the group will be given a brief about the type of person they are playing and need to work together to solve the issue.
There are also leadership group exercises, where candidates will need to take control of a situation and deal with varying problems, from staff issues to technical difficulties. This highlights a candidate's leadership style.
When you are taking part in an assessment centre group exercise, the questions that you will be asked are most likely to be related to the type of issues that you might face if you were working in the business.
Sometimes these come in the form of a case study – you might have a client’s financial portfolio that you and your team need to understand to be able to recommend the best investment strategy, or a customer might need some specialized help (based on the type of role that you have applied for).
With the case study, each group member will receive a brief that they will have time to read and analyze individually. Sometimes the information that every member receives is the same, but there are often briefs given out that have some extra or different information that you will need to share with the group.
After a short amount of time individually, the group will be asked to come together and discuss the problem to come to some sort of conclusion. Usually, there is not a lot of time allowed for this stage, so you need to stay focused, speak up, and ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and share their information.
To perform well in an assessment centre group exercise, one of the best things you can do is know what to expect.
Often there will be specific information about the assessment centre on the recruitment site of the business you have applied for, and you should use this as an essential resource to help you prepare.
Do your research about the business – Beef up your knowledge about the role you have applied for, the company itself and the industry as a whole so that you can insert this knowledge into the information you are given in the group exercise.
Practice the way you are going to speak – You need to speak clearly so that the group can hear you when you are sharing your information and your opinions. You should also practice an introduction.
Give yourself the best chance to make a good impression on the day – Dress smartly and appropriately, with a neat and clean appearance. Make sure that you arrive on time if not early for the day and take advantage of any opportunity to chat and get to know the recruiters as well as your fellow candidates.
It is not a competition – While you might think that you need to ‘beat’ the other applicants who are at the assessment centre, being overly competitive or critical of other people during the group exercise will make the recruiters view you negatively. Engage the other candidates as collaborators because you are all in this together.
In the assessment centre group exercise, you will be under constant assessment by the recruitment team – and they are looking for skills, competencies and abilities that are difficult to evaluate through psychometric assessments or even through interviews.
These so-called soft skills are essential for success and will help a recruiter know what your work behavior and personality are like and how well you will fit into the existing company culture.
These skills include:
- Speaking clearly
- Active listening
- Dealing with pressure
- Interpersonal skills (patience, empathy, diplomacy)
- Attention to detail
- Business acumen
- Company knowledge
- Personality traits (introvert/extrovert)
There are several different websites that you can use to get prepared for assessment centre group exercises so that you can feel confident on the day.
One of the first places you should look for preparation information is the company website of the business for which you have applied. Not only will this help in terms of general research, but companies often post detailed information about their recruitment processes, which includes what you should expect at the assessment centre.
If you need some more general information about group exercises, then this WikiJob article will give you some helpful tips and tricks that will make a difference.
There are several different tricks to performing well in an assessment centre group exercise, and you should be thinking about preparation before you arrive at the assessment day.
First, make sure you research the company, the role and the wider industry before you attend. Your business acumen and specific knowledge of the company that you have applied for will help you when you are given your brief for a case study or to answer a question.
Think about how you present yourself. Dress smartly, be neat and clean, and introduce yourself to everyone. Engage everyone, try and learn the other candidates’ names and be friendly and approachable.
In the exercise itself, you need to speak clearly and use active listening. Even if you are not used to speaking out in a group situation, the recruiters want to see that you are prepared to engage with the group to get to a conclusion.
The group exercise is usually timed, so stay focused on the task and finding the answers that you need to get to a conclusion. If you can take a leadership role and keep everyone on task this will work – if that suits your personality. Not everyone is a natural leader, but even if you aren’t taking charge, you can make sure that everyone contributes, which will impress the recruitment team.
Ideally, throughout the group exercise you need to demonstrate your personality, or at least the best parts of it so the recruitment team can see what type of person you are and how that translates to the world of work.
Throughout the activities at the assessment centre, the recruiters will be watching and assessing you to see how you perform.
To stand out in the group exercise portion of the day, there are different strategies that you can use – but they all come down to your interpersonal skills and how you work in a team.
Try and show the type of person you are in a group, but on your best day. If you are a natural leader, then take charge without being overbearing. If you prefer to add your opinion quietly, then try and speak up so you can be heard.
One of the best things that you can do is show that you include everyone and appreciate the input of every member of the group.
Try and memorize names and ensure that every person has the opportunity to speak and be listened to, make and maintain eye contact, and remember that there are no silly questions or wrong answers here.
The group exercise is usually timed, so staying on task and keeping the group focused can often be a big issue for the assessors. If you can appoint yourself as the timekeeper and keep track of what needs to be completed you will show that you are organized and able to manage projects in a timely way.
As the assessment centre often brings together candidates for several separate roles, one of the first things that will happen is that you will need to introduce yourself.
The introduction is sometimes used as an ice breaker, but it is an effective way to get to know who you are sharing the experience with and for you to give a succinct roundup of who you are and what you have achieved.
The best way to do this is to create yourself what is known as an elevator pitch – a short, 60-second summary of your greatest hits.
Start with your name, and your most recent qualification, then think of some things you have achieved. It needs to sound natural and not gimmicky, so practice and rehearse it so you aren’t hesitating or trying to throw in jokes – you want to be warm but also professional.
When you are introducing yourself to the room, breathe, smile, and make eye contact – try to exude confidence even if you are feeling nervous. Also, keep in mind that you are still being assessed on this part of the day, so give yourself the best chance to make a good impression by knowing what you want to say about yourself.
It is normal to feel nervous, but if you can stay calm during the assessment centre group exercise you will be able to give your best performance.
There are some things that you can do to help you stay calm, and one of the most useful is that everyone else in the room is just as nervous as you are, so you have something in common already.
Make the best of this by getting to know the people that you will be working with as this will help you feel more comfortable, and it will help them too. You are a team at this point, not competitors, and this rapport building is also something that the recruiters will be looking for during the day.
The recruitment team that are present at the assessment centre will understand that you are nervous and make allowances for it – but although you might be feeling the pressure on the day, try giving yourself over to the different exercises and really immersing yourself in what is going on.
This will help you focus more on the excitement than the nerves and help you present yourself in the best light.
Eat and drink well before you arrive and throughout so that you aren’t thinking about being hungry or feeling unwell. There are usually drinks available at the venue and lunch will be provided, but a good breakfast is important.
Remember to breathe deeply, relax the tension in your shoulders, and smile. Just little physical changes that you make to your posture will make all the difference in how calm you feel – and you can do this at any point in the day, whether during the group exercise or in an interview.
After you have completed the assessment centre group exercise and the other activities on the day, the recruitment team will often let you know when you can expect to get notified of the results and whether you have been successful.
This is usually a week or two, but in some cases, it can be longer. If you aren’t given a time frame, then it is a good idea to allow five or so working days before you get in touch.
If you don’t hear back within the time frame (plus a buffer of one or two days), then you can send an email to follow up.
In this email, make sure that you are concise, use an appropriate subject line and thank the recruiter for the experience. Remind them of something memorable about your application or your performance in the group exercise, and then end with contact information.
If you haven’t got the contact details for the recruiter, then you can send this to the HR department, but be aware that they might not have the information about your application to hand and might need to refer you to the recruitment team instead.
It is important to remember that in some cases you might not get any response if you have been unsuccessful even at this late stage, but it is reasonable to assume that you will get some feedback even if you do not get a job offer.