Group exercise

A group exercise is an assessed discussion exercise that involves a small group of candidates (usually 8-10 people), following a question posed by a member of a firm’s recruitment team. Group exercises occur frequently at a graduate assessment day.

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.

Group exercise

Finding a way to stand out from the others is not easy - but represents the key to success.

What will you be assessed for at a group exercise?

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:

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.

How to be a top performer in a group exercise

Be inclusive and self-assess yourself about halfway through the interview. You need to contribute, since 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 lead 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.

Different types of group exercise

Group exercises can take several different forms. Here we cover three of the most common:

Case study exercise

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.

Leadership exercise

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.

Discussion exercise

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.

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