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Assessment Centre Group Exercises

Group exercises are used to measure how you behave in a situation which simulates an aspect of the role for which you are applying. From an employer’s perspective, they are useful because they can reveal aspects about your behaviour, which would not normally be revealed from an interview.

What will the group exercise involve?

In a typical group exercise, the group will be presented with a fictional scenario which requires analysis, collaboration and resolution. Typically, the scenario is business-related; for example, the scenario might involve a struggling retailer which is considering different options for reviving its profits. Here, your group task would be to present the best way forward.

In most group exercises, the candidates are deliberately not assigned a particular role. This is done to identify who is a leader, who is a facilitator, and who is an ideas generator, etc. Always remember that the assessors are not looking for the person who shouts the loudest, or talks the most. If roles are not assigned, try not to impose your ideas of who should do what; instead, ask if anyone would like to volunteer to take a particular role.

In other assessment centre group exercises, candidates are sometimes assigned roles, such as 'co-ordinator', 'client', ' regulator' or 'chairman'. In these cases, make sure you stick to your role and try to negotiate the best outcome for your character and for the group. At some point in the real job, you will inevitably have to fight for a view which you do not necessarily hold. This type of assigned-role group exercise is designed to assess how good you are at this.

A good tip is to focus the group’s attention on the objectives set by the exercise. It’s easy to go along with the flow and lose track of the objectives. A gentle reminder to the group, along with an awareness of time, will show that you are focused on the objectives that have been set.

How should I behave?

Depending on what job you’re applying for, you will most likely encounter different personalities at the assessment centre. You should demonstrate that you can get on well with all of them, as this is a desirable skill to have as an employee.

If someone is overbearing and dominating during your group exercise, try to get them to listen to the other candidates. If someone is quiet or reserved during your group exercise, make a point of asking their opinion. This sort of collaborative behaviour will get recognised by the assessors. Think about it from the assessors’ perspective; what sort of person would they want to work with?

Many candidates in a group exercise fall into the trap of wanting to own the conversation and speak the most, regardless of the quality of their contribution. This will not score you highly. In fact, you will get a lot more recognition from the assessors by tactfully getting these types of people to shut up for a minute and let others contribute.

The group exercise will have at least one assessor in the room. Try to ignore them and certainly don't engage them. Also, bear in mind that you can only be marked for behaviour which the assessors see. Therefore, if you have a valid point, make sure you articulate it to the group.

During less formal moments of the assessment day, such as the lunch, make an effort to bond with the other candidates, as this will help put you at ease with them during the group exercise.

A good way of showing professionalism and courtesy during the group exercise is to refer to the other candidates by their name, instead of saying: “He thinks this.”

How are group exercises assessed?

The assessors in the group exercise will be scoring each candidate against a set of competencies. It is important that you have an idea, in the back of your mind, of what these competencies might be. Indeed, some employers will even tell you what they are looking for. An example set of competencies might be: analytical skills; assertiveness; customer orientation; collaboration; influencing; and creativity. Sometimes the original job description will give you an idea of the sort of competencies the employer will be looking for.

After your group exercise, it’s important not to become down-heartened if you feel that you have not performed your best. Keep focused and turn your attention to the next exercise. Throughout the assessment day you are very unlikely to be discounted on the basis of your performance in one exercise; the assessors will weigh up your scores from each exercise in a matrix and come to a decision based on your overall performance from all assessments.

The author has experience of assessing group exercises and works for AssessmentDay

Assessment Day