Group exercises

There are many types of group exercise used at assessment centres. In this chapter, we aim to explain a bit about them all, and how to perform well. Typical competencies measured in the group exercise are:

  • 1. Analytical Thinking
  • 2. Achieving Goals
  • 3. Assertiveness
  • 4. Creativity
  • 5. Interpersonal Effectiveness
  • 6. Oral Communication
  • 7. Teamwork

Group exercises at assessment centres are measuring your ability to work in a team, contribute, delegate, and solve problems. Assessors are looking for candidates who can listen to other people's ideas, be positive, and articulate their own ideas. In short, they measure the skills which are useful in a real working environment. Hopefully you can see why an assessment centre is more useful to the employer than a simple interview; how else would they find out that you have a worrying tendency to start sulking when colleagues disagree with you!

Remember you can be marked for only what the assessors see. If you have a good thought, make sure you articulate it.

You may have heard all sorts of wacky stories from other people about what they were made to do at an assessment centre, but modern assessment centre group exercises tend now to follow a format which simulates the sort of work you will have to do in the job. The days of building bridges out of Lego and paper cups are coming to an end, in favour of case study type exercises which are a more fair and accurate assessment. Legally, the employer should be assessing only skills which are relevant to the job role you are applying for.

If you notice a member of the group is getting ignored, make a point of asking them their thoughts. This will score you points for demonstrating fairness and collaborative team working skills.

During the case study, the group at your assessment centre will be presented with a scenario or a business problem. It might be a struggling supermarket that needs a way to survive, it might be a natural disaster which needs cleaning up and dealing with. The scenarios are varied but whatever the exercise is, it will require team work and collaborative discussion with the other candidates at your assessment centre.

The group exercise will have an assessor in the room; try to ignore them and certainly don't engage them. The assessor will be watching to see if you can participate in group negotiations, think on your feet, behave courteously towards your peers, act confidently without being dominant, and encouraging of others in your group. Overall, they are assessing how you will perform in everyday working life, which involves getting on with people in a group. Often discreet cameras are recording the exercises so that your performances can be re-watched by assessors.

Free Group Exercise Download

Group exercises, sometimes called group discussions, are a common exercise used by employers. Each group exercise will vary in its detail, but the style and format tend to follow a common format. We have designed a typical style of group exercise, which you can download below. Feel free to download the exercise, print it out and sit the exercise with friends or colleagues. Please respect our copyright though; if you want to use this for anything other than personal use you will need our permission.

Icebreaker group exercises

One of the first things candidates might be faced with at their assessment centre is an icebreaker exercise. The most common format for this is to ask the assessment centre attendees to spend 5-10 minutes finding out about the person next to them, and then tell the rest of the group about that person (a twist on the classic "tell everyone a little about yourself"). This is a good way to get candidates chatting to each other, and for the group to feel more familiar with everyone. Other typical ice-breaker exercises include "tell the group something about yourself which not many people know" or "tell the group something interesting about yourself".

Try to chat to and become familiar with the other candidates at the assessment centre (perhaps at the lunch, or meet and greet sessions). This will help you relax in the group exercises, and will increase your confidence in negotiating with them.

Treat this time as a good warm-up exercise because there will not be any marks riding on this exercise. This is a good time to project on other candidates that you're a friendly approachable person to talk to, because you want them on your side during the exercises.

What assessors look for in group exercises

A good way of showing professionalism and courtesy is to use people's names during the group exercise.

To perform well in a group exercise it helps to know what the assessor is looking for. It's worth saying straight away that they probably are not looking for someone who dominates proceedings. Many candidates at an assessment centre fall into the trap of wanting to own the conversation and speak for the longest, regardless of the quality of their contribution. This will not get you many marks. In fact you will get a lot more marks by tactfully getting these type of people to shut up for a minute and let others contribute.

What Assessors Look For:

Throughout the assessment centre try to keep in mind how you would behave in a business environment. The assessors are essentially measuring how well you would contribute to the employer's business. Before any assessment centre group exercise, think about how you come across in relation to the following qualities.

  • 1. Are you taking on board everyone's input?
  • 2. What balance do you strike between letting go insignificant asides and making sure everyone agrees on important issues?
  • 3. How do you deal with quiet people?
  • 4. Would the discussion benefit from some structure, and how are you for time?
  • 5. Are you talking for talking's sake? Has your contribution helped solve the problem?
  • 6. Do you criticise or encourage input from others?
  • 7. How convincing are you? Do you speak with conviction?
  • 8. Can you think on your feet when presented with an issue?
  • 9. Can you recognise a good idea, and how do you tactfully deal with weak ideas?
  • 10. Do you take time to contemplate the problem or are you too busy talking?
  • 11. Have the group strayed from the original exercise brief?

Whilst it is important to demonstrate your abilities, try to forget the assessors are there. Candidates who look at the assessors or play-up their actions are at risk of exaggerating their true attributes and it doesn't reflect well. Most candidates find they get so involved in the assessment centre exercises that they actually forget the assessors are there.

Whilst marks are available for teamworking skills, lots of marks are awarded for contributing genuinely good ideas to the discussion. Think of a good point and make it.

Assigned roles vs. open group discussion

In most group exercises, the candidates are deliberately not assigned a particular role. This is done to see who naturally is a leader, a facilitator, an ideas generator, etc. Remember that the assessors are not looking for the person who shouts the loudest, or talks the most. The type of behaviour they are looking for will depend on what competencies the company has decided are important. Think of a valuable point to make, make it, and avoid being either the loud and shouty one or the quiet and subservient one.

In other assessment centre group activities 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. At some point in the real job you will inevitably have to fight for a view not necessarily held by you. This assessment centre exercise is designed to measure how good you are at this.

Treat other candidates as though they are future colleagues. This will improve your rapport with the group and prevent you falling into the trap of thinking you're in competition with them.

If the exercise does not stipulate specific roles to individuals, be careful not to tell other candidates what role they should adopt. You will be seen as bossy if you say "you should be the presenter...". Instead try "does anyone have any strong feelings about being the presenter" and wait for volunteers. It is poor leadership to assign roles to people before you have any idea of their skills, so avoid it.

Group exercises are often video recorded. It should be easy to forget about the cameras because they will be discreet.

In all group exercises, try to avoid ending up as the scribe. It is tempting to offer to write minutes of the group exercise, but the danger with this is that you divert time and attention away from showing the assessors what you are like. Does the task actually require any written record of your group discussion? Often there is no need to have written content in the outcome of a group exercise; what matters is agreeing on a decision. In which case just jot down a few bullet points to help talk through your findings, nothing more. If you do end up as scribe make sure to capture the discussion of the group, not just your own thoughts.

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