Assessment Centres – the group part

At some point in your career journey, you may find yourself having to attend an assessment centre. This is where employers assess how suitable you are for a particular role, by seeing you use the skills / competencies they require for the job.

On an application form or at interview, employers will ask you questions to get a sense of your skills. At an assessment centre, on the other hand, you will be asked to take part in a series of practical activities or tasks (often using mock business scenarios) so recruiters can actually observe how you use skills like team working in a business context. These activities may include presentations, debates, e-tray exercises, written exercises, psychometric tests, analysing case studies or group exercises. An assessment centre could be for an hour or for 2 days and could include any combination of the above tasks.

Group exercises tend to be the most misunderstood of tasks at assessment centres, as candidates struggle to find the right balance between
a) taking charge, making their opinions heard and trying to take the lead
b) taking a step back, listening and allowing others to take the lead.

Too much of one and you are too dominant, too much of the other and you could be seen as a doormat.

Working within a group is never as straightforward as it seems, due to the range of character types you could be working with… and let’s face it: some people may be more comfortable with working independently. Nevertheless the ability to work effectively as part of a team is an inescapable necessity when it comes to the work place – so it is important to become aware of what employers will be looking for!

Why a group exercise?

Group exercises are used by employers to assess much more than just your ability to work within a group or as part of a team. They are also used to assess your social, communication, leadership and critical thinking skills as well as how confident and influential you can be. This is not to forget those all-important interpersonal skills – i.e. listening, persuading, diplomacy, mediation and patience!

How do you prepare?

Many people struggle to understand how it is that you can actually prepare for this kind of activity – and the answer is there is no simple technique! A lot of what you’re expected to portray within a group exercise is much to do with the kind of person that you are. Nevertheless, an awareness of what they are looking for will help. Start could be to put yourself in the position of the employer and ask yourself what it is that YOU would like to see from a candidate. Do not base this on personal expectation, but on what you have gathered about the company through your research. This leads perfectly on to the next point, RESEARCH! Know the employer and know what sort of skills they may be looking out for. It is very important to establish a familiarity with your potential employers – browse their websites; read their publications follow them on twitter!

As an end note, always remember that an important part of working within a team is being able to make valid contributions,  but is also being able to encourage others to contribute – show the assessor that you can do these things, because the assessors can only judge you on what they see!

So, in a nutshell….

What is it?
Working with a group of candidates to make an object or discuss a given topic

What do they want?
Time management skills, an awareness of others, problem-solving skills, creativity

Get it right by…
Working with the best ideas even if they aren’t yours, encouraging other candidates, maintaining a sense of humour

Get it wrong by…
Not listening to other candidates, not saying anything, running out of time


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