Assessment Centres: things to be aware of in a Group Exercise

group of students

For those of you who have been invited to an Assessment Centre, which includes a Group Exercise, or if you just want to find out a bit more about this than read on…

Assessment Centres are used by employers during the recruitment process, as a way for them to determine a candidate’s suitability for a role by testing them through various different tasks and activities. One of the popular activities used by employers is the ‘Group Exercise’. So how you can perform well on this?

First of all the Task…

If you go for an Assessment Centre which includes a group exercise, the employer will set you a task or exercise. This will vary depending on the type of company and role you have applied for. For example, if it is a sales role, the exercise may be related to selling or promoting a product. You will be placed in a group with a few of the other candidates. Now the important thing to remember is you are being observed all the time and the purpose is for the assessor’s to see how well you work in a team.

Have a think about how you might be able to gain the attention of the assessors (for the right reasons of course). If you feel confident this might be by putting yourself forward as the team leader. Alternatively you could offer to be take notes or to be in charge of time. Remember, you don’t want to be domineering but likewise if you sit and say nothing the assessors will have nothing to note down about you.

Three areas or competencies that the assessors will focus on during a group exercise include:


Body Language

Team Work


One of the key competencies that the assessors will look out for is how you communicate with the other team members; the way you talk, listen and respond. When you are talking speak with a clear voice and talk to each member of the team so that you’re not facing just one person.

Listen to what others have to say and perhaps write down any key points if this will help you to remember. Ask questions if you can, to show that you are participating in the group discussions and have an interest in the opinions of others. Be involved by bringing ideas to the table which will hopefully open up conversations within the group.

Body Language

In a Group Exercise the assessors may not always be listening in on the conversations in your group, they might just be observing from a distance, so as well as actually listening and participating in the group exercise, you have to also show that you’re doing this by using your body language.

You can do this by using hand gestures when you are talking or describing something. When someone else is talking show that you’re listening by facing the person, nodding your head when you agree with their comments and keeping eye contact. Think about good posture. Sit up straight and try not to fidget with your hands or get distracted by something else in the room. If you have to stand up and talk or present to your group stand up straight, use hand gestures, talk to the audience by facing them and talk in a clear voice.

Team Work

The Group Exercise will involve working with others together in a team, to achieve the goals of the task that has been set. This can sometimes be difficult in a competitive environment, as at the end of the day you are competing with one another for the job. However it is important to show that you can work well with others in a team.

Try not to be too assertive or dominant; even if you have been assigned ‘team leader’ you need to show that you can listen and take on board the views of others, even if you don’t agree with their opinion. If another team member is being overbearing, try to ask a question to pause that person and give them time to think, which will also bring others into the discussion. The last thing you would want is for any friction or arguments to arise within the group, so be understanding.

If you find another group member to be too quiet or not  involved, try and bring them into the conversation by maybe asking them something like ‘so what do you think of this…’ this will show the assessors that you are including others and encouraging them to participate in the team.

One thing to bear in mind is to keep track of the time. The exercise will have a time limit but that will be easy to lose sight of when you are caught up in discussion. Make sure you have come to a decision before time runs out.

And lastly….try to be calm, relaxed and comfortable throughout. Enjoy the experience; if anything it will be a great opportunity for you to learn and develop on your skills.

Fahmee Habib
Information Assistant
QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre


Graduating into Insurance

Yazmin photoWe recently had the pleasure of introducing Yazmin Lauren Doughty Gachette, the student ambassador from the fast-growing insurance company Catlin, to our students at Queen Mary. Afterwards, we spoke to Yazmin about how she is progressing from a politics degree at Queen Mary into insurance.

How did you get the job? Well, as a politics student I knew I didn’t have a lot of City experience, so I made sure I got an internship.  In the summer at the end of my second year I did more than one. Including a week at PwC as well as an internship at Catlin. I also had some work experience in a building society.  Out of all of these, I think the internship with Catlin made the biggest difference because over eight weeks I got to learn a lot about how the company works and how the insurance business works.

What did you do on the internship? The first week is an intensive course on the insurance market – lots of good lectures that explain how it all works.  The rest of the time I was working in the stream I’d applied for, Human Resources. During my time at Catlin, I worked on various projects that involved working with people from across the business, both within the UK and globally. I also had an on going project that involved me researching the company intranet and making proposals to the senior HR team about how it could be improved; many of the suggestions are now being considered for implementation. I also worked with my line manager to research, and then gain, Catlin its Living Wage Accreditation, which was extremely rewarding. Across the streams, the interns had various projects to deliver on varying scales. One finance intern had to conduct a video conference to senior managers across the globe and explain a section of the half-year financial report.

What difference did the internship make?  Well I think understanding the business was important.  Beyond this developing confidence around a professional environment was key.  Things you never learn on a course: how to organise a meeting, book rooms, send out invitations, making sure the room is ‘prepped’ and, of course, talking to senior people. I really got to understand the company as well – what is important to them and what makes them different.

What tips do you have for applicants? I think the main thing for any application is to be clear in your head why you want to apply for that role, company and field. They’ll know that you’ve probably applied to more than one internship/graduate programme, which could be for different roles and sectors. Usually, the first few questions for any assessment centre or telephone interview (sometimes both) are: Why Catlin? Why Insurance? Why Underwriting? You should be able to answer these concisely without rambling.

  • To really understand the company, follow news stories for both the sector and the company. Sector changes could include market conditions (without being too technical, but just very generally, e.g. the economy is not yet back to pre-2008 levels, or, with the recent airline crashes, 2014 has been a tough year for the aviation insurance industry – you just need an awareness). It could also include new legislation (once again not being too technical), that will affect how the company operates (could be recent EU legislation or changes to the budget)! You could subscribe to Insurance Day for general sector knowledge – not too sure on their price but I think there is a free trial.
  • Company wise, follow their charity events. Catlin is very big on their Catlin Seaview Survey project, which conducts scientific research about coral reefs. The company also support local schools in East London like St Paul’s Way Trust, so have an awareness of the work they do there. Follow key changes to the board – if the day before your telephone interview or assessment centre there is a major board change (for example), it would be good to be aware of this. Follow new offices opening. I found that a good way to do this is to type in the company into Google and then click ‘news’; that way you can get a range of sources which have reported on a range of issues to do with the company.
  • Many companies have ‘values’, so be sure you understand what they are and what they mean to the company. Have clear examples of how you have demonstrated these values – don’t make all your examples from university, try and have some from part-time work or friendship groups or volunteering for example. This is really how they judge if you will fit in to the company culture. After some of my assessment centres, I got feedback that though I displayed good qualities they felt I wouldn’t fit in with their culture. I think this is most likely to be as a result of my answers to the values questions.
  • With underwriting, you have to show that you are confident and approachable because you need to attract business (brokers) and build rapport easily. Different companies like to have this demonstrated in different ways. I know Catlin doesn’t like this to come across in an arrogant way.
  • Get a feel for the sector by researching other insurance companies – such as Hiscox, Aon, Beazley, Ascot, Liberty, Argo and Kiln – so you understand what makes Catlin different. Research LLoyd’s of London, too (the ‘marketplace’ in which all of the above syndicates underwrite business):

Yazmin, you have also had experience of lots of different assessment centres. What are your tips from these experiences?  It is true that I applied for lots of internships and went to lots of assessment centres – between seven and ten before I got accepted. This included lots in the finance sector … companies such as Schroders, PWC, HSBC, M & G Investments as well as Catlin.

I have to say at first my experience was really daunting.  The first one took place in a strange city to me, Birmingham, and I had to spend a night in a hotel which had a great view of where the assessment centre was going to be taking place the next day! That didn’t do my nerves any good.  The main thing about this first, pretty disastrous, experience was it demonstrated the need to prepare on company and sector knowledge. I knew about the company values, but I hadn’t got enough knowledge of the company – their share price, what was happening in their Shanghai office, for example, and I couldn’t place this news in a bigger context – at that time scandals like LiBOR were rocking the sector.

Another one went awry because I didn’t read instructions properly.  A written exercise was meant to read like a narrative report and I submitted a bullet-pointed briefing paper. I know others also made basic mistakes – one applicant told me she hadn’t thought to turn over the page to get the full instructions.

The M&G one was interesting – it worked better because I got through to the next round after my written exercise, I have to say I was surprised!  I had to pick a company and write about what a company is doing to adapt to the modern world. You were given time but no research facilities such as the internet.  I wrote a piece about Apple.  I didn’t think it was that good, but it got me through to the next round.

I got a lot better at assessment centres – SHL provide material for most of them so you can get a good idea how they go with practice.  The other tip I have is about the group exercises. I think it is pretty important to make sure you speak up fairly soon in the group exercise, but you don’t have to completely dominate the group.  What they are looking for is people who can interact well and listen as well as get their point across.  In one assessment centre we all had to make a case for a particular course of action.  It would not have gone well if I had got attached to my recommendation being chosen. It’s all about negotiation and working together.

Useful Links

The website for the summer internship programme is here: – the essential links to Insurance careers

Discover Risk The Chartered Insurance Institute site with jobs, news and case studies

My journey from QProjects to the Department for International Development: Part 2

Anum Ahmed is an English graduate from QMUL, and has recently featured on our Employability video. In a two part post she will tell us about her journey from doing a QProject to gaining a place the Department for International Development graduate scheme.



“Queen Mary University was the key to my future and I can certainly say that the QM Careers Service was there as a guiding light!  Having secured a graduate scheme placement at the end of my degree I now think it’s the perfect time to reflect on how I got here!

Within my first year I was eager to start building my CV and was thrilled to work as a QProject leader at the Ragged School Museum and StudentVoice (a national charity campaigning for democratic education).  Through my role as a project training officer at StudentVoice I discovered my passion for driving social and economic change which helped me attain my first ever graduate scheme placement at DFID.

The most important thing that I’ve learned after writing one application after another is that graduate scheme employers are looking for students who can represent the organisation’s values and core competencies.  In other words, a strong application requires scenarios of valuable work experience where you can highlight key competencies including communication, teamwork and leadership skills. What I’m getting at is the fact that you can utilise your time at university to accumulate these transferable skills that can then be highlighted within your application!

So how did I learn about the graduate schemes that were out there and which one was right for me?  Well, my most vital resource in the third year of my degree was ‘The Times 100 Top Graduate Employers 2013-2014’ book, available for free from the Careers Centre. Once I thoroughly analysed the book I shortlisted a number of attractive organisations and created a chart outlining their application deadlines. The application process for graduate schemes do vary depending on the organisation; however it’s certain that you’ll need to complete an application form, online psychometric tests and an assessment day.  My top tip would be to begin revising for these psychometric tests in the summer of your second year to familiarise yourself with the format of these particular tests.  I found the practice tests provided by the Careers service very useful – so definitely start practising early!

Anum Ahmed DFID

Preparing for the Assessment Day

Next up was the assessment day which includes a group exercise, an interview and, depending on the organisation, you may also be asked to complete more psychometric tests on the day.  As I had no idea what an assessment day was or how to prepare for one I decided to consult the QMUL Careers Centre.  As always the staff there were reassuring and advised that I attend the mock assessment days held on campus by recruiters such as TeachFirst and KPMG.  These events are notified on the Careers events page throughout the year and best of all they’re totally free!  Both of these mock assessment days helped me with my confidence and communication skills.  I also learned that the first thing to do within a group exercise is to acquire a position of responsibility.  There’s a ton of roles you can take on from being a scribe, a time keeper or a mediator but the key thing is to stay involved and focused throughout the 30 minute exercise.  During my group exercise at the DFID assessment day I was asked to work with 6 people to discuss a question and we then had to present our answers on a flipchart.  Although I volunteered to be a scribe I made sure that I was also communicating my ideas to my teammates and using the right terminology.  Remember the group exercise is where you can showcase your knowledge about the organisation so it’s crucial that you do lots of research before attending the assessment day.  Go online and read up on the company’s latest projects, their organisational structure and their values!

For all students attending an assessment day my top tip would be that you should always be yourself and try to balance your leadership and team-working skills in the group exercise.  Organisations are always looking for individuals who can use their initiative to resolve challenges but also want someone who can listen and cooperate with their teammates.  These are traits they want to see in their potential employees so it’s vital that you demonstrate them at the assessment day.  It’s not a case of who shouts the loudest at the table but instead you have to try to observe closely to the task at hand and offer viable solutions.  A useful technique is to compliment your teammates when they offer an interesting idea; this shows that you are good at building professional relationships.

Preparing for the Interview

I can certainly say that without my practice interview at the Careers Centre I wouldn’t have attained a place on the DFID graduate development scheme.  I booked a practice interview with the politics Careers Consultant and he offered me all sorts of terrific advice on how I should prepare for my interview.  One of the major things I learned was the STAR method involved in coherently answering interview questions.  It was great to know that the Careers Consultant knew all about the organisation and had actually worked with them.

The rest is down to you!  The QMUL Careers Centre are there to give you that extra push when you need it the most and when it’s time to say goodbye your dream placement they will be waiting for you!  Remember to be persistent and passionate.  If you get rejected, learn from that experience and reapply.  Good luck!”

‘I just can’t do numerical reasoning!’: What to do when you can’t pass recruitment tests

Often in my role at the Careers & Enterprise Centre I speak to students who are anxious about upcoming psychometric tests or assessment centres. Sometimes – they might have failed previous psychometric tests or underperformed at assessment centre tasks. We have a range of information and advice we can provide to prepare, but you might always want to have a think about your other options.

Why do employers use assessment centres?

Many large organisations use these types of recruitment practices as a way of filtering, in a cost-effective way, the thousands of applications they get for their vacancies. However, a large proportion of the UK workforce is actually employed by SMEs (small to medium enterprises). Because smaller companies receive fewer applicants they tend to have more flexible recruitment practices. SMEs are not an easy option, and you may still have to sit certain skills tests: it’s just that if you might have more opportunity to shine when applying to a smaller organisation. In fact, speculative applications are a great way of finding work in an SME. Which leads me to my next point…

Recruitment Flexibility

To ensure standardisation of its recruitment, large companies may have set hiring practices with managers unable to deviate from these norms. They may have specialised recruitment staff so that the person who hires you is not necessarily the person you’ll be working under. This is often designed to rule out accusations of bias or discrimination, but it also can sometimes mean less chance for you to demonstrate your personality. Smaller companies tend to have more flexibility in this regard. So if you make a good impression on the interviewer, they are more likely to be able to hire you based on their own judgement.


As an anonymous applicant – one among hundreds if not thousands – one way for a large organisation to try to glean more about your personality and abilities is via psychometric testing and assessment centre tasks. A way to avoid these practices is by making yourself known to an employer before applying for a position. Again, this works better with SMEs, but even large companies are more likely to hire you for a permanent role if you have already interned for them, because they know who you are. Indeed, in certain sectors, such as the creative industries, recruitment is done almost entirely by personal connection and reputation. So use the power of social media to get talking to people.

You haven’t failed

I understand that, if you’ve had your mind set on a particular job or a particular company, it can be hard to accept that you just might not be able to pass their tests. I’ve seen a number of students who find this demoralising. But instead of feeling like a failure think of this as an opportunity to reassess your job hunting plan. Also consider: if you are struggling with the way a company recruits, would you actually be happy working at that organisation anyway? You never know – by accepting you limitations and focusing on your strengths you might find a job much more suited to you.

Dealing with interview disasters

If you have watched enough repeats of the TV sitcom, ‘Friends’, you might remember ‘The One With Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss’. In that episode, Rachel’s interviewer had been signalling that Rachel had pen ink on the side of her mouth, but Rachel took it as an invitation for closer contact. Cue mortification and canned laughter.

The example is not to suggest that you are going to do this in your interviews but it is to point out that things can go wrong; nobody has ever planned to have an interview disaster, but the stories are out there. In fact, sitcoms like Friends do so well because they are easy to relate to and there are plenty of interview horror stories to back that episode up. Other familiar disaster stories include: traffic induced delays, turning up at the wrong venue, stained interview outfits, forgetting important notes and trying to leave through the cupboard door.

The best advice is to try to anticipate any possible problems in advance. You can avoid many potential interview disasters in this way: allow yourself time to get stuck in traffic and check for transport delays so that you can change your route if necessary; get dressed only after you have eaten and cover yourself with a napkin if you really must eat on the go; avoid any drinks with potential to stain until after the interview, pack your bag or folder the night before and run through what you will need to have with you; make a mental note of the door you used to enter the room with and use the same one to exit! Other more deeply rooted problems are avoidable too. Not being able to answer obvious questions about the nature of the company’s work and drawing blanks on the “why have you applied here” could easily be remedied with effective pre-interview research.

However, some disasters are simply impossible to anticipate. For those, it’s a case of thinking calmly and clearly to get out of them with minimal damage. If—despite your best efforts—you really are stuck on transport or cannot make the interview on time, contact the office and explain. If you do try to leave through the cupboard door, make light of it and admit that it was embarrassing. If someone else throws a cup of coffee on you, calmly apologise for your appearance and explain that luck wasn’t with you today. Unexpected hiccups don’t have to end your chances. Plenty of people have been hired after accidental blunders, it’s how you react that will determine your fate. Don’t forget, coping well under pressure or reacting calmly to unexpected developments are themselves skills that many employers look for! At the very least, you won’t be forgotten. And in case weren’t sure, Rachel did get that job… (after another blunder or two of course).

Hélène Tyrell
Applications Adviser
QM Careers & Enterprise Centre

Experience a mock assessment centre

If you’re thinking about applying for Graduate schemes it would be a really good idea to get yourself over to a Mock Assessment Centre. It’s a great way to gain insight into what actually happens at an assessment centre, and as more and more employers are beginning to use them, it’s an opportunity that you wouldn’t want to miss.

What is an assessment centre?

An assessment centre is part of the recruitment process in order for an employer to assess your suitability for a particular role. It is comprised of a series of tasks for example: presentations, debates, e-tray exercises, written exercises or the analysis of case studies. It gives employers the opportunity to actually observe you in action and see for themselves the things that you probably spoke about in your interview or on your application form.

What are employers looking for?

Ultimately, what employers want to find out is whether you can actually do the job! It’s one thing to fill out an amazing application form and have a successful interview, but it’s another to be able to actually do the work that will be required of you.

I attended the Mock assessment centre hosted by the QM Careers & Enterprise Centre that was led by a representative from CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants). We were required to look at a case study and then given 25 minutes to make some recommendations on the challenges that a fictional company faced when it came to cutting costs and increasing growth respectively. We then had to present our recommendations to the rest of the group.

Here are a few key points that are useful to remember if you ever find yourself invited to an assessment centre:

–          Research the organisation before attending – make sure you know what kind of skills the employer is looking for.

–          Practice exhibiting your “soft skills” – these include team work, presentation, time management, communication and listening skills, enthusiasm, initiative and strategy.

–          Remember that you don’t have to be an expert or have in-depth knowledge – you just need to show that you can reason logically and justify your decisions.

–          Before attending the assessment centre, recognise your strengths but also think about your weaknesses so you know how to better prepare yourself.

–          Practice!

A great way to practice is to actually attend a Mock Assessment Centre so keep an eye on our events page here to see when our next one is.

Novlet Levy
Careers Information Assistant
QM Careers & Enterprise Centre