Group exercises: what to expect

The group exercise is a key part of the assessment centre day and helps graduate recruiters assess how you'd perform in the job. Find out what they're looking for and how to impress them.

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The group exercise is used to see your communication and problem-solving skills in action, and to ensure that you can work effectively in a team. You need to support the group in completing the task that has been set, whether that involves discussing a particular issue, constructing something from bits of stationery or analysing a complex business case study and presenting your findings. The best way to impress the employers is to show yourself as a good team player – flexible, full of ideas but willing to listen to and help expand the ideas of others.

The move towards virtual or digital assessment centres by some graduate employers, as a result of the social distancing measures brought about by coronavirus, may mean you are asked to complete a group exercise within the changed format (Thames Water, for example, includes a group activity based on a business scenario). Alternatively, you might not be given a group exercise. Some employers are finding ways to assess the skills they would have through group exercises that better suit the platform they use – for instance, by adding questions to interviews. It's a good idea to be prepared to carry out a group exercise either way, whether as preparation to undertake one or so you know the kinds of skills the recruiter might assess elsewhere.

Tips on skills to demonstrate in the group exercise

  • You need to contribute, but not to dominate. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you are aware that you are usually a shy person who does not speak up, do your best to participate. If you know that you can sometimes be overbearing in groups, hold that tendency in check.
  • Speak clearly and confidently. Listen and don't interrupt. Be aware of what others in the group are contributing. You could try to draw out quieter members and seek their views.
  • Be diplomatic. If one person is behaving in a dominant way, don't shout them down, but try to make sure that everybody gets a chance to share their thoughts. Be prepared to compromise.
  • Keep an eye on the time and stay focused on the overall objective. From time to time, try to summarise the group's progress.

The group case study exercise

In this type of exercise the group is given a set period of time to work together to respond to a case study brief, often a set of documents based on a real-life business situation. At some assessment centres the candidates may have already been interviewed about the case study brief on an individual basis. The group may be invited to present its findings as part of the exercise.

The case study scenario is likely to present the sort of challenges that you would encounter on the job and gives the assessors a chance to see how you would perform. Sometimes each candidate is given a different briefing document or role to play, and the group has to reach a conclusion despite the conflicting views of its members.

The discussion group

A discussion group involves the group members being given a topic or topics to discuss. The nature of the topics can vary but usually they involve an issue of current importance to students or something that's been in the news recently. You are not usually given time to prepare so it's not a bad idea to read a quality newspaper in the weeks before the assessment centre. At the end of the discussion each candidate may be invited to comment briefly in turn on one of the group's conclusions, so it's vital to listen as well as to speak up.

The leaderless task

This involves each member of the group being given an individual briefing document which may or may not be different from other people’s. As a group you must come up with a decision acceptable to all within the time limit. No one in the group is designated leader and so the group has to find a compromise solution.

The leadership task

Very occasionally, when the organisation is particularly interested in testing your leadership skills, you will be asked to chair a meeting or act as leader of your group. Once again there will be a set task but this time you will be expected to be in charge and to lead the others to success. This is what the assessors will be looking for:

  • A good leader delegates. The task cannot be done by you alone. You must divide up the work between the others.
  • A good leader uses the strengths of others. You must identify the strengths of the individuals in your group and use them in appropriate ways.
  • A good leader knows what's going on. Don’t get too involved in doing things. It's better to monitor what's going on and make changes if things don't work out.

The ice-breaker

Organisations use ice-breakers to help you relax and to help the group to gel. Sometimes they are practical and involve the completion of a task within a tight deadline, or they might be more intellectual. Everyone is expected to play a part and share information. For example, at an in-person assessment centre you might be asked to build a tower from straws, paper and pins. If you are asked to make something, try to make sure the group doesn't spend too much time discussing and designing and run out of time for construction.

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