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'Treat it as a real-life situation': the group exercise at the CMS assessment day

Good communication involves knowing when to listen and react as well as talk.

If applicants pass the online application form and psychometric test, then they will be invited to an assessment day. The day includes an interview with someone from the firm's HR team or an associate, an analysis exercise as well as a pre-prepared presentation. The interview with a partner and group exercise take place after lunch, so only applicants who have been invited to stay for the second half of the assessment centre will take part. In the past the group exercises have been conducted by current trainees, with graduate recruitment staff assessing the proceedings. 

Example exercises

Exercise one

In recent years, the group exercises have been negotiation exercises. One scenario involved a group being split into six and asked to divide up a hypothetical sum of money. Each applicant was assigned an imaginary client and candidates had to put forward a case as to why their client should receive the lion’s share of the money. There was a time limit of half an hour.

How to approach:

  • This assessment centre exercise calls for assertiveness but also diplomacy and tact. A post on the CMS graduates’ Facebook page advised candidates to resist from pushing themselves forward or feeling the need to dominate discussions. Candidates are being assessed on communication skills in these exercises – and communication comprises knowing when to listen and react as well as talk. Equally, it includes taking the initiative to elicit answers from quieter members of the group.
  • Keep an eye on the time. Before you can start discussing, each member may present their client’s ‘case’ in turn. Get to the heart of the matter when it comes to considering the needs of your own client. What do they need the money for? Why? What is it about the client or the nature of what they do (they may not necessarily be a commercial business) that makes them a compelling case for receiving the funds? Choose the most salient points and try to present them calmly, without waffle.
  • Some departments, such as banking, require trainees to have direct client contact from the start. CMS puts a premium on client relations: 'We want to recruit trainees who are personable, with the potential to be good with clients,' explains Rob Wilson, partner in the CMS Edinburgh office. You could therefore treat putting forward your case as to why your client should receive the money as a little PR exercise. How could you portray them and their needs in a positive light?

Exercise two

Another exercise used in recent years at assessment days involved splitting candidates into small teams and giving them lots of information to digest about a marketing event. The team was then asked to organise the event from start to finish, eg first of all they had to decide which companies to invite.

How to approach:

  • This is a slightly different kind of exercise to the previous one. Here you are being asked to work much more as a team, as you would on a training contract, and are not being pitted directly against one another. Think about how to divide work between the group. For example, you could assign different roles to each other eg timekeeper, note-taker, lead presenter.
  • Recruiters advise candidates to treat all the exercises as real-life scenarios. This means that they’ll be looking for practical, workable solutions and suggestions rather than academic or theoretical ones. Try to root your responses to the task in real-world concerns. 
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