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Top Tips for Group Exercises at Assessment Centres

By UCL Careers, on 26 November 2015

The cost of each graduate hire in 2014/15 was £3,396 (excluding law firms) according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) in their 2015 Graduate Recruitment Survey. Law firms are excluded as they tend to skew the figures with an average hire cost of £12,682. This figure includes marketing the vacancies and carrying out the recruitment activities. The high figure is not totally surprising, given that AGR reported 91.8% of their members use assessment centres or group selection methods in their application process. These are expensive activities, due to their intensive nature and the number of assessors required to run the activities. For this reason, only candidates that recruiters are really serious about are invited to attend. So if you do get that invitation email, you can be confident the recruiter very much likes what they know about you so far.

Mock Assessment Centre

One of the common activities at assessment centres (and one that candidates often most worry about) is the ‘group exercise’. This is essentially a time when a small group of candidates are asked to work together to debate, discuss or plan something. The activity could involve a role play exercise, when each candidate is given a brief and asked to ‘fight their corner’ (for example there could be some funding that has to be spent and each candidate has to argue for why it should be spent in their area). Alternatively, it could be that candidates are asked to debate a work-related or news-related issue from their own, genuine perspective. Or there could be a work-related briefing paper and all candidates are asked to come up with a solution to the issues presented between them.

For all these activities, the candidates will be marked by the observing assessors on the content of what is said as well as team behaviours. Here are 5 top tips on the type of team behaviours that you may wish to exhibit!

  • Speak early – if you are nervous, the earlier you can speak up, the better. The longer you leave it to speak, the more you may feel the expectation to say something amazing with your first words. This is a common fear that others have reported to us and it just compounds the nerves! So start by getting everyone to introduce themselves, or by summarising the issue. Anything, as long as you have broken your silence early.
  • Be clear and concise – speak clearly and confidently and try to say your points in the most concise way possible. Be assertive but not aggressive. If you start to waffle, you are wasting time and this will not only irritate the other candidates (who may interrupt you) but it may also mean that your assessor knocks points off your score. Start with your main statement / idea and then elaborate as necessary. Even if you do then get interrupted, at least the key idea has been put across.
  • Be respectful to the other candidates – yes, you are in competition with them but that does not mean that you need to talk over them or shout them down. It is much better to be seen as a facilitator, that keeps the conversation flowing and on track. If you feel someone is dominating the discussion, try to verbally summarise what they are saying and ask if others have anything they wish to add (adding your own ideas too). If someone is really quiet, try to bring them into the conversation by asking them if they have anything to add. Remembering and using the other candidates’ names is also a plus.
  • Use non-verbal communication – show you are actively listening to other candidates through eye contact and nodding (if appropriate!) Use your hands to emphasise important points. Also be aware of how you are sitting. Leaning forward slightly gives the impression of interest in the conversation. Also, arms uncrossed gives an impression that you are open to the ideas that are coming and happy to engage with others.
  • Demonstrate your organisational skills – take on the role of time-keeper. Keep the conversation on track and if you feel that time is running out, make sure you ask the group to move onto the next point. Summarise where you think the group has got to, and take brief notes if that helps. Maybe take on the role of summarising to the assessors at the end if that is what is required as well.

If you are looking for more information about assessment centres and group exercises, look at the UCL Careers webpages: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/information/interviews

Good luck!

– Karen Barnard, Director, UCL Careers


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