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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


How I landed a job in the UK

By UCL Careers, on 13 April 2015

International students know that trying to get a job in the UK can be difficult. Mengjia an International Masters in Economy, State and Society from UCL only knows this too well. She gives her top tips on how to land that job in the UK and the effort required.

“Many people think that international students are disadvantaged in the job market, but I gradually found that if you really want something and was very focused on it, you will be able to utilise your unique strengths to get it”

> Preparation: I went to a double Master program at UCL, specialised in Economics and International Relations.

One year before my graduation, I had an exchange abroad to Russia. Although I could get through to the next stage in the application process, my application form was so poor (my poor English) that I did not get any interview invitation. After reflecting on my weakness, I started to consult UCL Careers actively. The team of UCL Careers is so supportive and with their help I finally improved my “portfolio” of documents for online application upon my graduation. This is a really important stage in the job hunting.

From June to September (which is the beginning of the busiest job hunting season), I used three months to prepare my application forms. I learnt that I benefited a lot from this experience because of my full preparations. It is really important to know what you want, improve your weakness, and get yourself ready. Be open with your own limitations. Most importantly, do not be shy to ask for help when you do need it!

 > Organising the busy schedules and keep motivated: From the date of my graduation in September to the day that I got my job offer, I applied for around one hundred positions in the financial sector. Although I had three summer internships in the financial sector and a three-month summer internship in London before my application, still it was super hard to land on a job. From September to January (five months) I worked on my applications for at least 10 hours per day and 7 days per week (approximately for 70- 90 hours per week). My schedule was so bad and all my friends were shocked. Now looking back, as an international student, I was confronted with a lot of visa problems despite the headaches due to a competitive job market. Thus it is important that I organised my job-hunting time well and the progress of each application.

Being rejected was really disappointing, because sometimes that I did feel that I was qualified for the position. During this process, I got a lot of supports from my friends and UCL GradClub. Most importantly, I was really lucky that I scheduled sufficient amount of time for mock interviews and assessment centres with UCL GradClub and my friends. The consultants at UCL GradClub are very reliable, professional and generous. We went through each exercise before each assessment centre and also reflected on my performances of each assessment centre. Practice makes perfect!

> Never Give Up: I have to confess that for international students the limited time staying in the UK after graduation is one of the biggest challenges. This challenge did discourage a lot of international students once they finished their study. However, I found that if you utilise these four months well, the time scale is enough to find a proper job. In addition, there are so many other opportunities, for example Tier 5 internships to help international students with further job hunting. Do not give up; even it is the darkest time. You can cry, but you should think when you are challenged. Find the solution and take actions. Job-hunting is just a starting point, while there might be many more challenging tasks on the job and in the future. Use this experience as a precious lesson for life.

 > Finally, Be positive: during this process, I was offered seven assessment centres and finally there were two companies, which offered me with graduate positions. I realised that reflection and self-confidence are so important. In the end it was not my skills/internships but my perseverance that helped me to arrive at my dream job! Many people think that international students are disadvantaged in the job market, but I gradually found that if you really want something and was very focused on it, you will be able to utilise your unique strengths to get it. Never look down upon yourself. Have faith and confidence in you, and treat each rejection as a lesson. “Team work” with your friends and UCL GradClub. They are definitely standing by you!

See how UCL Careers can help you Find your Future: www.ucl.ac.uk/careers

Ever wondered what types of exercises are used at assessement centres for engineering graduate jobs?

By UCL Careers, on 9 October 2014

Psst…. We have the answers.

Assessment centres are used by most major recruiters as part of their selection process for their graduate engineering schemes. Although the content varies from company to company there are numerous common elements.

Most assessment centres are designed around companies’ core competencies – the skills they need the most in their graduate engineers. Technical ability will obviously be tested, but be prepared to show your soft skills. There’s no point designing a brilliant new product or system if you can’t communicate the concept to colleagues, for example, or convince them of its potential value to the business.

Typical activities:

  • Interviews: technical interviews, competency-based interviews or both
  • Group activities: these will often involve discussions and making decisions around a given business issue
  • Giving a presentation: you may be given the topic in advance and it may be something like discussing a technical project you have been previously involved in. Other employers give the topic on the day itself. This will often relate to the business and may involve candidates doing fact finding or decision making.
  • Tests: including psychometric tests, personality questionnaires, or test to check the basic understanding of engineering principles. Some employers also check candidates can extract relevant details from a large amount of information, and communicate the key points

The social side of assessment centres

Most assessment centres include opportunities to chat to recruiters or current employers. Use this chance to learn more about the business. Enthusiasm, interest in the company and good manners will go down well.

Dealing with assessment centres nerves

The more prepared you are the less nervous you will feel. Yan Zhou, a structural engineer and former Imperial College London student, talks about his preparation: ‘I collected information about the company and I tried to understand what kind of people the company was looking for. I also went to my careers service for advice and tips.’

Assessors will do their best to put you at your ease. Yan says, ‘In my technical interview, the engineers gave me clues when I was facing difficulties, which made it less stressful.’

Don’t start comparing yourself to other candidates. Employers are marking you against their selection criteria, not against other candidates. Keep the employer’s selection criteria in mind throughout the event.

Don’t shy away! However nervous you feel, remember that to succeed at an assessment centre you need to participate fully. If the assessors don’t see or hear anything from you, they can’t assess you. It is important to get your points across – but don’t be overbearing or rude.

You will have various opportunities to demonstrate your skills, so if you think you’ve not done so well on one activity, put it at the back of your mind and move on to the next task.

Finally, remember this is not just the employers assessing you; this is your chance to find out more about the organisation, and learn more about the values, structure and culture in the workplace.

For more career advice, search for graduate jobs and internships in the engineering sector please visit TARGETjobs Engineering

The UCL Careers Engineering fair on Monday 13th October is kindly sponsored by Targetjobs Engineering.