Do Psychometrics make recruitment processes better?

By Celia Grand-Pierre Coming back to England and as part of my Masters Degree in International Human Resource Management, I wrote my dissertation on Psychometrics and Personality tests. Even though my subject was very specific to recruitment agencies, their use is widespread amongst companies in general. I collected Research and data from 22 recruitment companies. You might be surprised that all firms are using those tests internally (to recruit their own people) and/or externally (on behalf of their Clients). However, they weren’t satisfied with the results (18 agencies out of 22 according to survey responses)... but they still use them without making any changes. Most of the blogs I will be sharing with you will deal with these types of tests - what they involve, how retail companies are using them and in particular, are they really being used appropriately? If not, what are the alternatives to this ‘fashionable’ process? Indeed they are more than ever, a fashionable way to select the ‘best’ talent to perform a job. However, are they really making recruitment processes any better? What are they? Psychometric tests “…have the goal of assessing various cognitive abilities from numeracy and literacy skills to spatial awareness and more”. Personality tests are “…intended to highlight specific personality traits that could indicate suitability for specific roles. These can come in the form of personality questionnaires, leadership tests, motivation tests and situational judgement tests” So why do companies use these tests (specifically numeracy and literacy tests)? There are three major reasons:
    • To measure the aptitude and ability of candidates on specific tasks
    • To understand the personality and behaviours of candidates to analyse the possible fit with the company
  • To filter a talent pool due to increased competition and number of applicants
  Are they currently reliable? Those tests have now been used for many years and in my opinion, they are not currently used at their best.
  • Using numeracy and verbal testing as PART of a process can reinforce decision making.
  • They should NOT be used as a filter in order to attract the best candidate. There is still no evidence that a candidate who scores well at these ability tests are better at their job than a candidate having a bad score.
  • Similarly, Personality tests are reliable depending on their context. Using them as a first stage of a recruitment process could be risky and companies could miss out on some talent.
The danger of using tests at the first stage of selection: One of my friends recently applied to a vacancy with a large corporate in the UK. What was the first stage of the process? A numerical and verbal assessment which she had to perform within 48 hours of applying. “Well that was fast!” she thought. “They are probably doing that in order to check the motivation of the candidate and to see how quickly I can react”. To be fair, for some companies this could be a reasonable way of thinking as thousands of applicants are hard to deal with. However, filtering candidates and applying tests as the first stage of any process is not about attracting the ‘best’ candidates, but about reducing the talent pool. There are plenty of fish in the sea. However, by doing this, are we not missing out on ‘good’ potential candidates? After all, some candidates struggle with these tests, for a variety of reasons (another blog for the future!). In my next blog, I will discuss the different approaches employed by companies when utilising personality tests to select candidates based on cultural fit.
 

Top 10 tips: Writing a Retail Business Plan for interviews

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The last few months have seen a significant improvement in market conditions and the volume of vacancies is increasing significantly. However while the pool of immediately available candidates has dropped sharply in recent months there is still some strong competition coming from ‘passive’ candidates entering the market for the first time in several years. As a result it is still important that you approach every interview process you enter with energy and focus. We are finding that Retailers are increasingly using business presentations as a useful tool for judging the calibre of candidates. Presentations provide a huge amount of insight in to candidates, covering your capabilities in research, written communication skills, verbal communication skills, analytical capability, financial and commercial acumen, leadership / management style, key focus areas, strategic thinking, detail…. The list could go on and on! The temptation in any recruitment process is to focus on the interview but in reality the presentation will often be the element that can set you apart from other candidates and therefore determine your success. We have compiled a few tips, some very obvious, that might help you prepare your presentation. 1. Read the brief. Read the brief, Read the brief and keep reading the brief. It is all too easy to take the presentation in the direction that you want to go but ultimately does it answer the question? This is both the easiest thing to get right, but often the first thing to get wrong. Revisit the brief title throughout your preparation and after each draft to ensure you are on track. 2. Keep your slides to a sensible number. We have all heard of the saying, death by power-point, but it is well versed for a reason! The number of slides required will depend on the presentation time allowed and the information you are required to present, as a rough guide you should allocate 2-4 minutes per slide. A useful tip might be to include additional information such as a PEST or SWOT analysis in to an appendix rather than the body of the presentation. This allows you to demonstrate methodology and perhaps detail without killing your presentation. 3. Keep text to a minimum and break it up. Text heavy presentations tend to miss an opportunity in that you will fail to demonstrate a multi-skilled approach to communication. People have different preferences in how they absorb information and it is best to vary the presentation of your slides; pictures, graphics, diagrams, graphs and charts will have a greater impact that just text. Slides with text should have no more than 3-5 bullet points. You can take additional notes with you to act as a prompt. You will lose the interviewers if they mentally ‘wonder’ off while reading a text heavy slide. 4. Ask a peer or recruiter to review each draft. It is crucial that you seek advice and support throughout your preparation. Depending on the circumstances of your application you should try to get someone with knowledge of the interviewer to review your presentation. They may be able to provide some insight in to style or specific preferences. Take on board any feedback and act upon it. 5. Cover the obvious Key areas. People, Profit, Product. It is crucial that you relate this to the customer throughout your slides and verbal presentation. 6. Know the business you are presenting to: In order to get the right tone you should be mindful of the company’s vision, values and mission statement. It is also important that you have read any press releases or industry press articles about the business. If a company is doing well they are likely to be looking for a different candidate than a business that is issuing profit warnings. 7. Be mindful of confidentiality. In all likelihood during your research you will pick up confidential information from conversations with various people. It is important to strike a balance between demonstrating an intimate knowledge of your prospective employer and putting people in an awkward position. Where you have any concerns it might be best to keep some points for verbal reference only. 8. Punctuation, spelling & Font. The devil is in the detail and a failure to get this right could undermine your entire presentation. I recently presented to a client whom picked up on what he thought was a spelling mistake, he became quite fixated on this and it was quite disconcerting. Fortunately the spelling was correct but it serves to show that you need to be confident that you have covered the detail! 9. Judge your audience. Is humour appropriate or perhaps something highly creative? If you are presenting to a fashion retailer then the style and imagery will be critical. Likewise some people just want it to be very simple. Either way, ensure you understand what the interviewer’s preferences are. 10. Structure, structure, structure. Ensure your presentation has an introduction, perhaps detailing the brief, the body of the presentation and a conclusion. The main body should flow from slide to slide. I would be interested to hear any other tips that you may have. Get your FREE CV Template
 

Assessment Centre Tips: How to approach a commercial exercise

We have discussed the different elements of an Assessment Centre before, namely, Role-play interviews, Group Exercises, Psychometric Testing . One element which we haven’t touched on yet is the Commercial Exercise.

This is commonly used in the Retail & Hospitality industries which we serve however will also appear in other sectors where there is a need to test the candidates’ commercial acumen and strategic planning ability.

It is difficult to generalise about these exercises, as one would hope they are tailored to the specific organisation and therefore will differ considerably. However, there are some general guidelines to bear in mind when faced with this kind of exercise.

What do they entail?

They are likely to be an individual exercise and could take a number of forms, for instance:

  • A case study exercise based on the role you are applying for
  •  A more generic abstract case study based on a different industry sector
  •  A more strategic ‘blue-sky’ exercise where you are expected to come up with an innovation or new idea for a business.
Whatever form it takes, there are several things to be aware of which will help you perform well:

Read the brief

As our teachers used to tell us at school, always READ THE QUESTION carefully! When you are nervous and under pressure it is so easy to get the wrong end of the stick so make sure you understand what is expected and if in doubt, ask for clarification before the exercise starts.

Plan your time

Check the time limit and work out how long you have for the exercise. Then you need to factor in enough time to read the question, make a plan and write your answer. Remember, if you are expected to present this back to the assessors in a particular format, to schedule enough time to prepare. I have seen many an excellent commercial exercise undermined by poor presentation at the end.

See the wood for the trees

These exercises tend to be intentionally wordy and the brief is likely to contain a large amount of information. The key is to read through the brief once, then again in detail. On the second read-through, highlight or annotate the areas which you think are most important or relevant. A lot of the information will either be superfluous (and designed to bewilder you) or be less significant. Analysing which key areas you need to focus on will help you plan your strategy and set a clear target for yourself.

Do your calculations

Most commercial exercises will contain financial information, whether that be projected sales figures, costs or budgetary restraints. Ensure you read this information carefully and look for any obvious trends or indicators which may be important. If you have been provided with a calculator, it is likely that some of the figures may be relevant and you may need to work out percentage changes for instance to support your analysis. Take care not to get too bogged down in the figures however. You need to look at the exercise as a whole however the exercise is there to text your commercial acumen so the ability to interpret financial data is undoubtedly a factor.

Look for links

When analysing the information, keep an eye out for separate pieces of data which may indicate one key issue. They may not be glaringly obvious. The assessors will be looking for your ability to link different pieces of information and put together a course of action accordingly.

Put the information in context

Hopefully in preparation for the assessment process, you will have done your research into the company and read the Job Description. This should give you useful background information about the culture of the company and also what their current focus is. For instance, culturally, do they favour a strong coaching management style or are they purely focused on driving sales? If they are currently driving a growth strategy, they are more likely to be looking for people who can motivate a team to exceed targets and drive sales. If they are cutting costs or restructuring, they will be looking for people who are able to performance-manage a team and streamline processes. For website recommendations for researching companies, click here.

Make your plan SMART

If the brief asks you to deliver an action plan based on the information provided, make sure that any recommendations you make are SMART. This is particularly relevant for an exercise which is closely related to the role you are applying for. For instance, here is an example of a case study for a Regional Manager role:

"You are a Regional Manager for a retail business. You have recently taken over a region of 60 stores. Although you have had very limited time, the Managing Director has arranged a meeting with you in order to understand your strategy for your region. You have been provided an information pack with a range of information as follows:
  • A handover from the previous Regional Manager.
  • The shrinkage report for your region.
  •  Region P&L report.
  •  A customer complaint letter.
  •  A Health & Safety report.
  •  The last performance appraisals for your 8 Area Managers
 Using the information provided, please draw up a 90 day plan for your area." Contained in all the supporting information will be elements which will fall in the short, medium and long term. This can be a useful way of structuring your plan, eg. breaking up a 90 day plan into 30, 60 and 90 days. This also indicates to the assessor that you are able to prioritise between business critical matters and longer term concerns.

You may have some ideas that are more strategic and long term. If so, there is no harm making brief reference to them as long as you make it clear these would not be your first priority.

Use a SWOT as a guide

Irrespective of the type of exercise, using a SWOT analysis as a way of breaking down the information can be useful. By analysing the information in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, you can formulate a strategy to deal with each of these elements.

Don’t forget the human element

When faced with large quantities of data, it can be tempting to focus on this and easy to forget the impact of your plan on your people. For any role where you will be managing (or influencing) people, the assessors will be looking for clear evidence in your plan of how you will engage the relevant stakeholders. This could include performance management strategies (for a classic management role) or could be about PR/Marketing if you are focused on getting customer buy-in for instance.

Keep your feet on the ground

If the exercise asks you to come up with an innovation or brand new strategy, try not to get too carried away. The key here is to provide balance – you need to think of something unique and ground breaking which you could actually deliver! It may be that you would need other factors to be in place (or have a very large budget!) and you may need to think about how you would market this idea, what the target customer would be etc. but as long as you have a sensible plan, this will bring your idea to life.

Demonstrate your thought process

When the commercial exercise is not based on the industry you are working in and is based on a more generic case study, don’t be thrown by jargon or the fact that you don’t know the industry in question. Focus on key elements which are relevant for all industries eg. who will buy the product/use the service, what is the impact on people, what are the financial implications. What the assessor is looking for is the ability to interpret information, your ability to think commercially and your ability to plan – by demonstrating your thought process clearly and focusing on the key elements, you will be able to display your commercial acumen, even if the context is completely alien to you.

How to present the information

Chances are that how you present the information will be left up to you. If you are provided with flipchart paper, I would be inclined to suggest you use this as it is much more impactful for the assessor than you reading your findings from hastily scribbled notes! Once you have sketched out your plan, write the headings on the flipchart paper and add your key points as you go along. This will give you structure and enable you to expand on each point verbally in the presentation.

Be prepared for questions

Try to allow 5 minutes reflection time to think about what the assessor is likely to ask. Is there anything which you left out? Even if this is intentional, you need to be able to justify your decision. If there is a controversial suggestion or strategy in your plan, be prepared to be challenged on this and if necessary, back it up with figures.

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Top tips for passing psychometric tests

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment

Psychometric tests are now a commonly used selection tool. If you have never completed a test before they can certainly be daunting. Companies utilise these tests because they are designed to provide a reliable method of selecting the most suitable candidate although they are rarely used in isolation in the decision making process.  Some companies will use the tests as a screening tool by setting a benchmark which applicants need to achieve but others will just use it as an additional tool to assist in their selection decision.

Broadly speaking psychometric tests fall into two areas.

Aptitude:  These are generally focused on assessing your ability to complete particular tasks, assess your logical reasoning and thinking performance.  The market leader in these types of tests is SHL

Personality: These tests are focused on measuring the way you do things and the way you interact with your environment and with other people. It is argued that it is possible to quantify your personality by asking you about your feelings, thoughts and behaviour by categorising your responses.

Both tests are normally conducted on a multiple choice basis and are often strictly timed.

Aptitude Tests

Numerical Reasoning – these are number based tests that include basic mathematics, arithmetic and number sequences.

Verbal Reasoning – these tests focus on spelling, grammar and the ability to understand and interpret statements and paragraphs.

Abstract or Spatial Reasoning – these tests typically use shapes and diagrams to measure an individual’s ability to manipulate data and determine a solution.

Once a score is generated it is normally compared against a ‘norm’ group relevant to that particular position.

Personality Questionnaires

There are a range of personality questionnaires across the market with each focused on measuring slightly different aspects of an individual’s personality. The 16PF test is a commonly used tool of this nature. The vast majority are single user self administered although some provide the option to get 360 feedback from, Line Managers, Direct Reports and Peers.  They are also mostly preference based, some are focused on measuring key elements of an individuals personality such as assertiveness, warmth etc. Others will come at from a different angle such as Strength based tests such as Strengthscope which look at the tasks and activities that are most likely to energise you and lead to high levels of engagement and how these compare to the job profile for which you are being considered.  Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ)  by SHL is one of the most commonly used.

So what can you do to try and improve your score?

Top Tips

1.       Learn about the tests you will be completing – all too often individuals will assume that if they are strong at maths and comprehension then the tests will be a walk in the park. If they have completed psychometric tests before they may also assume that all the tests are the same – they are not. These tests are designed to be challenging and very difficult to complete. You will definitely benefit from trying to learn more about the particular tests you will be completing, exactly what they are designed to measure and how they will be conducted. More often than not the tests will be completed remotely so once you have been sent the link, you will have the opportunity to research the tests. Alternatively, if they are to be completed on site, perhaps as part of an assessment day, you are likely to be told in advance the type of test you will be completing. Familiarisation will definitely assist you when it comes to actually completing them.

 

2.       Practice in advance – people should practice for psychometric tests like they would any other tests yet in my experience people rarely do.  If you are aware that you may struggle or have a weakness in a particular area then make sure you focus your efforts to try to brush up in this area. Once you know the tests you will be asked to complete then you should visit their website and undertake as many practice tests as possible. As mentioned above SHL are one of the most commonly used tests. You can find some practice tests at www.shldirect.com/en/practice-tests  Where possible, focus on the tests that you will be completing but it is worth practicing other tests as all well.  I would recommend you spend as much time as possible doing these as it will impact your performance on the live tests. It is also worth doing this under timed conditions to make it as realistic as possible. This will also help you to start to learn the skill of balancing speed with accuracy which is critical in time pressured aptitude tests.

 

3.       Refresh your maths skills – for many people they may not have a role where they are required to regularly use maths. As a result it may have been a while since you have been required to complete percentages, fractions, ratios etc. Depending on the particular test, you may be required to perform some of these calculations so it is definitely worth practising and refreshing yourself on some of these techniques. Again this can be quite easily achieved through the wide resources online such as www.mathcentre.ac.uk

 

4.       Get yourself match fit – in order to perform well you need to make sure you are at your best. Tiredness for instance is likely to severely damage your scores in aptitude tests. So it is worth making sure you do everything possible to be as alert and focused as possible on the day of the test.  It can’t just be achieved the night before but if you have a period of time it is definitely worth thinking about mental activities which will help you with both personality tests and aptitude tests. Don’t underestimate the mental benefit you will achieve by using some simple exercises like Crosswords and Sudoku etc. to get yourself prepared.  You can also use other types of questionnaires and surveys to help develop your skills in reading questions, assimilating information and answering questions. Doing this under timed conditions could also really help.

 

5.       Make sure the environment is right – as I mentioned the majority of people may be asked to complete the tests remotely.  If this is the case then you need to think very carefully about creating the right environment to complete the test. This certainly means you need to be free of disturbance or distraction, where you are able to concentrate 100% on the tests at hand. Other things to consider include areas such as reliability of internet connection. Getting the detail right will hopefully allow you to perform to the best of your ability.

 

6.       On the day – managing your time on the day will be important if you wish to be as productive as possible. Time can be wasted fussing about running out of time or constantly clock watching. Instead you are better off just focusing on improving the time to complete the tests by practicing them over and over again.

 

7.       Don’t be a fake on the personality tests  - most modern personality tests are sophisticated enough to ask the same question in slightly different ways to ensure the applicant is being consistent with their answers and that they are not trying to portray themselves as something they are not. Businesses use the tests to understand both your suitability for the role but perhaps more often how you may fit in with the culture and values of the organisation.  Trying to be someone you are not may have the consequence of you joining a business where you are not a good fit and not naturally suited to the role.

 

8.        Ask for feedback – it is highly likely you will be required to complete psychometric tests again in the future whether that is when searching for a new role or indeed for an internal promotion. I would urge you to seek as much feedback as possible to understand where you have scored well and not as well as this should enable you to focus your development in the right areas. Companies will have accredited individuals who both administer the tests and interpret the results so they should be in a position to give you some detailed information. As I highlighted above, practice is one factor which has a real impact on your scores and therefore being able to focus on your weakest areas will only benefit you in future tests.

 

Hopefully I have suggested a few simple steps which will assist you in improving your performance on psychometric tests. For many they may be daunting or indeed mysterious if they have never faced them before. But as with many things in life through appropriate planning, practice and focus you can ensure that you perform to the best of your ability.

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How to pass the secret tests at an Assessment Centre

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

Having taken part in Assessment Centres as an assessor, a candidate and as an observer, it is my view that companies tend to approach the Assessment Centre in one of two ways. Either a. using the AC scores as the absolute measure of a candidate’s suitability and having an unwavering attitude to the pass/fail marker or b. using the AC scores as a useful indicator of suitability but taking other factors into account.

In the second case, the other factors are undoubtedly related to how the candidate performs as a whole throughout the day and this includes how they interact in between the exercises.

The challenge for a candidate is that it is unlikely you will know which of these camps the AC will fall into – so how do you make sure that you nail not only the formal assessment exercises but the informal elements too?

Do your preparation

If possible, get as much information from your recruiter in advance about what to expect on the day and who will be assessing. This will enable you to do your research about the key individuals in advance.

Equally, think of some topics of conversation to draw on throughout the day – this could be something relevant to the company eg. their latest results or simply a general news item.

Look for clues

You should have read the Job Description anyway, providing there is one, so re-read it and look for indicators about the type of person they are looking for from a behavioural perspective. Doing wider research on Linkedin, the company website and Glassdoor.co.uk will also give you insight so you can tailor your approach. For instance, they may be a very corporate business who will be looking for a more formal, polished approach. Alternatively, they may be a quirky, more personality-driven culture which may indicate a more unusual feel to the assessment centre.

Dress Code

Your recruiter should be able to guide you on this. Generally speaking, be prepared to wear business dress – it is much easier to remove a tie than magic one from thin air if you haven’t got one with you! As the day progresses, ensure you maintain your level of presentation – don’t be tempted to loosen your tie or take your jacket off unless the assessors specifically mention it.

First impressions count

This is as important here as in every other area of life and as ever it is the simple things that count. Greet everyone warmly with a smile and a firm handshake when you arrive – the receptionist, the other candidates, the assessors. Chances are, you will find yourself in a room with the other candidates over a cup of coffee and this can be an awkward moment, particularly as people often assume that they are in direct competition with each other. This may well be the case, however, by putting others at ease, you will help yourself to feel more comfortable. Also, in doing this (by asking questions, building rapport etc.), you will create potential allies who may come in handy later and to any observers you will get noticed as a positive influence. Please see our previous blog for more detail.

Drink lots of water Keeping hydrated is proven to aid concentration (but make sure you know where the toilets are?!). Likewise, ensure you have a decent breakfast and take advantage of any snacks offered throughout the day – an empty stomach can be distracting.

No smoking

It is a fact that popping off for a fag at every opportunity is unlikely to endear you to the assessors and most importantly is likely to mean that you miss valuable influencing opportunities. Equally, heading in to a small room for a role-play smelling of cigarettes will not go down well.

Turn off your phone!

I know of a candidate who, half-way through an assessment centre, took a call rejecting him from another role which he really wanted. He went into the next exercise, messed it up and consequently blew his chances of securing another offer. Make sure you leave a voicemail explaining you will return calls later and if you have to send a text message, ensure you do it in private. You must make sure you look completely committed and focused on the task in hand.

Mind your manners

This should be a given however I have witnessed potentially good candidates blow it over lunch with appalling table manners! If you have the opportunity, remember to thank the assessors or the facilitator for their hospitality. Courtesy should extend to your conversations – the skill is to bring people into the conversation taking care not to dominate.

Keep your wits about you

There can be a lot to take in but ensure that you understand the agenda and timetable for the day and also which room you need to be in for each exercise. In some assessment centres, particularly for graduates, part of the ‘test’ is how you manage your time throughout the day and they will put you under time pressure intentionally to see how you cope.

Avoid any negativity

As the day progresses, other candidates may start to express their thoughts about the process, particularly if they feel it is not going well. I witnessed a memorable exchange during an assessment centre when one of the candidates openly criticised the validity of the whole event in the middle of the group exercise?! Avoid negative comments at all costs and avoid sharing your opinions about the exercises, even if you agree. You should remain positive and energised throughout the day and give it your best shot irrespective of whether you are privately questioning the usefulness of the event.

Be interested

Whether you are talking to a fellow candidate or to an assessor during a break, show an interest in them. Ask questions – particularly important if you are talking to an assessor, so try to think of some good questions to ask about the company and the role you are applying for. Remember to listen actively. Remember interesting people are interested.

Be yourself

Like it or not, it is a fact that people tend to recruit people they like and get on with. Given the amount of time we all spend with our colleagues, this is actually no bad strategy, providing they can also do a good job of course! Avoid therefore, trying to be someone you are not. Assessment Centres are stressful and pressured and this can often cause people to behave differently than normal. Try to fight the urge to say things you think people will want to hear. If you can relax enough to get your personality across then this will really help the assessors to picture you in their team. Finding common ground will help build rapport so use breaks and lunchtime to steer the conversation away from work and towards extra-curricular interests. This will also make it easier for the assessors to remember you.

One word of warning, ensure you are remembered for the right reasons – an ill-judged joke will not go down well.

Use networking techniques

Assessment Centres can be great networking opportunities so be prepared. Quickly identify everyone involved – who the assessors are and where the other candidates are from – and ensure you seek out each individual, if only for a brief greeting. Take business cards to exchange. Follow up on the day by connecting on Linkedin.

A well-planned, relevant Assessment Centre can be an excellent way of assessing a number of candidates in one go and also gives the candidate a longer period of time with their prospective employer and the opportunity to meet a number of key stakeholders – very useful to determine whether you would fit culturally with the business.

This cultural alignment works both ways and understanding this will help you prepare to demonstrate your personal qualities in between the formal assessment activities.

For advice on how to cope with the formal assessment exercises, see my previous post on Role-Play Interviews, here and my colleague Russell’s post about the Group Exercise. Watch this space for advice about how to handle a Commercial Exercise…

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Top tips on how to perform in an Assessment Centre Group Exercise.

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

Assessment centres, or Selection centres as they are sometimes known, are a common selection tool used to evaluate a number of candidates on a given day. These centres will typically involve a number of different exercises the most common of which are a Competency Based Interview, Role-plays, Group Exercises and Commercial Exercises. They may also include some form of psychometric testing. One of my colleagues has written a couple of blogs providing some useful advice (How to survive a role-play interview exercise and live to tell the tale! and How to prepare an interview presentation)

Here, I am going to tackle the challenges of the all important Group Exercise.

The group exercise is often one of the key components of the Assessment and is designed to assess how effectively you can work in a team and to assess your communication and problem solving skills. In my experience, the size of the group assessed can range from 4 to 12 people. The client will be keen to see that you are a strong team player, flexible, full of ideas, willing and able to listen to and expand upon the ideas of others.

The competencies most often assessed in a group exercise are:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Influencing
  • Teamwork
  • Relationship Building
  • Decisiveness and critical thinking ability

TYPES OF EXERCISE

Group exercises can vary considerably but broadly can be categorised into 3 types.

Role play

In these scenarios the candidates will take part in a group role play. Often candidates will be provided with a range of background information and will assume the role of a particular individual. They will often be set individual and group objectives. There are often conflicting objectives to see how the group can compromise in order to reach its overall objective. The exercise may take the form of a case study and may be relevant to the industry or sector the employer operates within; or equally it could be something very obscure!

Discussion

In these types of exercises the candidates are often provided with a problem or subject matter to discuss. The subject matter can vary considerably but it is often related to current affairs. This is called a Leaderless discussion where no individual is given any responsibility prior to the exercise to lead the group. The group is often required to present their suggestions/decisions to the assessors.

Task based

The other very common type is where the group is asked to achieve a problem solving task ( build a bridge from straws etc.) where they are required to work together to find a solution.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

Relating to others

Don’t forget that the main reason for the group exercise is to see how you interact and work with other people. It is worth noting here that any efforts made to build rapport with the other delegates during the course of the day should help you during this exercise. Clearly, if you have managed to alienate yourself then it may count against you! Overall the behaviour you need to demonstrate in this exercise is concerned with relating to other members of your group. For most roles (although different businesses do look for different behaviours) the employer will be looking for someone who is assertive but balances their own contribution whilst encouraging the contribution of others. It is important to consider active listening. This means it is important that you look at those speaking, nodding with acknowledgement irrespective of whether you agree with what they are saying. Be very careful your body language does not give away your feelings or put off others from contributing. By using active listening and body language the assessors will be able to see you are participating.

Managing group personalities

The competitive nature of these activities brings with it a number of challenges. You may often find that some candidates are overly dominant in their desire to impress the assessors. In a group with a couple of very dominant characters it can be very difficult to gain sufficient "airtime" to feel like you are fully contributing. In such scenarios you will have to be assertive to make sure you are heard but it does present the opportunity for you to involve some quieter members of the group. You need to be diplomatic if conflict does arise - be prepared to compromise but not be railroaded. The best tactic in this situation is to make sure you contribute to the achievement of the group task so keeping the group focused or referring back to the brief or the time left, will certainly sit well with the assessors. It goes without saying that you should make sure you are not the pushy, dominating, overbearing candidate who scores poorly in the exercise.

Read the question

It sounds simple but make sure you take the time to fully understand the task at hand. I have witnessed on a number of occasions people quickly jumping in, trying to assert themselves having misread or not fully understood the task at hand. This has on occasion led the whole group to miss vital parts of the task. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to challenge or clarify. You will certainly be recognised if you are the individual who is trying to keep the group on track to deliver.

Roles and responsibilities

During a group exercise there are often a number of roles and responsibilities to be performed. This could be note-taking, preparing flip charts, time-keeping, presenting back etc. Try and ensure the tasks you volunteer for involve you contributing to the group. Whilst it is valid to keep time or take notes, sitting there silently is not going to deliver you a great score. It is worth volunteering to present and to answers questions are the end. It you are answering questions it is important that you stand your ground when challenged. You have had your opportunity to make your opinions known and to influence the group so stating after the event that you had a different view will just undermine your performance.

Managing time

A common failing in group exercises are extended discussions with insufficient time allocated to completing the task or preparing the presentation. It is important to keep track of time and helping the group stay on track will show your ability to work under pressure and will sit well with the assessors.

Expect the unexpected

It is not unusual in group exercises for the brief or task to change during the course of the simulation. This tactic is often used to try and put the group under pressure to see how they perform. This may take the form of a reduction in the time allocated for the task or a change in information i.e. budgets being cut etc.

Be realistic

It can be difficult sometimes to find the right balance when you are presented with individual objectives to achieve which may be at odds with the rest of the group. Whilst it is important to be seen to hold your own you also need to show some flexibility and if you are flying in the face of the rest of the group then you need to be aware of when to back down. Think about how else you can influence the group; where else could you show support. Perhaps a compromise can be achieved by allowing some concessions as part of a wider, more acceptable deal.

Be yourself

In theory, nobody should know you better than yourself. Before going into a group exercise it is worth thinking about your natural character and how you can best perform in a group situation. You need to be yourself but make sure you are demonstrating your strengths. If you are naturally forceful then being aware of this and trying to be more diplomatic will allow you to behave in a more balanced manner.

Be prepared

I do think sometimes that much is made of how to behave on Assessment Centres without full credence being given to the need to contribute well Click here to Tweet this We have discussed above how to speak and when to speak but not talked about what actually to say. The quality of your contribution is critical to your success and I genuinely feel that by building your knowledge of the company, sector and industry you are putting yourself in a situation where your knowledge will hopefully enable you to contribute more creatively to the tasks you are asked to complete.

Smile and enjoy

The group exercise can be a daunting part of the assessment centre process but actually simply draws upon the skills that you use everyday. By preparing properly, being aware of your own strengths and weakness and taking onboard some of the advice above then there is no reason why you cannot perform well.

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