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:
- Relationship Building
- Decisiveness and critical thinking ability
TYPES OF EXERCISE
Group exercises can vary considerably but broadly can be categorised into 3 types.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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