Tips for Your Assessment Center Group Exercise
Updated January 23, 2023
You have beaten hundreds of applicants to reach the final stage of the interview process for your ideal job and have been invited to an assessment day group exercise.
You will likely be thinking, what’s involved? How many other people will be there? What are the activities, and how can I prepare?
The purpose of assessment center group exercises is to whittle down the number of viable candidates to a select few for each role. After all, it is not unusual for an employer to receive hundreds of applications for their most popular vacancies.
By assessing groups of candidates either at the company or at an external assessment center, the employer can identify a strong shortlist of candidates.
This is much harder to do from a job resume alone.
As a candidate, it is important that you understand what is expected of you on the day to stand the best possible chance of securing the job.
So, here are a few trusted tips for your assessment center group exercise.
Usually, an assessment group exercise involves 7–10 applicants who participate in a series of group activities.
The pre-set exercises are designed to assess everyone’s performance against the job description’s core competencies.
The purpose of each task is to find out who is most suited to the role.
The competencies being tested are often soft skills such as leadership, teamwork, influence and ambition, which are tricky to accurately judge by looking at a resume. Therefore, employers use the assessment day group exercise to delve a little deeper into each applicant's psyche.
Traditionally, assessment center group activities occur at designated centers or your potential workplace. However, it is not uncommon to be asked to join a virtual group assessment center instead.
While you may not be stepping through the doors of the place where you wish to work, you will still get a good feel for the workplace culture and how you would fit in.
The move to a digital format is new and very much a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is still a bit of an unknown, there is every chance that employers will continue with the virtual format indefinitely.
Maybe not for all job roles, but certainly for those in which being able to communicate through MS Teams and other online programs is essential.
In the same way as an in-person assessment center, virtual assessment center group exercises involve case-study-related exercises, discussions and real-life business challenges.
Usually, a virtual assessment center group exercise will last a couple of hours (normally a maximum of three hours). However, there is no set rule. It depends on the job, how many people are in the group, and the number of activities you will be expected to complete.
Try not to worry about extended screen time. You will be given ample time for breaks between sessions, and the odd technology glitches will be expected. It is all part of the experience.
In simple terms, the purpose of an assessment group exercise is to evaluate how an applicant behaves within a group setting.
The series of tasks give the employer an insight into how confident you are. They let the recruiter know whether you are introverted or extroverted and have the right skills for the job.
But what happens at a group assessment center, and what is the employer looking for?
If you are wondering where you start, here are a few tips for your assessment center group exercise preparation.
It helps to explore the typical behaviors each group task is designed to assess.
Although the job role will dictate the type of exercises, the typical skills being evaluated are:
- Confidence in the workplace
- Strong communication
- Logical reasoning
- Commercial knowledge
Within your allocated group of between 7 and 10 candidates (sometimes more), you will be presented with a real workplace challenge that requires the entire team to work together to find a solution.
It is worth remembering that assessors will often recruit for a series of vacancies in any given group exercise.
Therefore, not everyone in your group will be vying for the same position. The chances are that in each group, there will be a combination of applicants with varying degrees of experience and knowledge.
Do not feel dejected if you do not know as much as someone else in the group. Focus on how you can add value by drawing on your strengths.
The type of exercises will depend on the number of people in any given group and the roles they are being assessed for.
However, most assessment group exercises involve at least one of the following:
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In a case-study-based exercise, you will be expected to either watch a video, read a passage or digest several pieces of information as a group. As a collective, your role is to work together on the task at hand. Usually, a key part of the task will be to present back to an interview panel.
If the job role is for a position that requires strong commercial understanding, you may be asked to present your ideas for a new product.
Here, a group presentation would need to demonstrate a strong appreciation of the competition, the product lifecycle, routes to market, cost analysis and how to overcome foreseen challenges.
In a virtual assessment center group exercise, you might be invited to a breakout room where you will discuss your ideas as a collective and come to a solution.
You may be asked to participate in a group discussion on a workplace problem where there could be several different solutions.
In your breakout room, you will work as a team and use your logical reasoning to arrive at a commercially viable solution.
The employer will be looking at how and what each applicant contributes to the discussion. They will analyze your interpersonal skills in a group situation and how confident you are in communicating your ideas.
To assess your leadership skills, you could be invited to a role-play assessment day group exercise. You will be expected to enact a role-specific scenario that could legitimately happen in real life.
The role-plays are designed to test your response as a leader to an unexpected situation. It could be that your group is split into smaller groups, with each pair or individual holding a leadership role for a specific department. You will be assessed on your ability to think logically, act responsively, delegate and keep calm.
If you are wondering how you pass an assessment center group exercise, the first thing you must do is look inwardly. Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
An extrovert is action-oriented, outgoing and very talkative. Introverts are a bit more restrained, reflective, self-aware, and may find group tasks more daunting.
There are plus points to both personality types, and employers recognize this.
However, employers appreciate people who can adapt their behavior to accommodate others within a team.
For instance, as an extrovert, you will need to be careful not to dominate conversations and overpower others in your group. Your enthusiasm may unintentionally come across as brash or overbearing.
As an introvert, you may need to come out of your comfort zone more than you usually would. While being an observer and a detailed person usually allows you to see problems that others may not, you need to remember that group exercises are time-sensitive. If you do not speak up, the employer is unlikely to realize your potential.
With this in mind, regardless of your personality type, here are some behavioral tips for your assessment center group exercise:
Warmly introduce yourself – People usually make up their minds about another person within around three seconds, sometimes less. Approach other members in the assessment day group exercise with a smile and let them know your name. Remember, your body language also needs to reflect your warmth,so avoid crossing your arms and maintain eye contact.
Remember names – Make a point of using first names. This will instantly build trust and show the employer how much value you place on other people. If you are in a virtual assessment center group exercise, user names may be visible. If they are not, you could make a note of them.
Be positive and consistent – You will almost certainly come across opinions and proposals that you disagree with. That’s fine, it is part of the assessment day group exercise. It is how you respond that matters. If you feel an approach is not going to work, you could explain why and introduce your solution in a way that invites the opinions of others.
Listen carefully – This may seem like an obvious one but listening to instructions is incredibly important. You would not want to be marked down on a task because you were not fully present.
Demonstrate you are listening – Whether you are an expressive person or not, you must be assessed to be a good listener. Smiling and nodding when you agree are useful visual cues to remember.
Contribute to discussion – This is one of the most essential tips for your assessment center group exercise. Make sure you do not come across as passive. Stay focused on what others are saying and make a positive contribution. Always make sure you are bringing something new to the table, though. Empty words can be counterproductive.
Be solutions-driven – Contribute ideas that are of direct benefit to the company. You will need to have researched the company in detail to offer
Propel yourself forward – You will need to make an effort to occasionally be first to answer an interviewer’s question. Take a balanced approach and be mindful of giving others a chance to answer. Never interrupt.
Be clear and concise – Make sure your answers and contributions are easy to understand by others in the room.
Do not be afraid to take the lead – Not everyone can take the lead. However, if you are particularly confident in guiding the group to arrive at a strong solution, step forward in a calm, unassuming manner.
Encourage others – Great leaders, and those who stand out to an employer, inspire and value people. During your assessment day group exercise, help co-interviewees develop their ideas. Be inclusive of others and allow quieter individuals to be heard. You will instantly stand out as a relatable and supportive leader.
Be inquisitive – Sometimes, in the heat and speed of discussions, the most obvious questions are missed. Do not be afraid to pause the conversation by questioning certain responses. Likewise, if there is something you are not quite sure about, ask the employer.
Diplomatically challenge – With so many other people in the room, you should be prepared to validate your opinions tactfully. The best way to do this is to justify your response with logical reasoning in a calm yet assertive manner. You will also need to accept that another person in the room could have a better answer.
Be part of the answer – Actively help the group conclude by agreeing on decisions and moving to the next step.
Thank everyone – Whether you liked everyone in the room or not, make sure you thank everyone in the group, as well as the interviewer. Professional courtesy will speak volumes about you.
Now that you know how to stand out in an assessment group exercise, what must you avoid at all costs?
There are six things you must consider, and almost all of them involve making a conscious effort:
Arrogance – One of the biggest tips for your assessment center group exercise, especially if you are a confident person, is to avoid coming across as arrogant. While confidence is an attractive trait in an employee, arrogance rarely is. Employers are looking for team players – people who will inspire and encourage others and not rub them up the wrong way. You should avoid interrupting others, acknowledge other people’s contributions, be assertive yet not dismissive, and make sure that your body language reflects this. Avoid pointing or raising your eyebrows in disapproval.
Talking too much or too little – Be aware of how frequently you contribute to assessment center group activities. If you talk too much, you will come across as overbearing. Too little, and you will be assessed as shy and maybe unknowledgeable. Try and strike an even balance between the two and observe other people’s expressions as you are talking. If they look engaged, you are adding value to the conversation.
Interrupting others – There is nothing worse than somebody who interjects when another person is speaking. Although you may be keen to share your ideas, the interviewer will instantly see the behavior as disrespectful.
Criticizing others – You can challenge opinions but if you are going to do this, remember to be respectful. Acknowledge where the other person’s view has value, and then discuss what the potential issues may be.
Insensitivity – It will be the first time you have met the other applicants, as well as the employer. Some people are more sensitive than others, so it is important that you are aware of what you say and the tone you use.
Going off topic – In an assessment day group exercise situation, going off topic can be a real distraction for others in the group. You may also be viewed as lacking attention to detail. Therefore, keep your answer or observation relevant to the discussion and your insights clear and concise.
A little preparation goes a long way. The most important thing is to read through the documentation the employer has sent you so that you know what to expect.
You should make a note of the assessment center group activities you have been invited to participate in and what time you must arrive or log on (if virtual).
Most employers will list what you will need to bring with you on the day, so make sure you allow plenty of time for preparation.
You will also need to mentally ready yourself. With this in mind, the following tips for your assessment center group exercise will help:
Familiarize yourself with the core competencies – By understanding these, you will have a strong understanding of what the employer will assess you on. It is good to have at least two examples of how you meet each of the core competencies.
Prepare a self-introduction – So that you are not caught on the spot, prepare a summary of yourself ahead of time. Do not be too exact with your wording, though – you will want to come across as natural and fluent when talking about yourself.
Plan a list of questions – Some exercises will allow you to ask the employer questions about the role and the company, so you will need to have some strong questions ready.
Rest up – Try not to work late into the night running through the tips for your assessment center group exercise. Make sure you get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and ensure you have a substantial meal before setting off.
Practice stress-management techniques – A small amount of adrenalin on the day is a good thing, but you will need to keep your anxiety to a comfortable level. There are some great mindfulness and relaxation apps to help center and relax the mind ahead of the big day.
Once you have navigated these tips for your assessment center group exercise, the only thing left to do is enjoy the experience. After all, it is a great opportunity to meet new people, put your interpersonal skills to the test, and discover more about yourself.
Assessment group exercises are far more participatory than verbal and numerical reasoning tests, and paper-based competency questionnaires.
The benefit to you as the candidate is that you get a 360-degree insight into what it would be like to work for the company. The assessment day is as much about you as it is the employer. If you are offered the role, you will know with absolute certainty whether the position is an excellent match for you.