Employers in London are increasingly using assessment centres to choose between different candidates. One element becoming more and more common is the group exercise. This can often feel like the scariest part of an entire interview process, because you are being assessed alongside your competition. But you have nothing to worry about if you follow the seven simple steps to success below.
The group exercise can take many forms, from a role-play project to building a tower made out of newspaper. Most likely, your team will be given a role-play with accompanying information and a clear outcome for an imaginary project or decision. Whatever the specific requirements, group exercises tend to share the same features so heres how to excel:
Be a team player
One of the most impressive things you can do in a group exercise is to facilitate others becoming more involved. There are certain boxes that the interviewer will be looking to tick and having a positive influence on your team will be central. A piece of crucial evidence that the interviewer will look for is whether you can bring others into the discussion. An easy way to involve others is to choose the person who has spoken the least after five minutes and give them a chance to contribute by saying something like, Alex, what do you think of that? It is excellent to do this kind of thing throughout the exercise, but doing it just once is a million times better than not doing it at all. The interviewer will then be able to evidence you being a great team player who can bring more out of other people and this helps to show you have leadership potential.
One trick aspect of many group exercises is an evaluation stage that you need to go through afterwards. Some companies will incorporate a debrief into their group exercise, either written or with an assessor, where you discuss your own performance and also the performance of the team. You may even be asked to critique another team members strengths and weaknesses. Remember: be a team player. You must remain very positive about your colleagues here; it is a good idea to suggest at least a couple of positives for every negative that you provide. But the interviewers do want to see that you can identify areas of development in other people and not just yourself because this shows you have the potential to manage others. Your interviewer will be impressed if you can offer sensitive but accurate suggestions of how your fellow interviewees could build on their performance.
Be as friendly and positive as possible throughout the interview process, and especially within the group exercise. Make sure that you remember the names of your fellow interviewees because this makes it far easier to build rapport with them. Interviewees will normally be wearing nametags during an assessment centre but it is best to avoid needing to scan these during the actual exercise, when you have enough to concentrate on. If you get a chance to speak to people earlier in the day then do start learning names then; once youre comfortable with the names of your team members it will be far easy to involve them and present yourself as personable within the exercise.
This is an important competency that the group interview is designed to test. Do you sometimes struggle to remember names? Try the following: Alliteration, rhyme and other wordplay can be great ways to remember a name. If Ricky is wearing a red shirt them remember red Ricky and if it is Ted who is wearing one, Red Ted. Linking to a visual like this is also an effective way to jog your memory. Repetition is a brilliant way to remember things. Repeat names back straight away, for instance by saying nice to meet you Paul. If you think you will struggle to recall the name, continue to repeat in your head.
Write down the names of team members down if you are in a meeting. You can do this in the shape of the seating plan to make recall even quicker. Writing aids memory because you are processing the information with a different part of your brain and so giving yourself an extra route to remembering. Presence is also crucial. We often dont remember things because we werent actually listening in the first place. It is easy to get distracted during an interview and worry about what you just said, or how your tie is done up, or how you will approach the next task. Nothing will help your interview performance more than learning to be in the moment and actually hearing what people are saying. You need to be clear and concise in your contributions during the group exercise. Every unnecessary word is stopping a team-member from making a contribution and so interviewers will not look kindly on waffle.
Open body language, a smile and good eye contact will go a long way to putting your team at ease and impressing the assessors, who want to see that you have the basic social skills necessary to build work relationships. Start smart- Start the task with purpose and you will be confident throughout so think about the kind of contributions you will be able to make early on. Group exercises normally involve dealing with a lot of information within a relatively short space of time, perhaps as little as fifteen or twenty minutes. So whatever the specifics of the project it is a very good idea to clarify the task with the rest of the team (say something like, so to be clear, we are aiming to…) and agree on a basic plan of approach. Your approach might involve generating ideas together first or, more typically, spending a few minutes reading through information and making notes individually before coming together as a group.
Everyone in the group will be looking to make a good first impression, and this kind of purposeful contribution at the start will quickly show some leadership. Equally, dont get carried away if you find yourself in a group of people who are trying to dominate the start of the exercise. If several interviewees are trying to jump in with contributions about how the task should be approached then be the calming voice that mediates between them and suggests a practical decision. People often dread this kind of scenario and yet it is the perfect chance to make a good first impression on the assessors. If your main aim is to help the team get along then you will succeed whatever your fellow interviewees are like.
Take on a role
Another great tip for success in the group exercise is to take on a role within your team. There may be certain roles that are specific to the task, but there are more general ones you can always take on. Timekeeping for the team is effective way to show leadership. Dont just tell the time randomly like a toddler who has just learned to read a watch; remind the group that there are only ten minutes left and they still need to agree on product ideas and come up with a marketing plan. Again, you are helping the team to perform. Note-taking for the group, whether on paper or a whiteboard, is another common way to contribute and appear prominent.
It is very important to realise that some roles carry dangers with them. Taking notes is a good example of this. I was once in a group exercise and took on the note-taking role. I found myself contributing to the discussion less because I was busy writing down notes; fortunately I realised this in time. Ive heard several stories of candidates who made very few contributions in a group because they took on a designated role like note-taking and became distracted by it. This mistake is a common pitfall but should in no way stop you from taking on responsibilities in the team. If you can avoid getting distracted then your multitasking skills will impress the assessors. When done correctly these kinds of roles show that you have initiative and can manage different tasks, which are very valuable skills in any industry.
In a group exercise it is crucial that you provide ideas and show that you can think creatively. This may seem daunting if you do not consider yourself to be an ideas person but there are lot of ways you can contribute suggestions and take the discussion forward. The interviewers will be impressed if you can think of innovative and creative solutions for your team, but you certainly dont need to reinvent the wheel with zany contributions. Some group exercises will give different information to each candidate or a couple of different sources that dont initially appear connected. In this case being creative will involve making links between the information in a way that someone else in the group has not yet done. If you develop basic commercial awareness by reading the business sections of newspapers, you will come across lots of ideas that might be relevant in a group exercise.
Many corporate assessment centres, within industries ranging from law to consulting, include exercises where you plan a project with your team. Suggestions such as using social media to promote the product are almost always relevant. The interviewers want to see that you can think of sensible ideas and you will be more than capable of that.
Dont be too loud or too quiet
Its great to stand out in a group exercise, but only for the right reasons. You should not be the quietest person in the group. It is probably a good idea not to be the loudest person in the group either. If you are ticking one competency a lot then try to vary your contributions and show other skills. For instance, you may have facilitated others really well but not come up with many of your own suggestions. Or you may have come up with lots of great ideas but not really showed any leadership in structuring the discussion. Balance your contributions and this will allow you to show all of the skills that the interview wants to see. One way to make sure you are ticking all the boxes is to reflect on what kind of contributions you make the most when you are in group discussions, at work or even in your social circle.
Contributions within a group typically fall into the following categories: 1. Making a new suggestion. 2. Supporting someone elses suggestion. 3. Clarifying and summarising. 4. Opposing someone elses suggestion. Which of these do you tend to do the most?
Suggesting new ideas is excellent and we have seen how this can show your creative side. But remember that timing is everything. New ideas need to be relevant to the current strand of discussion otherwise the team can become sidetracked. Suggesting an idea at the right point in the conversation is as important as the idea itself. Supporting someone elses suggestion is a good way to build rapport and it shows the interviewers that you can promote a positive dynamic. But if you do this too often it can appear as if youre not helping to progress the discussion at all. Equally, opposing someone elses idea can be a high-risk, high-reward strategy.
You should not agree with team members simply because you are trying to appear friendly; a company would lose a lot of money if their employees all did this. However you need to be very tactful when disagreeing with your team members. This is typically the type of contribution you want to make the least because it breaks rapport and can appear aggressive. If the interviewers think that your counterpoints were not accurate or relevant then you will lose credibility with them. But opposition can be the most impressive kind of contribution if done respectfully and with a positive demeanour.
Group exercises often follow very similar formats but there are some key differences that may be included. For instance, one common format is that the company gives each of you different information and a different viewpoint to defend. Think to yourself, why are they doing this? The employer wants to see if you can defend a particular interest whilst still working for the benefit of the team. So stand up for your viewpoint but if there is a more viable alternative then be willing to back down and support it. If you have made your case but the rest of the team is clearly siding with a different idea, then you will gain nothing from pursuing an argument. Remember that group exercises rarely have a right answer, and so it is your ability to work with others that is most important here.