Assessment Centres a Survival Guide Part 3

Group Exercises and other tests


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Assessment Centres, a Survival Guide: Group Exercises


In my previous entries in this series I’ve explained why Companies use Assessment Centres and the preparation you should undertake before attending them.  

I then went on to talk about psychometric tests, basket exercises and some of the other challenges you might face.  In my final BLOG on the subject I want to give you some tips on how to handle Group Exercises, Presentations and interviews.

Group Exercises

These induce a great deal of anxiety in some people, and they really shouldn’t.  You’ve arrived at this point of the recruitment process because you have already jumped several hurdles, so now is the time to have some belief in yourself.  Group exercises vary in style and content.  They may be role specific or somewhat abstract.  However, they fall into distinct types.  

First, the discussion.  This is modelled on the old balloon debate idea, you know, 3 people in a balloon, it’s going down unless 2 of them jump out; who should we save? Leonardo da Vinci, Lady Gaga or Nick Clegg? In other words a question is posed which requires everyone to express an opinion.  

Second, and more common, is the task.  I have seen attendees asked to build a bridge out of Lego. I have seen people be given a list of things to do and asked to put them into an order of priority.  These tasks are usually sedentary, but just occasionally you may be asked to perform a task which involves building something or crossing an imaginary river. So what are the assessors looking for? Well, there may be some role or industry specific things.  If it is a sales role, can you sell an idea? If the role involves negotiation, can get the idea.  

But in every case they will be looking for 3 things: are you assertive (i.e. not submissive or aggressive); do you work well in a team (do you play nicely); do you fit in their company culture? I have worked for a company where I got promoted because I was part of a team who staged a play featuring frankly awful impersonations of the assessors. I seem to remember the HR Director was a bit sweaty and I simulated this by smearing my face with vaseline (don’t ask).  In any sensible company they would have shown me the door.  But this business valued extroversion and sheer brass neck, which I exhibited with my slippery performance.  The same company has got into trouble 30 years on by asking an applicant to sing and dance at an interview. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. My wife worked for a very sensible bank (when banks were still sensible) and the assessment centre she attended was a very austere affair.  Different cultures. This explains why I make a fool of myself at parties and she sits in the corner with her head in her hands.

The most important point to remember however is that in Group Exercises, whatever you do, you must participate.  

Don’t get into the vicious spiral in your head: “if I say the wrong thing, I’m doomed, if I don’t say enough, I’m doomed".  In both cases you are probably right but if you don’t participate you are not giving the assessors anything to, well, assess.   Try to be yourself, but do not sit quietly like a wallflower.  I guarantee, that WILL be noticed.


Presentations are designed to see if you can make a case and deliver it with confidence.  Personally, I like a bit of panache thrown in too.  Presentations also test other skills like research, organisation and even your IT skills.  Sometimes the subject matter will have been chosen to give you an opportunity to illustrate your expertise on an element of the job.  In the retail fashion business, which I know well (I’m well dapper, me) clothing buyers are routinely asked to prepare a “mood board” for next season, i.e. they are asked to produce a coherent view of what customers will be buying 6 months hence.  My absolute favourite example of this approach (he does it at 1st interview, actually) is the retail entrepreneur who plonks £1,000 on the table and asks the buyer to come back in a week’s time with a rail of clothes that should be in his stores - now that IS putting your money where your mouth is.

If you are given the subject of the presentation in advance study the brief carefully and deliver to it.  Check the presentation facilities open to you and if you are using IT have a back up just in case it fails (it often does in my experience - the promised projector is nowhere to be found).  Finally,  put the work in.  I heard a graduate whinging on the Today Programme yesterday that it was hard work preparing for finals AND applying for jobs and attending assessment centres. 'Twas always thus, even in my day, when graduate jobs were handed out like sweeties and companies fought over talented masters of the English language, like what I was.  If you want the job, suck it up and put in the work.   If you are not prepared to put in the work, you won't get the job.  Sorry about that. If you are asked to prepare a presentation on the day my advice is simple: don’t panic.  Everyone else is in the same boat.  Just triple check the brief, make notes to clarify what you want to say before you start to prepare your slides and then give it your best shot.


Dependent on how the Assessment Centre is organised you could be interviewed at any time during the day;  you could be first, you may be last.  It’s quite nice to be interviewed later in the day.  Although the assessors will be getting tired, you will have developed a much better idea as to what attributes they are looking for. You will also have an idea as to whether or not you have displayed those attributes.  So take the opportunity of this bit of luck to make sure that they have received the core message about yourself that you want them to receive, whatever it is.  If you are first, don’t worry, you can still apply the same principle.  Tell them why they should hire you.  Another great tip is to ask them how they think you compare with the other attendees. I have written about this and some other cool techniques elsewhere, so please please search my truly excellent BLOG under the tag "interviews" for more wisdom and stunning insights on this subject.

In Summary If you have an assessment centre coming up, don’t panic.  As I wrote at the beginning of this series prepare well, adopt an attitude of positive self-expectancy and go for it.  

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For personal help with CV Writing, LinkedIn Profiles, Interviews or your Job Search, please give me a call on 0333 300 1296

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