Group Exercise Success Guide: How To Shine At Your Assessment Day

I hope you enjoy reading this free ‘Group Exercise Success’ guide. If you’re worried about your assessment day or interview you can learn the elite techniques that top-level candidates use for success in my Ultimate Interview & Assessment Day Guide.

2 useful starting-point resources

  • You can listen to my podcast on how to succeed in a group exercise here.

Give yourself an advantage & prepare perfectly

Click here to download a 12-step assessment day cheatsheet

Let’s get started! What is ‘the group exercise’?

The group exercise (sometimes called the ‘group discussion’) is a common assessment centre activity which is widely used by most major employers in the UK and US.

‘What happens during a group exercise?’

A group of candidates work together to perform an activity while being watched by assessors. The assessors will make notes and score the candidates based on their respective contributions to the exercise.

The group exercise can take a variety of forms. You may need to:

  • Discuss a general topic or area of current affairs (Eg “Migrants from Europe are draining the economy of the UK”)
  • Debate a work-related problem before finding a solution and presenting it back to the assessors as a group
  • Complete a task (For example, work through a case-study, role-play scenario, or solve a puzzle.)

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Example Group Exercise – Instructions

Ok, let’s dive in and look at a real-world example group exercise!

SAMPLE GROUP EXERCISE: ‘SURVIVAL’

  • You and your group have found yourselves in a perilous situation as described below. There is a long list of items that you can use to aid your survival, but you can only take a small number of these items with you.
  • Your task is to work out between yourselves which items you will take, and explain why you have chosen these items.
  • The assessors will watch from the sidelines, with each assessor focusing on a specific candidate. They will play no part in the exercise and you will normally forget they are there.
  • There will be no definite right or wrong answer to the task; the assessors are interested more in how you work as a team and the process through which you come to a group consensus. Group members will be scored on their individual input, rather than the overall result for the group, so someone may still do very well in a team that has failed to reach a conclusion.
  • The exercise will usually last around 20 minutes. At the end of the exercise, a member of the group may be asked to present the list of chosen items.
  • Read through the below exercise, and if possible, try it out with some friends!

Example Group Exercise – Practice Test

“On your way back from a holiday in South America, your shuttle flight to the airport is forced to make an emergency landing in a small clearing in the Brazilian rainforest.

You, the pilot, and your fellow passengers have only sustained minor injuries but the plane has broken into pieces and the communication equipment has been destroyed in the impact.

Before the plane crashed the pilot had reported a problem with one of the engines, so there is a good chance that the authorities will start looking for you when you fail to arrive at your destination. However, the forest is very dense and it will take days to reach the edge of it on foot.

You cannot remain where you are as there is a danger that the aeroplane fuel will catch fire.

On searching through the wreckage and the remains of your suitcases you find the following items:

1. A guide to South American plant species
2. 3 elasticated luggage straps
3. 6 frozen airline meals
4. 4 blankets from the plane
5. A pack of 24 anti-malaria tablets
6. A 3 metre square piece of opaque plastic sheeting
7. Tourist map of Brazil
8. 2 large bottles of factor 12 sunscreen
9. Mobile phone with GPS, fully charged
10. 1 litre bottle of the local alcoholic spirit
11. 3 boxes of chocolate chip cookies
12. 4 current paperback novels
13. First aid box
14. Compass
15. Flare gun with one flare
16. A Swiss Army knife
17. A book of matches from the hotel

You are unable to carry more than 7 items from this list. Items containing more than one object still count as one item.”

You have 20 minutes to reach your conclusion and present back to the assessors.

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Stop worrying! Download a 12-step assessment day cheatsheet & be perfectly prepared.

Click here to download your copy

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Practise makes perfect

In a moment we’ll look at some specific ways you should behave during your group exercise.

Remember you can get hold of a full suite of interview preparation tools here and you can practise real assessment day exercises here and here.

How to succeed in your group exercise

Ok this is it! Your big chance to shine in a group setting. Making a good impression during this exercise can have a powerful impact on the assessors. Let’s look at some specific ways to succeed in the group exercise.

If possible, take the lead

Whoever assumes the leadership role automatically gets a head start on the other competitors. Being prepared to show initiative and take responsibility in this way is viewed positively by most assessors. Don’t force it in an unnatural way – but if possible, take the lead.

A good way to position yourself like this is to offer to be the timekeeper during the exercise. Do this as early as possible in the activity. None of the other candidates will refuse your kind offer and it immediately puts you in a positive/responsible light in the eyes of the group and also the assessors. Hey presto, with this practical and collaborative suggestion you have become part of the leadership and an ‘authority figure’ in the group!

Be calm & assertive not aggressive

It can be difficult to put your personality across in a well-rounded way during the group exercise because every candidate wants to make a good impression and each candidate will have a different view of how best to achieve that. Some will be be aggressive and dominating because they want to demonstrate drive, leadership or passion. Others will be overwhelmed and feel so nervous that they struggle to get a foothold in the discussion at all.

Make sure you take part, be forceful if needs be, but smile and be polite and positive at the same time. Think ‘calm and assertive’ rather than ‘aggression’.

Include others

Teamwork, co-operation and the ability to listen to others are important. Including members of the group who have previously been quiet is always a winner with the assessors.

Introduce yourself to everyone with genuine warmth

[Note: Ideally, this is something you should do before the group exercise.] At some point after your arrival the candidates will all be stood/sat together, most likely feeling nervous and being very quiet as they wait to begin an assessment activity.

Use this time to introduce yourself to the others. Smile at them warmly as you shake their hands. Not only does this break the ice and project a confident image, it also gets them on your side and this will help you throughout this and other exercises.

Make the effort to remember their names because…

People love it when you use their names

Remembering the other candidates’ (and assessors’) names shows you are well-mannered and attentive but it also demonstrates you have a good eye for detail and predisposes them to like you.

Try it at natural moments and combine it with a compliment for maximum points! (“What do you think Tom?”, “Great point Emma” etc)

assessment-day

Negativity is verboten

Regardless of what happens do NOT criticise anyone during the exercise. This reflects poorly on you and suggests you might be a moaner. No-one wants to hire a moaner so you should be Mr/Mrs Funtime-Positivity during this exercise!

Practise, practise, practise

Nothing will improve your performance on the day more than familiarity with the exercise. It will increase your competence and also make you feel at ease (and feeling comfortable and relaxed will help hugely). Check out my Ultimate Interview & Assessment Day Guide to learn the success techniques used by elite canidates.

Podcast

You can listen to my podcast on how to succeed in your group exercise (a companion to this article) by clicking here.

Follow the 5 Killer Tips!

This short video rolls up the key points for you:

Positive & Negative Behaviours – Checklist

Lastly, here are some ideas on both positive and negative behaviours associated with the common competencies that are assessed during a group exercise  (+ indicates a positive behaviour and – a negative behaviour). Aim for the plus signs!

Teamwork
+ Who brings other people into the discussion
+ Who encourages other people’s contributions
+ Who builds on and adapts others ideas
+ Who appropriately challenges people’s views
+ Who volunteers to keep track of the time / take notes
– Who talks too much
– Who is insensitive to the feeling of others

Influence
+ Who helps shape the discussion and takes charge
+ Who keeps the discussion on track
+ Who ensures that everyone understands the objectives & whose points are accepted
– Whose arguments are ignored / talked over

Communication
+ Who listens before contributing
+ Who contributes consistently throughout the discussion
+ Who is clear and concise throughout the discussion
– Who is very dominant – interrupting others contributions
– Who does NO talking at all

Problem Solving
+ Who uses the information provided effectively
+ Who provide creative solutions to the problems
– Who wanders from the subject or introduces unnecessary tasks

Commercial awareness
+ Who understands the business and nature of the industry
+ Who ensures that the suggestions and recommendations are appropriate for the business
+ Who understands the brief and sticks to it

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More free articles that will help you

  • Lastly the Tools and Resources page is packed with useful equipment and ‘A’ List recommendations that will make your life easier.

Good luck!

I hope you enjoyed this free guide? I’d love to hear your feedback so please do get in touch and let me know. Thanks and good luck with your assessment centre group exercise!