How To: ace an Assessment Centre – the Group Exercise

This series is long overdue, but recent requests for help from both friends and LinkedIn/blog connections have prompted me to finally write up some guidance on assessment centres. And because there are a few stages to them, I have broken them up into four parts so that they are easily digestible: the case study, the group exercise, the interview and the ‘green room’ time.

Assessment Centre: a process where an organisation can examine candidates by using techniques like interviews, group exercises, presentations and simulated work exercises. Created to recruit officers in World War I – they are widely used by solicitors’ firms in the recruitment process for vacation schemes and training contracts. They are also one of the most feared parts of the process – but I am here to tell you that there is no need to fear them, as long as you read this post carefully and follow the steps and advice laid out below! People think of it like something from The Hunger Games – but in my experience, that is far from the case.

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I will start with a caveat (the best way to start any piece of advice…) I have only completed three assessment centres – two for vacation schemes and one for a non-law position with a FTSE 100 asset management company. Three isn’t a huge number and each were very different – however, I was lucky enough to be offered positions for all three, so I hope my musings will help a little. I have tried to make this advice generally applicable, even with the variances, although I do appreciate that firms often structure ACs differently, sometimes including a written exercise or other practical assessment.

The Group Exercise:

When giving advice to my friend I said something along the lines of “Don’t be a jerk”. Although that’s the censored version. Yes, you are all in competition with each other, but that does not mean that that gives you a licence to behave nastily or throw anyone under the bus – or be an obnoxious know-it-all. The clue is in the name: GROUP exercise. Yes, you will want to stand out, but you also have to show that you can work together and that you aren’t afraid to let others shine and contribute. The most important bit of advice that I can give is to forget that you are part of an assessment and work TOGETHER. It’s hard to ignore the people staring at you from the corners of the room, furiously scribbling in their notepads, but I found that once I focused on the task before us and tried to use each of our collective and individual skills it was an enjoyable experience.

A few Don’ts:

  • Don’t dominate.
  • Don’t talk over anyone.
  • Don’t sit in silence.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and (politely) disagree with your teammates.
  • Don’t talk for the sake of talking – have a point.
  • Don’t be concerned if you aren’t a law student – firms aren’t expecting perfectly formed legal answers.

A few Dos:

  • Do suggest someone keeps time – even if it’s not you.
  • Do recommend someone keeps notes – again, even if it’s not you.
  • Do read the brief thoroughly – it’s easy to get pulled off-piste in group exercises and miss hitting all the points, plus keeping people on track will gain you marks.
  • Do remember that you have an aim – a project to work on together.
  • Do make sure you include anyone who has been noticeably quiet.
  • Do use your common sense (again) in coming up with solutions – common sense is underrated, but highly valued.
  • Do think holistically (again) about any issues presented to you in the exercise.
  • Do listen and respond to your teammates – don’t just wait for them to finish and then get on your soapbox, ignoring what they have said.

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My advice in a nutshell is that, as long as you do a little research beforehand, be yourself and use your common sense – there is no reason to fear an Assessment Centre nor worry it will be your undoing. Like me, you may even surprise yourself and enjoy parts of the process!

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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