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Group Exercises in Graduate Interview Stages - What Are They Looking For?

Karina Oluwo

30 October 2019

by Karina Oluwo

( Words)

​Group tasks and exercises are now as common a part of the graduate recruitment process as filling in an application form or a face-to-face interview. However, group exercises are the one element of recruitment which candidates often fear the most. They worry that everything they say or do will be noted down and held against them during the interview. Part of this fear comes from a misunderstanding about what employers are looking for during a group exercise, and it’s not always what you might think.

You Don’t Have to Be the Leader

One of the biggest myths about group exercises is that the observers are trying to spot who is taking the leadership role. This leads to all of the candidates pushing their own opinions forward, talking over each other and trying to dictate the flow of the conversation. Unless you have been told that you will specifically be assessed on your leadership style, it’s safe to assume that this is the wrong approach. Observers will probably be looking to see how you interact with the other people in the group. They don’t want to see you trying to boss them around.

Great Communication Skills

One thing which observers are looking for is how you communicate. This means knowing when to be quiet and listen as much as it means getting your point across effectively. Try not to waffle, and keep your points clear and concise. Try to build on points made by other people to show you’ve been listening, and have considered what they said. Don’t dominate the discussion by rambling on, and ask other people for their input on what you’ve said.

Including Everyone

There’s always someone who tries to dominate a group situation while more reserved people shrink into the background and say nothing. A good way of showing that you are aware of the group dynamic and able to draw people in is to directly ask the quieter members of the group what they think, or whether they can add any other ideas into the mix.

Keep the Group on Track

Usually the format of a group exercise is that you’re given a task, and a set amount of time to complete it. Keep one eye on your watch and try to keep the group focused so that all elements of the task can be completed on time. Try to summarise what has been discussed and decided at regular points during the activity. If your task is a practical “build a bridge out of spaghetti” task, remember to leave plenty of time at the end for testing.

Expect the Unexpected

Interviewers often like to throw groups a curveball, either by presenting them with an exercise completely unrelated to the job they are interviewing for or changing the rules halfway through. If this happens, don’t get flustered; take a moment to refocus. Don’t waste time discussing the changes, just try to move on using the new information you have been given.


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