Assessment Centre Group Discussion Exercises – Overview

  • Assessment Center Group Discussions are primarily aimed to see how you work with others
  • A typical group exercise can involve 6 candidates, and 3-6 assessors who will observe you
  • Competencies that are typically assessed in the session include Team Working, Communicating, Influencing and Collaborating
  • Useful tips to consider: control your body language (e.g. eye contact, posture, etc), include those who don’t speak much in conversation, keep time, contribute and show you can deal with difficult individuals. Scroll below to find out how.

What are Group Discussion Exercises?

Group discussion exercises tend to look at some common competencies across different jobs, although there are other competencies that will vary by role.

In an assessment centre group exercise, the theme or task required by the candidates is often a reflection of what the candidate may be required to do in the actual job.

The group discussion gives the employer, assessors in this case, an opportunity to observe the candidates in action.

The assessors are able to observe the behaviours that are exhibited by the various individuals and see how these line up with the competencies that are deemed relevant for the job. Common competencies include:

how candidates work together, supporting each other, and allowing each other an opportunity to express themselves. It is important to remember not to confuse ‘Influencing’ with ‘Team Working’ as it is highly unlikely that both of these will be assessed during a single exercise.
how candidates get their message across, how their body language helps their communication, how they listen to others.
some recruiters may consider being able to influence to be critical to success in the job. As a result, they may use a group discussion to see how well candidates influence others. For example, for a sales job where individuals often work competitively.

Group discussions typically involve 6 candidates at most and 3 to 6 observers. It is more common and cost-effective to have 1 assessor for every 2 candidates but it has been known for group exercises to have 1 assessor per candidate. The seats of the assessors are positioned so that they can clearly see their 2 candidates for the entire session.

Contrary to some beliefs, observers do not (or at least are trained not to) ‘Evaluate’ (make judgements) during an exercise. Instead they write down (Record) everything they ‘hear’ and ‘see’ and avoid writing anything they ‘think’ or ‘feel’.

Why? The reason for this is simple; judgements are not objective and anything inappropriate that leads to a rejection could result in huge fines for the employer. After the session is over, the assessor will review the information they have ‘recorded’ and decide how each area may fit to a particular competency. The assessor then makes a decision about an individual’s competence.

If you plan to prepare for Group Discussion Exercises or other assessments for your Assessment Centre, you will need to practice a wide variety of exercises. You may consider starting with our assessment centre practice exercises written by ex-SHL consultants. SHL are the most commonly used assessment tests publishers used in hiring. We provide Case Study, In-tray, Presentation, Group Discussion and Role Play Exercises along with Marking Guides to tell you what Assessors will look at when rating you. Marking guides are important, they will give you a hint of how Assessors think.

What is an Assessment Centre Group Exercise?

Group Discussion Exercises – Useful Tips

1. Control your body language

Ensure good body language and maintain a relaxed eye contact. Make sure when you are listening to others you are attentive and demonstrate this through nods and gestures of agreement. If you feel uncomfortable in terms of how you are sitting, simply ‘mirroring’ other people will help. Smiling always helps too.

2. Manage conflict

Avoid confrontation and ensure you allow everyone a chance to speak. If someone is consistently rude and aggressive, do not resort to this yourself. Assessors will pick this up. Avoid being forceful or speaking over anybody.

3. Contribute during the discussion

Ensure you contribute to the conversation. Often candidates challenge ahead to lead the group, or even stand up to make notes on a board, however this doesn’t always earn you points and can sometimes isolate you from the group discussion.

4. Keep time

Keeping a check on the time will earn you good points. Suggesting that you will keep a check on the time and providing regular updates throughout the discussion will also work well. However, if you commit to this responsibility then make sure you maintain that check. There is nothing worse than the session running out of time when you have appointed yourself as time-keeper.

5. Involve others

Keep an eye out for those individuals who do not say anything and take the opportunity to ask them their opinions. The assessors will love this, the individual will be grateful to have been given a chance to speak and of course you will be recognised for this. Teamwork is key even though all around you compete with you.

6. It’s not about you

More often than not, the exercises involved often require coming to an agreement on a particular topic. For example, you may be given individual proposals and asked to agree on two of these as a group to pursue for the benefit of the company. In these situations, remember you do not always have to ‘win’ and get your proposal accepted. Try to do what is better for the artificial ‘company’ as presented in the exercise, than what you think might benefit you.