Assessment Centre Tasks

Group exercises

Group exercises are designed to assess your behaviour and effectiveness in a team. They could include group discussions about a topic determined by the employer or assessor. Sometimes these topics are deliberately contentious. Alternatively the group may be asked to discuss and then deliver recommendations in relation to a business problem. Other exercises require you to work together on a physical task, such as building a bridge out of paper and straws.

Skills and qualities being assessed in such activities may include communication style, cooperation and negotiation, ability to analyse and present a reasoned argument, participation and contribution (leadership).

In group exercises be aware that you are being assessed in terms of the quality and originality of your contribution, your effectiveness in drawing others into the discussion or moving the group forward and your skills in summarising group opinions at stages in the discussion.

Remember to make eye contact with other participants and to speak clearly. Constructive teamwork is an essential ingredient of most jobs and these exercises give you an opportunity to showcase your skills in this regard.

Group activities are one of the most recognisable elements of an assessment centre. Usually they involve having to complete a set task in a specified amount of time with a group of other applicants. The main types of group exercises include:

  • General discussion of a topic: 'What actions should the government take in responding to a natural disaster in an overseas country?'
  • Discussion/debate of a work related topic.
  • Deciding on an ordered list of priorities: 'What selection of goods or people should be priorities in a rescue situation?'.
  • Completing a particular task: 'Build a helicopter out of a newspaper or a suspension bridge out of paddle-pop sticks'.

In group exercises you are being observed on how effectively you work in a team to make decisions within a set period of time. Organisations also use this exercise to get a sense of your cultural fit in relation to their own values.

Presentations

Individual or group presentations are a common form of assessment activity. You may know your topic a few days in advance or it may be given at shorter notice. An understanding of good presentation structure and style will help you to successfully get through these exercises. Remember to concentrate equally on content and how you come across - your body language and voice tone can make a huge impact on your presentation. Try to anticipate the needs of your audience and tailor the presentation to them. Essential elements of a good presentation include well defined structure; relevant, succinct content; appropriate body language, eye contact, voice and pauses; use of visual aids if appropriate; preparation of answers to likely questions at the end of your presentation; and practice.

In-tray exercises

This exercise simulates a manager's in-tray and your challenge is to prioritise the tasks. You will be given a short time to do this. Time will be of the essence as you will not be able to read all the material thoroughly; be prepared to read enough to enable you to come up with an understanding of the issues and be able to suggest a sensible solution, which you can justify. In this sense, it is often more important to be able to articulate a good reason for your list of priorities rather than getting the order right.

Case studies, problem solving exercises & written exercises

These exercises set you "real" business tasks involving disparate information. These exercises are designed to test your ability to prioritise, plan, make deductions and analyse. They are an opportunity to demonstrate your clarity of thought and comprehension, your mental agility and your creativity and imagination in a practical context. Although the content of your solution may be assessed, these types of exercises are very much about process: how you go about solving the problem.