Stand out from the crowd in graduate group exercises

by K B , updated on April 9, 2010

It’s graduate interview season and if you’ve nailed the online test or the telephone interview, it’s highly likely  you’ll face an assessment centre where you’ll probably go through a group exercise. You may have seen them. Typically, you sit in a group talking about how to survive as a ship wrecked boat crew on a deserted island, with only a box of matches, a rope and a can of sardines at your disposal.  Or you solve some sort of work related problem.

As someone who’s assessed many group exercises, some of the behaviour I’ve seen, has left me scratching my head. My biggest tips for tackling these are, that you do not try to be a superstar single handedly saving the team. If you just try to get the basics right and remember good manners, you’ll be alright.

What are you assessed on in a graduate group exercise?

Primarily, you are assessed on your team work skills and leadership potential.

For team work this includes your ability to listen to others, how you work with others to come up with a solution and the respect you show for others’ ideas.  For leadership you are expected to be able to facilitate a discussion, perhaps to suggest ways to solve a problem or to move things forward.  You are also expected to encourage others to join in, work with weaker team members and to ask people their ideas. If the group loses focus (as always happens) you will show leadership skills if you bring the group back on track.

On top of team work, you are also expected to show problem solving skills. It is not necessary that you come up with the most perfect solution, but you do need to have good ideas to contribute and you do need to be able to explain your reasoning behind these ideas.

Finally you will need to show good communication and interpersonal skills. So you speak clearly, and you use appropriate body language. Your tone is encouraging and pleasant. You speak neither too softly nor too loudly. Your language is appropriate and people want to listen to you.

Common graduate group exercise mistakes

Here are the most common mistakes I have seen:

1. You have your idea and you are determined that this is the best idea. What happens from here is that you end up blurting it all out, dominating the group and not inviting others to comment on it

2. You dismiss others ideas.  Part of team work is to make others feel part of the group. If you don’t think other people’s opinions are intelligent, then either don’t comment, or ask them to explain in more detail how that would work.  Remember, you can dismiss people in a variety of ways either verbally, by blocking them out, turning your back on them or raising your eyebrows. I’m sure you get the gist of what I’m saying. These behaviours are all equally bad and your assessor will notice

3. You don’t listen. Your assessor knows this when you do not acknowledge what other people are saying,  you do not build on others ideas or you have tossed your idea into the conversation and not followed the line of argument

4.  You cut people off or talk over the top of people.  This is bad. Enough said 😉 

 5. You barely speak.  This is almost as bad. Enough said about not enough said 😉

 6.You only talk to half the group. See the point on dismissing ideas

 7. You have a side ways conversation with another person while the rest of the group is discussing something else. (I’m not a fan of this at dinner parties, so if I as an assessor see this in a group exercise, I become a little cranky)

How to prepare for a graduate group exercise

There are so many scenarios that you may face, that it’s difficult for me to be prescriptive. However before you face the assessment day, think about teams you’ve worked in, or discussions you’ve had where you’ve solved a problem in a positive way. Think about what you’ve done and the process you’ve followed. You could suggest that same process in the group exercise.

On the assessment day, read and re-read the instructions, jot down your ideas to solve the problem and your thought process behind them. Remind yourself to mind your manners.

There is a lot more to this than the tips I’ve just given you. If you’d like more targeted help with handling graduate interviews, role plays and group exercises, contact me at

Have a read here for graduate resume tips


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mandeep April 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Hi Karalyn,

Really enjoyed reading this post – very informative.

I have an assessment centre coming up with NAB. The problem is that thus far I have never made it past the assessment centre (im currently finishing up my second degree). It seems to me that such assessments favour those who are naturally extroverted – something I am not. I wouldnt say I am shy and can deliver presentations, and work well within a team – but I am naturally a quiet person. Further its very diffficult for me to simply spark up a conversation or to small talk. Any Tips on how I can do better within Assessment Centres?

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