Nailing Assessment Centre Group Exercises for Civil Service Fast Stream
Assessment Centre Group
Civil Service Fast Stream
[currently MSc Economics at Sussex]
The impossible equilibrium
Standard format: set of options on offer (A, B, C, D), each person
gets some general background information about the situation
and the options.
Each person also gets a specific briefing note unique to them,
which describes the preferences of their department/role.
You might be told your department prefers option B 1st, D 2nd
and asks you to avoid A because it will be problematic.
Everyone has a different set of preferences. Game is set up with
no equilibrium outcome.
Usually there is too much information to really take in in the
time – don’t panic, look for the key nuggets.
• What your department really wants – why you’re there.
• Any reference to ‘strategic plan’ or indication that a particular
consideration is a priority (this will be useful for ‘driving home’ or
• Any headline statistics: particularly value for money.
• Prepare 3 core arguments for your preferred option.
Making your argument
State your case clearly in the opening stages, then be willing to
concede a bit/prioritise a group solution.
• Prepare your opening pitch:
• I’m [NAME], I’m representing [DEPARTMENT], our main priority is to
ensure [WHAT YOU REALLY WANT FROM THE MEETING], our preferred
option would be [OPTION].
• Keep the opening short and focused, it settles your nerves and
being brief/punchy will impress (most people blabber out of
nerves at this point).
• Work your case around 3 core arguments and ideally a couple
of key statistics.
You are likely to have 2 potential allies, someone with
your 1st choice as their 2nd, someone with your 2nd as their
• Note others’ preferences when they make their initial
pitch and spot your ally/allies.
• If one looks strong, could ally up and go for that option;
but also useful to help out ally who is nervous (following up
their arguments with supporting points; reminding group of
summary of their argument later etc).
• Alliances don’t always work out but assessors will look for
evidence that you are looking to build bridges with others.
Structuring a group
Usually there is no chairperson, but being able to co-
ordinate a group through suggestion (not being pushy) is a
huge winner with assessors.
Key principles for good structuring -
• Awareness of time
• Summarising arguments
• Focusing the group on the trade-offs required to get a
Good structure for 30 minute discussion: 10 minute
opening, 10 minute wider discussion, 10 minutes finalising
between 2 options.
Structuring a group
• Opening suggestion to group: “would it be useful for
everybody to do a quick opening summary of their position
and then open up generally?”
• Try not to let the group do a “go through each option and
argue the pros and cons” – recipe for stalemate.
• Time: suggest someone is timekeeper, but keep an eye on
the time yourself, subtly suggest “how are we doing for
time?” if timekeeper doesn’t.
• Suggest 10 min warning, this will be a key signal to start
focusing the group: summarise the positions and try to cut
down options here to a choice of 1 from 2 (or 2 from 3).
Focus more on following the discussion than on your
argument. Differentiate yourself from the ‘paper
• Lots of candidates have their heads down shuffling paper
trying to prepare their next argument.
• The way to impress is to have your head up (can be writing
notes/referring to papers), engaging with others.
• Be positive and constructive, acknowledge good
arguments from others, summarise/check understanding of
their points to show listening.
Driving towards an outcome
Key concept here: there is no perfect solution, there are
trade-offs, you have to work round them.
• In 2nd half of the time switch your emphasis from your
argument towards prioritising how the group can reach a
• Ways to break stalemate: summarise discussion, main
advantages/disadvantages, narrow to 2 options and identify
‘sticking points’ to focus discussion.
• Remember ‘strategic plan’ point from reading material –
useful on which to drive home your preference, or to justify
Driving towards an outcome
• If you have to agree two decisions rather than one, try to
offer something on 2nd to someone who lost out on 1st (eg if
it appeared to be their ‘do not want’ option!)
• Be aware that the assessors may throw in a curveball
(stopping the exercise 5 min before and changing the brief)
– the test here is on who can avoid being flustered and
calmly identify the reality of the new trade-offs and focus
• Don’t worry if the group dynamics go against you and
people block your attempts to get a decision – if you are the
one trying to drive the group to an outcome you will get
1. Getting the “right” decision is good, but showing good
communication and leadership (structuring) skills more
2. Pick up key facts and strategic background from reading
material, rather than drowning in detail.
3. Open with structuring suggestions and a brief punchy
4. First half focus on good, structured argument. Second
half focus on directing group to a decision.
5. Accept trade-offs in difficult decisions, focus group on
the core trade-offs and narrow options to 2 outcomes.
6. Communication – head up and engaged not head down