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Nailing Assessment Centre Group Exercises for Civil Service Fast Stream


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Presentation by Alex Shirvani, October 2015

Published in: Career
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Nailing Assessment Centre Group Exercises for Civil Service Fast Stream

  1. 1. Assessment Centre Group Exercises Alex Shirvani Civil Service Fast Stream [currently MSc Economics at Sussex]
  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. Reading material 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 ‘tactical conceding’). • Any headline statistics: particularly value for money. • Prepare 3 core arguments for your preferred option.
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. Alliances You are likely to have 2 potential allies, someone with your 1st choice as their 2nd, someone with your 2nd as their 1st . • 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.
  6. 6. 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 solution Good structure for 30 minute discussion: 10 minute opening, 10 minute wider discussion, 10 minutes finalising between 2 options.
  7. 7. 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).
  8. 8. Communication skills Focus more on following the discussion than on your argument. Differentiate yourself from the ‘paper shufflers’. • 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.
  9. 9. 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 solution. • 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 conceding.
  10. 10. 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 the group. • 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 credit.
  11. 11. Summary 1. Getting the “right” decision is good, but showing good communication and leadership (structuring) skills more important. 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 opening pitch. 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 shuffling papers.