10/22/2013 0 Comments
Why I love GraduateAssessment Centres: especially the Group Discussion Exercise....
I love graduate recruitment. I find meeting, assessing and selecting bright new talent really inspiring. I very much like the generally uncomplicated way that the candidates represent themselves, the fact that their CV comes to life when you meet them (or sometimes proves to have been misleading!) and I am energised by their sheer enthusiasm and gusto for the day, the job and their future career.
Of course being BPS / ETUC qualified I find the personality profile and/or psychometric element fascinating and hugely valuable when compared to their actual performance on the day. I also really enjoy the one to one interview and the authentic experience one gets of that particular candidate under pressure for an hour. I also find the lunch break fascinating; who knew that we would find out more about Candidate A during the lunch break (as they dined with the other 10 candidates and 4 HR people) than in the rest of the day added together?! Did they really think that lunch was not part of the day? And of course I find the ice-breaker a real source of interest as the candidates in their best interview suit and smiling nervously all begin to interact with us and each other; gradually feeling their way into the day...
But my favourite, my very favourite of all of the usual challenges that we ask these brave and hopefully able candidates to face is the Group Discussion Exercise. This is of course the exercise when we all sit back, out of the groups eye-line, as silent observers and encourage them to interact with each other as if they were in a work situation usually following a meeting agenda or solving a business problem (or sometimes both).
Why do I love it so much you may ask; well it is the unique dynamic that the candidates face without completely understanding what rules they are playing to and crucially without being given any guide-lines by us about what success looks like in the session so that we can see what success looks like to them. For me this is when the candidates personal brand, emotional intelligence, business acumen and humanity all must come to the fore in a way that little else we can ask them to do on the day can demand.
The carefully edited CV, the intelligently practised interview answers about skills, knowledge and competencies and carefully managed personal brand projection all come under the microscope of when I guess they get to 'walk the talk'. Because this hour is the bit of the day when as purely an observer I can see how that candidate interacts with their peers; I can gauge their ability to influence, inspire, lead, organise, solve problems, support others and understand what needs to be done. It is this hour for me that tells me most about what I need to know about each of them and them as a group.
We would perhaps apply the following general criteria as a basis for judging performances:
· Team Skills
· Commercial awareness
Those as five component parts of a performance assessment inform the ultimate recruitment decision so much - in fact they offer a huge amount that can be projected forwards into the candidates career potential and personality:
· Organisation - can they get the job done, can they organise themselves and others under time and quality pressures and get the right balance between the two?
· Contribution - do they make their voice heard when they need to, do they think and then speak or just try to win on volume of words? Do they pick their moments and not dominate needlessly?
· Team Skills - are they balanced between being generous by letting others contribute and keeping the group focused? Do they recognise expertise in others and use it or do they seek to lead by grabbing the pen and dominating others?
· Commercial awareness - do they actually make sense? Are practical issues like resources, costs and staffing all considered? Do they have work placement experience that clearly informs their thinking? Do they understand business needs?
· Impact - do they inspire and carry the group with them? Do they sell their ideas and do they do so with energy and passion? Will clients and colleagues find them memorable for the right reasons?
The best understand what they need to do (sometimes on an instinctive level rather than in an overly conscious / present way) and the worst have nothing to say or have no real understanding of what is needed but the really interesting group are those in the middle. Those who are battling their nerves, struggling to get to grips with the lack of clear rules and their desire not to create conflict with strangers. For me seeing them emerge from a malaise of confusion into the dominate role once they understand that there are no rules and you only get one shot at it; is inspiring as it is often and hugely significant life moment for them. I love it!
There are a few role clichés that I have identified and classified over the years that you might recognise...
The Pen Grabber:
This person wants to show that they are a natural leader. The first thing they do when the exercise starts is grab the marker pen and stand at the front next to the white board / flip-chart looking as 'leader-like' as they know how, writing down what everyone else says but failing to facilitate, guide or lead at all.
The Wise One:
Says too little probably because they are a natural introvert/analyst but when they do speak they certainly make a lot of sense often stopping others in their tracks with the clarity and wisdom of their words!
Keeping Talking...It Will Be Alright:
Has been told to make sure they get involved but have misunderstood that to mean talk all the time with little substance and without involving others why say 10 words when 50 will do! Often think they have done well after the exercise finishes and are sadly wrong.
Clichés Must Work:
This candidate is a cliché for using clichés....probably under confident about how their practical experience matches up to others in the group and so decides to go with the tactic of trying to sound like they know alot by throwing every cliché they have heard 'business people' mention into the mix in the hope that some work. Often challenged by more confident group members on what they mean which is usually curtains for them.
Loud is good right?
Another classic behaviour type that emerges in group discussions is the candidate who decides that being a leader, being decisive and being inspiring are all basically about being the loudest most confident person in the group. Sadly only rarely does this work and it needs substance in there somewhere to have a chance.
This type is probably just not into conflict and whose confidence does not stretch to debating with a complete stranger about a concept that is alien to them in a game with no rules. You never see or hear enough from them because they constantly just agree with the majority and step back in to the shadows - can be frustrating to watch.
I Am Not Playing Any More..
Sad but true I have observed candidates who sulk because they have failed to get their idea accepted, because they wanted to lead and someone else is or simply because they just don't feel they can win the game and so opt out rather than getting beaten by someone else - a pretty damning reaction that says a lot for how they would handle real life situations..
There are more but those are the ones I see the most often.
So yes I love graduate recruitment and find Assessment Centres fascinating but my own particular favourite for all of the above reasons is the Group Discussion Exercise; it's like a an hour long soap opera with all of the twists and turns and subtle plot elements to make them compulsive viewing and also, let's get to the crux of it, a very telling, reliable and authentic litmus test for a candidates ability to walk to the talk.
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