10. Group tasks/discussions

Group interviews are a popular way for employers to assess a large number of applicants in a cost-effective and timely manner. As organisations increasingly recognise the value of teamwork and healthy interpersonal relationships amongst their employees, group interviews have become more common and they are often used to determine qualities such as communication/influencing/leadership skills as they can be easily assessed.

Many candidates view group interviews as gruelling and potentially awkward situations as they spend hours with their competitors and yet have to display good teamwork skills! Therefore, knowing what to expect will put you in prime position.

10.1 - Structure

Normally an employer will start by giving a presentation of the company and give everybody the opportunity to introduce themselves. They will normally then outline the structure of the day and the tasks that will be undertaken; which could include role plays, group discussions or problem-solving exercises (some may seem obscure such as building an object together but the task is irrelevant as they are assessing your team working skills and not the end product). During the day there is normally very little one-to-one interaction with the interviewers, instead they will be seated around the room quietly observing and taking notes.

Examples of group tasks and discussions which have come up in the past include:

  • The group is given a list of 15 individual with their age, gender and occupation. All individuals are on a sinking boad and the life boat can only take 5 people. The others won't be given a chance to survive. Which individuals would you save?
  • Candidates are split into two teams, each of which is given a different Lego robot to build. Both teams are given the relevant box with instructions; however some pieces have been placed in the wrong boxes and also some pieces are missing. Both teams have 30 minutes to build their robot.
  • Group discussion around a newspaper article on the topic of an ethical dilemma (e.g. should it be allowed to accompany a relative to Switzerland for euthanasia?)

10.2 - Preparation

Often, the group tasks revolve around different aspects of the organisation and job role e.g. you may be asked to enact a scene with an angry customer/client for a Customer Service role. The more background information you have, the better positioned you will be. If you appreciate the traits and skills needed for the position, you have a huge advantage as you can clarify the specific skills the assessors will be looking for during the group interview process i.e. an empathic manner, a calm yet assertive approach.

10.3 - Assessment criteria

Regardless of their format, the aim of a group exercise is to test your communication, team playing and leadership skills, and particularly your ability to:

  • Present intelligent and informed arguments in a structured and convincing manner.
  • Listen to other participants and ensure balance within the group.
  • Respect other people’s views and play to their strengths.
  • Handle differences of opinion constructively.
  • Lead the discussion to a practical conclusion, preferably through consensus.
  • Handle different personalities successfully, including both passive and active extremes.
  • Be mindful of group dynamics.

Here is an example of a marking used which is often used to score group discussions:

  Competency Measure


(out of 5)


  • Participates enthusiastically in discussion


  Spoken Expression

  • Expresses his/herself clearly and coherently


  Originality of Ideas

  • Introduces new ideas
  • Builds constructively on the ideas of others
  • Brings a fresh approach to a problem

  Quality of Thought

  • Analyses the problem well
  • Gets to the root of the problem

  Influence on Others

  • Makes a point which is accepted
  • Influences the direction and nature of the discussion

  Open Mindedness

  • Listens carefully to other members’ views
  • Incorporates the points made by others into their own

  Facilitation of the discussion

  • Makes a direct attempt to help another person
  • Overrides a dominant interrupter to allow someone else to make a point


  • Discriminates clearly between the important and the trivial
  • Does not allow his/her feelings to influence decisions

10.4 - General approach

  • Ensure you look presentable (see section on First Impressions).

  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early - you will feel more comfortable with the environment, and hopefully get a chance to meet some of the assessors with whom you may get the opportunity to engage in friendly small talk.

  • Go and introduce yourself to some other candidates. Besides demonstrating initiative, it helps to break the ice with your fellow competitors before you begin the tasks.

  • For naturally quiet people, group interviews can be intimidating but you need to remember that your contribution cannot be assessed unless you participate. You need to get actively involved in the discussion, express your views and make sure you get heard. Any contribution, whether right or wrong, is better than not contributing at all as you will be assessed on your ability to share and discuss ideas.

  • During the group exercise, the assessors will be looking for your ability to deal with conflict and to see how well you can manage strong personalities. Don’t raise your voice even if you think you are right. You need to appear calm and in control and you can be assertive without being aggressive. Make sure you listen to other peoples’ points of view as well as putting forward you own. Be sure to back-up and justify your own position, outlining the benefits of pursuing your recommendations.

  • Be open and receptive to ideas from others if you feel they are better than your own. A good leader does not need to force his/her ideas on others but achieves results by getting the best out of each team member and encouraging the group to work collaboratively.

  • The quiet person in the group may well be the most intelligent. If it is apparent that anyone has not spoken, it would reflect well on you to encourage their participation.

  • The interviewer will be observing your body language throughout the whole process so it is important to actively listen, smile and be attentive at all times.

10.5 – Handling a group discussion

The discussion itself may go in different directions depending on the members present in the group and their personalities; as such, no firm preparation is required. However you may find it beneficial to think about how you may handle different scenarios as and when they develop so that you do not get caught off guard. Here are a few situations that you may wish to think about:

The quiet colleague

You: This is a group discussion and you will be assessed on your contribution and participation to the discussion. Melting into the background is not an option. If you are normally quiet and reserved, make an effort to participate. You don’t need to be the leader but you need to contribute intelligently. If you are really struggling to get into the debate, start by acknowledging a particular point made by a colleague and build on it. For example: “I totally agree with what you say. I wondered if we could also consider …”

Another individual: If a member of the group is quiet, see if you can do take some action to involve them. There are several reasons why someone may not participate, including the following:

• They are worried they might say something silly.
• They don’t have any ideas.
• They have not been listening.
• They can’t seem to find the right opportunity to come into the discussion.
• They are just shy and content with listening.
• They are reflectors and may need time to forge an opinion based on the discussion.
• They are deliberately playing a quiet role to see how you react.

In all cases, you will be rewarded for making an effort to involve that colleague in the discussion. They may decline you invitation but at least you will have tried. If you do decide to involve a quiet colleague into the discussion, try to do so in a way that does not embarrass them. Phrases such as “You seem to be quiet; what do you think about this topic” may seem a little overwhelming to someone who is content with taking a back seat. Equally, asking someone to summarise the situation when they have in fact not been listening will send them into a panic. You don’t want to be perceived as someone who has no problem embarrassing a colleague.

Instead, try to ask their opinion on a narrow part of the topic, which relates to an area with which they are familiar and may not necessarily require a good understanding of prior discussions. So for example, saying “Do you have any opinion?” may feel threatening. But asking “If we were to rethink the way we interact with the path lab, what would be the priorities from a nursing point of view?” will sound more focussed and, altogether, an easier question to answer. Alternatively you could summarise the different view points and ask for the quiet person’s opinion: “Sarah thinks that we ought to involve nurses at an early stage, whereas John believes that nurses should not be involved until much later. What would be your preference?”

The loud colleague

You: If you are the type of individual who tends to talk a lot or who always takes the lead, take a step back and think about the situation. You may think that you have all the good ideas but this task is about a lot more than appearing intelligent and creative. It is also testing your interaction with the whole group. Are you listening to the others? Is there someone else who looks like they would like to take over for a while? Try offering the lead to other people. Look at the other participants and their body language. If everyone is included and happy it will be evident from their behaviour and body language. If people are looking away, are disengaging or, worse, start talking amongst themselves, then something is going wrong. If you feel that you may be coming across as overbearing, see if you can find a way of passing the baton on to someone else. Phrases such as “I apologise if I seem to have taken rather a long time to put my thoughts across; would someone else want to comment and give us their perspective in the issue?”

Another individual: If you face a situation where one member of the group is taking over, making others feel uncomfortable, there are ways to ease the awkwardness that it creates:

• Try opening the floor to others: “Asim, I am not sure that I agree with you on every point. My opinion would be that <give opinion>. What do you think, Sarah?”. By doing so, you are bringing another voice into the conversation. This often reminds dominant colleagues that there are other people around.

• Try changing the subject: “I’ve just noticed that we are halfway through our time for the meeting. Does anyone mind if I summarise where we are up to?”

• If the loud colleague simply does not get the message or in unstoppable, you may need to be a little more direct: “Paula, I think that you have very good arguments and certainly I am inclined to agree with you on the fact that <mention what you are agreeing with>. But it might be a good idea if we went round the table and obtained everyone else’s point of view as there may be aspects of the question that we may have missed.” By mentioning that you are partially agreeing with them, you will soothe the tension a little and what comes next will not appear to be so threatening to the individual in question. If you don’t agree with anything they have mentioned, you can say: “There is quite a lot to take in amongst what you said, and it may be an idea to deal with one issue at a time. Perhaps we could go round the table and see if anyone would like to add to what has just been mentioned”.


It is most unlikely that you will agree with everything that is being said during the group discussion and it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with your colleagues provided you can substantiate your own opinion. Don’t try to fight a battle on a matter of principle; it won’t appear very clever. If you do not agree, say so, but do it in a way that shows that you respect and value your colleague’s contribution: “This is an interesting point, but I am not that it can necessarily be generalised”; “I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with this concept”.

You: If you find yourself being the one who is causing a conflict or says something out of turn, back down graciously. Think about the good functioning of the team rather than your pride: “I am sorry; I was getting a little overexcited then”; “I think I need to step back; what do you think about this issue George?”

Another individual: If another candidate is being offensive or deliberately obtrusive, see if you can diffuse the situation: “I am not sure if we will find a solution with this approach; shall we move on to <change the subject> and perhaps we can get back to this issue later?”; “You both seem very passionate about this issue. I am not we can reach a conclusion without more thoughts on the topic. Shall we talk about <change the subject>?”

Recurrent themes – Going round in circles

If you find that the group is constantly going over the same ground or has gone way off topic, try to bring the focus of the discussion back to the brief: “This is really interesting but I am not sure this is strictly related to the topic that we are trying to address”; “Sorry; I think I am a bit lost. Can we recap?”

Trouble finishing the discussion

However tempting it may be to assume that there is a consensus about the topic and future action needed, think carefully about how you wish to conclude the discussions as this will drastically influence the manner in which you are perceived. Last impressions count. Phrases which would contribute to a positive image include:

• “I think we have covered everything. Is everyone happy with the approach that we have discussed?”
• “Does anyone have anything else to add? Shall we draw the meeting to a close? Does everyone agree?”

During the meeting you should keep a careful eye on the clock (if there is no clock, then place your watch on the table discreetly so that you can glance at it occasionally without having to look at your wrist. If you see that there you are running short of time, try to encourage the group to move on: “We seem to have only 5 minutes left. Shall we move on to the next issue?” As you approach the end of the allotted time, make sure that the group draws some kind of action plan. This might include real work to be carried out by some members of the team or simply to agree to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss any outstanding issues. If you feel that some issues do not need to be discussed by the whole group and could be more productively discussed by a subgroup instead, suggest that people meet separately and then report to the whole group later on. This will make you appear efficient.