Relish the struggle

Ladies and gentlemen, here we are again, staring down the barrel of a weekend that is 50% longer than the average. It’s at this point of the “bank holiday cycle” that the possibilities feel endless and so they should.

On Tuesday morning the alarms will sound, the groans will ring out and we’ll all start the next week wondering “how did it go so quick?” – but there will be 16 people who’ll wake up and start getting ready for the first in a busy month of Arch Graduates assessment centres.

Over the next couple of blogs, and because we’ll be living and breathing it I’m going to talk about our assessment centres (and, knowing me assessment in general). I’ll share what it’s like on our side of the table, what we’re looking for, the classic “assumptions” that people make and how you might go about preparing for days of assessment.

There’s a lot to our centres, we kind of have 7 stages of assessment. This is too much to cover in one blog, so today we’re going to talk about exercise number one – the group assessment.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll set the scene. First, we spend 20 minutes or so presenting a tool/technique/method/process/system/framework used in digital businesses. Following this, we split the applicants into teams and give them each a business problem that you can apply the tool/technique/method/process/system/framework to in order to reach an answer.

Ok, scene is set, you know roughly how this works. Let’s talk about why this is hard and why this is the stage that most of our applicants find the hardest.

Fundamentally, there’s a lot going on. Firstly you’re having to absorb a lot of brand new information and then very quickly trying to apply it to a brand new situation. Secondly, you have to do that whilst also negotiating the struggle between trying really hard to do well and get to the right answer whilst working in a group and listening to each other. You have a limited amount of time to achieve a lot and get to a coherent answer. You want to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, you don’t want to interrupt anyone, but you also want the assessors to know how great you are, you want to stand out! You want the people around you to think you’re a nice (cool) person whilst also making sure the group achieves its goal. You’re trying to learn about the other people in the group and tell them a bit about you without wasting time. You’re trying to get your head round the information you’ve been given and figure out how to apply the system to it. You’re trying to organise how you’re going to present your answer once you’ve got it.

There’s an awful lot going on, loads of which you can’t control and it’s this loss of control that makes this particularly challenging. You’re being assessed on your abilities to do your future job and you feel like you’re at the mercy of other people’s skills and abilities.

So why do we put people through it?

This is a conversation that, you can imagine, we’ve had on more than one occasion. The reason we love to assess the group work is because it is this loss of control that reveals so much. It’s exposing, you can’t prepare for it and therefore we get to see a side to people that it’s hard to get to using just individual assessments. There are so many external factors influencing their thoughts and so many pressures that you see an honesty that is particularly useful.

What advice would I give people coming on Tuesday?

Well, I’ll tell everyone this on Tuesday right at the start of the session. There are a few golden rules that will help to make sure you don’t make any of the obvious mistakes. Firstly do not try to second guess what we’re looking for and then show us what you think that might be. The point of our assessment centres is to make the best possible decision as to whether or not our business is the best possible decision for your career. We cannot make that decision if we’re seeing an embellished, enhanced or filtered version of you.

Secondly tell 100% of the truth 100% of the time “I’m not sure I understand this, could you help?” “I don’t know the answer to that” “I actually didn’t hear you properly, could you say that again?” all questions we applaud.

Beyond that, for the group exercise in particular, the best approach you can take is to relish the struggle, enjoy the loss of control and focus as much as possible on the task we’ve set. Try to find the answer, don’t worry so much about who’s walking past when you’re talking or who wrote what note at what point, worry about trying to help the group reach a great answer to a difficult question.

Enjoy your weekends all, next week we’ll talk about “being natural in unnatural situations”.

Look forward to seeing 16 of you on Tuesday, everyone else, next Friday.