By Mike Simpson
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It’s here! It’s finally here!
The day you’ve been waiting for forever – the day of your interview for your dream job with the company of your choice. Man, you’ve worked hard to get where you are right now.
You spent hours perfecting your resume and tailoring your cover letter.
You spent days agonizing over your interview wardrobe and spent three hours in the mirror perfecting your Windsor knot.
You’ve done your research on not only the company you want to work for, but the people who will be interviewing you.
You’re confident (but not cocky) and ready to tackle anything the interviewer throws your way – anything that is, except the dreaded group interview.
You walk into the room, fully prepared to walk out with a job offer, but nothing could prepare you for the fact that instead of meeting one on one with the hiring manager, you’re sitting down with five other candidates, five other equally bright and qualified job seekers – and they’ve all worked just as hard as you have to get where they are right now.
So, how do you handle a situation like this?
First thing first, don’t panic. In fact, take a deep breath and relax a little bit. A group interview, once you know how to master it, is one of the easiest interviews to nail.
The goal is to make sure you stand out, for all the right reasons, and we’re here to help you figure out just what it will take to ensure that happens.
Of course, before you can sail through one, you need to know exactly what you’re walking into.
For that, we need to start with the basics.
What Is A Group Interview?
Let’s start with what it’s not. A group interview is not a panel interview.
A panel interview is one in which you, the interviewee, are brought in to interview with a group of individuals from the company.
You are the sole focus of the interview and the interviewers spend the time asking you questions and getting to know you.
A panel interview might include potential coworkers and professional peers as well as managers and upper level individuals.
A group interview, on the other hand, is where you are interviewed alongside several other potential candidates for the same position.
Shouldn’t they know by now that I’m perfect for the job?
Why do they have to bring anybody else into this situation??
Why Are Group Interviews Used?
For several reasons.
First off, it saves time, and as we all know, time is money to busy hiring managers.
It’s also a great opportunity for them to see how you react.
Chances are, you’re being hired for a position where you are going to have to work with other people and the fastest way to see how adaptable you are and how well you can cooperate with others is to see it first hand before they’ve taken the risk and hired you.
It’s also cheaper to hire 10 people in one hour than spend ten hours interviewing each person individually. Like we said, time is money.
A lot of times group interviews are used for positions that include customer service components and interactions with large numbers of clients or the public.
They are also often used to find individuals to fill positions where there might be a number of current openings like sales teams.
Not only are you answering questions, you’re also demonstrating through your actions exactly what you’re going to be like to work with…which is why you need to be sure you’re more than ready to tackle this sort of interview in a professional way.
Group interview questions can cover not only the standard interview questions, but also include questions which require you to work in a team. Hiring managers want to see not only how you do on your own, but how you do when you’re paired up with those around you and how well you can work together.
- Are you a team player or are you just looking for an opportunity to sabotage the other interviewees?
- Are you a leader or are you a follower?
- Can you problem solve with others or are you a part of the problem itself?
- Are you comfortable taking directions from someone else or are you the one who has to constantly be in charge no matter what?
- Can you stand out from the other job seekers in the room and differentiate yourself enough to showcase who you are without dominating the interview and standing out for all the wrong reasons?
The quickest way to make sure you leave a lasting, positive impression on your hiring manager and interview team requires you to first master the art of the group interview before you even walk through that door.
Skills That Help You Succeed In a Group Interview
Play it cool
Your interview starts the second you walk through the door, so you have to make sure that the first impression you give is the right impression. If you’re lucky enough to know ahead of time that you’re going into a group situation, this should be easy.
Walk in with a friendly confidence (but again, don’t be cocky). If you don’t know ahead of time that you’re doing a group interview, don’t let your shock/disappointment/horror show on your face. It’s okay to be mildly surprised, but try to do your best to recovers as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Don’t joke around about the situation. Don’t try to be the funny guy in the room before anything even starts. Play it cool. You’re here to get a job, not audition for open mic night.
Open Your Ears, Not Your Mouth
This one is a big one. The fastest way to ruin your chances at getting the job is by not listening to what’s going on around you.
Pay attention to what’s being said, and not just by the interviewer or hiring manager, but by the other interviewees as well. Part of being a team is building off of the skills and abilities of your fellow peers.
Has one of them come up with a great idea but you know how to take it to the next level? Offer that information up. Not only will it show the hiring manager that you’re paying attention, but it saves you the embarrassment of repeating someone else’s brilliant idea…five minutes after everyone else has already heard it. Ouch.
On top of listening, remember what’s being said, starting with everyone’s name, and by everyone we mean everyone, hiring manager and fellow interviewees. You’ll score major bonus points by being able to correctly identify individuals during the interview. It’ll also make writing those follow up thank you notes much easier!
It’s All About You
This goes along with playing it cool. Your job is to get you a job. Focus on why you’re there, not on the others around you.
The best way to show you’re a team player is to knuckle down and be one. Don’t use the interview as an opportunity to belittle or tear down the other applicants in a bid to make yourself look better. You’ll only come off as combative, difficult, and uncooperative, and who wants to hire that guy?
On top of that, if you focus all your energy on getting rid of the competition, can you honestly focus on making sure you’re doing the best possible job you can of representing who you really are and the qualities that make you the perfect candidate?
You are there at the interview for one simple reason, to show the hiring manager that you are the right person for the job.
It’s not your responsibility to show them that the other candidates aren’t. They’ll do that on their own.
It’s NOT All About You
Hang on, you just said it was all about me in the paragraph above! I’m confused.
Yes, the above paragraph is critical, but so is this one, and part of being the perfect candidate is learning to balance these two seemingly contradictory statements.
Yes, we want you to shine because you’re you, but a group interview is also a time for you to show how well you work with others.
Remember, if the position you’re interviewing for requires collaboration with others, a group interview is a great way for an employer to get an informal glimpse into how you’ll be as a possible employee…which means you have to remember to shine on your own and play well with others.
Make sure when you’re talking that you’re including everyone in the discussion. Don’t dominate the floor. This isn’t a time to brush up on your monologue skills. It’s also not the time to fade into the background and let everyone else speak for you.
Remember to make eye contact and as we said before, learning everyone’s name is a great way to ensure that you’re including everyone in your conversations.
Smile with your whole being!
Again, this is all about playing well with others, so make sure your body language is projecting a calm, collected aura.
Smile, but don’t grimace.
Make sure you’re approachable and open to everyone in the room, interviewers and fellow interviewees alike. If you’re projecting an aura of tension, nervousness, hostility, fear or anger, odds are you’re not going to be the person they want to hire.
You Are the Perfect Candidate– Act Like It
The job market these days is tough.
There are a million people just as qualified as you are to do the job you’re after. They can all do the job just as well as you can.
What you need to do, beyond showing the hiring manager that you’re not only qualified and capable of filling the position, is show them what it is that makes you unique and sets you apart.
You want to ensure that you demonstrate your abilities, but you want to also make sure that you’re not so good at being a team player that you fade into the middle of the group and disappear completely.
What is it that makes you special? Again, you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons, so whipping out balloon animals in the middle of the interview to help illustrate your point probably isn’t the best idea, but there are other ways to shine.
Save that skill for a more appropriate time, like when the interviewer asks you about hobbies or what you do in your down time.
Characteristics That Will Tank Your Group Interview
Just as there are skills that will help you ace that interview, there are characteristics that will tank you just as easily.
We briefly touched on a few up above, but we’re going to go into them more in depth here, just so we’re all clear on what NOT to do.
Dominating the Conversation
Yes, we touched on this earlier, but we really mean it. The fastest way to demonstrate to an employer that you are NOT a team player is to completely dominate the group interview.
It’s tempting, especially if you’re in a situation where you know more than the other candidates, but the fastest way to come off as arrogant, bullish, and just plain unlikable is to make sure that your voice is the only voice being heard. This also extends to yelling or talking over other candidates.
Trust me, nobody wants to hire that guy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from totally dominating the conversation is ‘fading completely into the background.’
Yes, we want you to be a part of the group and that means taking turns and being considerate, but don’t fall into the trap where you’re so focused on being a team player that you essentially turn into white noise in the background.
Make sure you’re being respectful of everyone else in the room, but don’t allow yourself to be so completely overwhelmed by everyone else that they forget you’re even there.
Not Paying Attention
Here’s a scenario:
It’s the part of the interview where the employer is focusing on individual answers. There are three other people ahead of you and you know it’s going to be a while before they get to you.
Now’s a perfect time to whip out your cellphone and text your friends about how awesome your interview is going, right?
This should be a no-brainer, but I’m gonna say it anyway, just in case.
Put the phone away. The texts and apps and games can wait. Besides, what if one of the other candidates says something and you’re expected to build on what they said? You’re gonna look pretty stupid if you have to ask them to repeat themselves.
Types of Group Interview Questions
Okay, so I know what to do and what not to do, but what sort of questions could they ask me?
Well, that depends entirely on what type of group interview you are in. There are two main types of group interviews, the Team Building Activities and the Turn Taking.
Here, let’s break them down:
Team Building Activities:
Think of this as on the fly problem solving. A hiring manager might give you and the rest of the interviewees a puzzle and ask you to come up with a
solution as a group and then sit back to watch how you all work (or don’t work) together.
Employers will be paying close attention to individual job seekers abilities to work with each other towards a common goal and how well they handle conflict resolution.
Usually the hiring manager will ask his or her interview questions after you’ve all either succeeded or failed at your task.
Questions might include:
- Would you consider this team to be successful? (Can be asked even if the goal was not achieved. Sometimes hiring managers give impossible goals just to see how well you’ll all react to stress and failure.)
- What do you feel you personally brought to the team that helped?
- What do you think your fellow teammates would say about how you participated?
- What do you think caused your team to succeed/fail at the task assigned? (Remember, this isn’t about throwing your teammates under the bus.)
Ugh, this one is the hard one, not because it’s going to be difficult for you to make it through, but because this type of group interview involves the hiring manager asking each job seeker individual questions.
Often it’s the same question, posed to each job seeker, one at a time down the line, which means you’ll have to sit through the same question over and over and over again — which means it’ll be tempting to tune out and let your mind drift.
Don’t fall into that trap!
We cover this further in the article under how to tank yourself. Stay awake, stay focused, and above all, stay present!
Rather than tuning out, take the time between questions to really focus on what the interviewer is asking and how you might be able to answer the question in such a way that it doesn’t blend into all the rest. Remember, you want to stand out for the right reasons and this type of group interview is where you really need to make sure that’s happening!
Typically this style of group interview is more aligned with a standard interview, so the questions you’ll be answering are more ‘traditional.’
- Tell me about yourself.
- What about this job appeals to you the most?
- Why are you interested in working for us?
- What do you consider your greatest strength/weakness?
See what we said about traditional interview questions? Good thing there are a TON of these questions already laid out for you (complete with example answers) on the blog. When you’ve finished up with this article, make sure you head over to the blog homepage to check them all out.
Our Top 5 Group Interview Tips
Here are five group interview tips that will ensure that you stand out from the other candidates and walk out of the interview room as the front runner for the job:
1. Get To Know Your Fellow Interviewees
In most cases, you’ll share a waiting room with the other candidates that you will be interviewing with.
Don’t just sit there shooting competitive glances their way as if you were just about to compete against them like a gladiator in Ancient Rome.
Walk up to each one and shake their hand. Ask everyone their name, and more importantly, remember them all for your interview.
Does anyone stand out?
Does anyone’s energy indicate that they might have leadership qualities? Try and get a feel for the type of person each candidate is.
The reason for this little exercise will be clear once you get into the room.
Having a bit of background on each person will make any group activities a little easier. For one, you have “broken the ice”, meaning basic interactions will be that much easier.
For two, in approaching each candidate you have almost “marked your territory” as a potential leader of the group (see the next tip for why this is important).
And finally, as you emerge as the leader and start addressing everyone by name, hiring managers will be impressed with the way you take ownership of the group (and your attention to detail).
2. Pretend You Are the Leader
Continuing the tip from above, you want to start acting like the leader of the group as soon as you walk into the room.
Don’t wait for someone else to take the leadership role in any group activities. In almost every situation, a natural leader will emerge, and more often than not, this person will jump to the “top of the pile” in the eyes of the hiring managers.
You want… no wait… you NEED to be this person. But one small caveat. You don’t want it to appear forced, and more importantly, you don’t want to come off as a “bossy pants”.
The best way to naturally reflect leadership is to support your fellow interviewees in any team activities and to vocalize your opinions so that they are clear and concise.
Which leads into our next tip…
3. Use Your “Outside Voice”, Inside
Okay, so this doesn’t mean that you should scream at the hiring manager or start drowning out the other interviewees (or worse, cut them off when they are speaking). What it does mean, however, is that you should project your voice and speak confidently, and avoid mumbling or any other “meek” behaviors.
Remember, your job is to stand out from the crowd, and making sure that everything you say is heard loud and clear is the first step you need to take to ensure this will happen!
4. Be Memorable, but Not For the Wrong Reasons
At the end of the day, you want the hiring manager(s) to remember you long after the interview is finished.
“Wow, that guy really brought the group together to complete the exercise I gave them.”
“I really appreciated the eye contact that Ms. Smith maintained with me throughout the interview. It really projected attentiveness and confidence.”
“I can really see this person being a part of my team.”
Any of these responses would mean that you have done a good job in your group interview. This is what you are going for.
What you aren’t going for, however, are responses like these:
“That one applicant kept cutting off the other applicants when they were speaking. It was extremely annoying and very rude.”
“I don’t have much to say about Ms. Smith, because she was nearly invisible for the entire interview. She really didn’t contribute much to the group exercise.”
“I could never work with that person. His energy was overbearing and I don’t think he has much respect for authority.”
As you can see, a much different story.
The point is, you want to me memorable, you just don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
5. Don’t Forget Your Manners
It seems simple, but you would not believe how many candidates get into the interview room and forget to use “please” and “thank-you”, or to hold the door for other candidates to enter the room.
For the most part, it’s because of focus. You want to do a good job. You’ve got all of these interview questions rolling around in your head. There’s a lot to deal with.
The last thing you are thinking about is your manners.
But hear this… hiring managers are paying attention. They want to hire candidates that are polite, gracious, and considerate of others. So make sure that you are the perfect lady (or gentleman), not just to the hiring manager but to your fellow interviewees as well.
If you are passed a handout, say thank-you.
If your group activity requires grabbing a chair to sit in, grab two and give one to the candidate next to you.
And when you’ve made it to the end of the interview and are about to run out the door and jump in the air and click your heels together, take a minute, circle back to the hiring manager, and look her in the eye, extend out your hand and thank her for her time.
It’s a small gesture, but one that many interviewees forget to do. And it’s the last impression you will leave with the hiring manager.
Putting It All Together
So there you have it, how to tackle the dreaded group interview with grace and poise. Just remember to keep your cool and keep your ears open.
A group interview can be nerve wracking at first, but if you go in with the right attitude, can actually be a lot of fun. Besides, you never know who you might meet!
You could potentially be interviewing with future managers, peers, and/or fellow co-workers, so it’s a good idea to build solid, positive relationships early!
And as always,