Sitting in the reception area, you realize you’re not the only candidate there for a job interview. This does not bother you. You’ve got a strong resume and the skills to back it up. Plus, you’ve been prepping for this interview. So, no matter what kind of questions are asked, you’re ready.
Then, the receptionist starts calling out names. Five of you end up in the same room, and all of you sit down in a row of chairs facing another row of people. That’s when you figure it out. You’re in a group interview.
While they aren’t common, some companies use group interviews as part of their evaluation process. Sometimes you know in advance that you’ll be in a group interview, giving you time to prepare. Other times, though, it comes as a complete surprise (which is intentional!).
Whether you know you’re going to have a group interview or you want to prepare “just in case,” there are things you can do to help you stand out in a positive and memorable way during the interview.
What Is a Group Interview?
A group interview is when a group of candidates interview with one or several company representatives. In many cases, the group interview isn’t just a question and answer session. Group interviews generally involve a group activity and follow-up questions about the activity.
Don’t confuse a group interview with a panel interview. A panel interview is when you’re the only candidate in the room, but you’re interviewing with several recruiters at the same time.
Why Employers Use Group Interviews
A group interview might seem like an awkward approach to interviewing candidates. If you’re interviewing more than one candidate at a time, how do you get to know each candidate as an individual? How can recruiters successfully evaluate each person when they’re part of a larger group?
That’s one reason why employers use a group interview. Team skills are just as important as individual skills to some employers, and they want to know how you perform in a group setting.
A group interview with group activity gives the company a chance to see your team skills in action. Do you speak up or shrink into the wallpaper? Do you talk over everyone and shoot down team members’ ideas? Do you always agree with the rest of the group, no matter what?
How to Shine in a Group Interview
Unless you decide to leave the group interview (which is always an option), you’ll have to participate. That leaves you with a difficult task. While you know you shouldn’t throw your fellow candidates under the bus, there will be questions that will put you in exactly that position. The trick is finding a way to stand out in the interview without standing on your fellow candidates.
Get to know the other candidates before the interview starts. Don’t sit quietly and review your notes if you’re waiting for the interviewers to enter the room. Instead, introduce yourself to the other candidates and facilitate a quick introduction session for everyone.
This can help break some of the tension in the room. And, it may help the other candidates form a positive opinion about you. Should the interviewers walk in the room while you’re spearheading the meet and greet, they may notice that you’re the one leading the group. This could make you look like a connection builder who’s confident in a room full of strangers.
Roll with It
In the event you didn’t know a group interview was the plan, don’t let anyone know that. It’s doubtful that you’re the only candidate that didn’t know, and the “surprise” is part of your interview. Once you figure out what’s happening, go with it. Act like it’s not a big deal, and it doesn’t bother you in the least, even if it does.
Acting like a group interview isn’t a problem helps you on two fronts. First, if the interviewers are already in the room, they are watching your reaction to the situation. They want to see how you handle unexpected situations. Second, you don’t know what your competition will do with your reaction, and they may use it against you in the interview. In this case, playing it cool is better than losing your cool.
Keep up your act during the interview, too. You can’t control what the other candidates say about you, so if they throw you under the bus, don’t react negatively. The interviewers want to see how you handle negative feedback (from a total stranger, no less).
During the group interview, there will be times that a question is not directed toward you. But, that doesn’t mean you should start thinking about other things. Make sure you remain engaged in the conversation and pay attention.
Active listening is when you listen to what the other person is saying, and you don’t think about or formulate a response before the other person is done speaking. Only when they’ve completed their thought, do you start thinking about your answer.
It’s harder than it sounds (and something most people don’t do regularly). But in the case of a group interview, active listening—even if you don’t need to respond—will help you pay attention and remember what was said.
When you actively listen, you’re forcing yourself to focus on who is speaking and what they are saying. Hopefully, this helps you remember that John said this while Susie said that. Later on, you may need to know what John or Susie said, and active listening gives you a better chance of creating an intelligent and thoughtful response.
Don’t Always Answer First
You may think you need to always answer first during the group interview. If you answer first, everyone will remember you, and your ideas will always be the first option on the table. While that’s probably true, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Answering first might make the other candidates and recruiters view you as a bully or someone who believes their ideas are the only ones that matter. Or it may seem like you want to run the show without considering if your solution is a good one. And if you’re always the one with the ideas, there’s a chance you’ll always have to defend them to the group.
Answer first some of the time, but not all of the time. Letting other people present their ideas first lets you build on their ideas. This shows that you’re a thoughtful team player who doesn’t always have the only answer. You’re willing to work with others and their ideas to come up with a successful solution.
But Don’t Always Go Last
On the flip side, don’t let everyone else go first, either. Even if you aren’t applying for a management position, companies want to hire leaders. Leaders doesn’t mean managers, though. Leaders are people who aren’t afraid to put their ideas out there and are willing to work toward a solution, even if not everyone agrees with their choices.
There’s also a chance that the recruiters will see you as a passive candidate. When you never offer an original idea, they may think you aren’t willing to do the hard work of solving problems and finding solutions. You let others do the heavy lifting of creating ideas and action plans, then coast along implementing the solution without having contributed to the team.
Thank the Other Interviewees
At the end of the interview, when you’re thanking the recruiters, also thank your fellow interviewees. Giving your competition kudos and respect—no matter how they treated you in the interview—demonstrates that you are a professional. Plus, your whole group survived the group interview. Everyone deserves a pat on the back for that!
Send Thank-You Notes
You’re going to send a thank-you note to each of your interviewers, of course. But, given that you were in a group interview (and you probably aren’t the only candidate sending thank-you notes), you’ve got to find a way to make your thank-you note stand out, just like you did in the interview.
Like any thank-you note, make sure you individualize it by mentioning something relevant and unique that happened during the interview. However, in the case of a group interview, you need to use a unique and relevant “thing” about you, not the other candidates.
Try to find something that only you said, like a joke or interesting fact about yourself. If you and a particular interviewer had a memorable exchange, try including that. It may be tough, but a memorable thank-you note is your last chance to remind the recruiters why you’re the best person for the job.
Common Group Interview Questions (With Answers)
In some respects, answering questions in a group interview is no different than in a one-on-one interview. You can expect some “regular” questions like “Why should we hire you?”, “Why did you apply?”, or “Tell us about yourself.” Approach those as you would any other interview, and you’ll be fine.
But, in a group interview, you need to expect some curveballs. These aren’t, “Why is a manhole cover round?” The curveball questions sometimes center around your competition and their performance during the group activity.
It is not uncommon for a group interview to include a task. The task may revolve around solving a problem or creating a new product. Whatever it is, it’s something you and the other candidates need to approach and solve as a group, and this is where the curveball questions come from.
Which Person Would You Hire from This Group, and Why?
When you’re on a team, you’re going to form opinions about your team members. That’s inevitable. What’s not inevitable is whether or not you provide feedback to your team members based on that opinion. Like it or not, the interviewer is testing how well you praise a coworker.
For some people, handing out praise is easy. The problem in a group interview, though, is that you need to praise someone you barely know and somehow provide the praise in a way that doesn’t make you look bad.
Confused? Think of it this way. You wouldn’t want to say, “I would hire Joe because he’s got fantastic communication skills.” Joe might have those skills. But, the way you’ve phrased this could open you up to a follow-up question like, “Does that mean you’d hire him because you have bad communication skills?” Ouch.
The trick to answering this kind of question in to praise someone’s skill set without downplaying yours. For example:
“I would hire Joe because he has great communication skills. During the activity, he helped us see how we could combine all the ideas. And, he did this with grace and humor. As someone who often weaves humor into my communication, I know that a well-placed joke can diffuse the tension in any situation, and I appreciate how Joe was able to do that, too.”
How Did You Contribute to the Group’s Success?
This is a tricky one. This question is asking you to sing your praises but be humble at the same time. While you may have mastered the art of the humblebrag, you have to answer—once again—without throwing other candidates under the bus.
The best way to approach this is to talk about your skills, how you used them to contribute to the team, and how your contribution helped support the team in accomplishing the goal. Try this:
“I love a good brainstorming session. It’s a way to get everything out in the open and look at every viable option. I led the brainstorming session at the beginning and encouraged everyone to throw ideas out there. When that part was done, I helped the team narrow the options until we had a solution we could all agree with.”
How Did the Group Struggle with the Task?
Similar to asking how you contributed, this question is asking if you can take responsibility for failure as an individual and as a team. To navigate this question, it’s better to talk about the entire team instead of any one individual and explain how you’d do better next time.
“I think this was hard because we don’t know everyone’s work and communication styles. We’re trying to make a good impression on everyone, so we were probably trying not to be too aggressive. That, coupled with a limited amount of time to complete the project, means we probably spent too much time figuring out who should lead and which direction we should go. If I were working with this group again, I’d have a better idea of their work and communication styles, and we’d be able to figure out roles and solutions faster since we’d already have a solid working relationship.”
More Group Interview Help
Fortunately, group interviews are not that common. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll never run into one. As long as you remain curious, respectful, and professional, you’ll stand a good chance of standing out as a stand-up candidate. And, even if everyone else in your group throws you under the bus, resist the urge to do the same. You likely won’t win points with the interviewers.
Looking for more interview advice? We’ve got plenty of interview tips to help you through any interview situation. But, if you want more practice, consider connecting with one of our career coaches. They can go through a mock interview with you to help you handle the hardest interview questions.
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