Group interviews are widely used in recruitment and yet they remain a marmite experience for many of us. Some of us thrive in these high pressure, team building/problem-solving environments where the spotlight wanders around the room allowing us to contribute when ready. For others though a group interview can feel an intimidating experience. That sinking feeling heightens if you have a track record of not being successful and not being recruited through them. In this blog we’ll look at group interviews in terms of why recruitment managers use them, what they are assessing and what you need to do to ace them.
Where are Group Interviews Used?
Group interviews are used by hiring organisations and sometimes recruitment agencies to assess multiple candidates simultaneously. It could be they have a high number of good applicants and wish to meet as many as possible. Or, there could be a number of similar roles available and using a group interview is the best use of resource.
The group interview allows the recruiting company to examine your soft skills such as interpersonal communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Those industries that have heavy customer interaction, require you to think quickly and on your feet and maybe work as part of a team will typically use group interviews. As such, how you interact with others around you is just as important as how you actually answer a question.
Why and where group interviews are used in the recruitment mix is not necessarily of importance to you the candidate. Just be aware they are becoming much more common during recruitment. Organisations see many benefits to them and they are not about to suddenly disappear.
What can you Expect in a Group Interview?
One thing is for certain…you won’t be alone! You can typically expect a group of around 7 candidates, but I have seen group interviews as large as 20 candidates sat in a room. The process can take 2-3 hours or can go on all day, the hiring company should have given you advanced warning of this.
On the day expect a combination of group activities and discussions all aimed at seeing how candidates interact. When it comes to a group activity you can be given any number of tasks to undertake such as creating a presentation together, come up with a business plan for a new product, or solving a visual problem together. When it comes to group discussions you may be asked open ended questions such as what does good customer service look like, or the questions maybe slightly more controversial such as “discuss why there is a gender pay gap in society.”
It is not unusual to also have a 1-2-1 interview on the same day as the group interview and if so be prepared to answer some questions about what you thought of your teammates!
A good group interview is well-paced and has a variety of tasks that candidates would not easily be able to prepare for….so how do you prepare for a group interview?
The first thing is to make sure you have the right goal in mind and then follow the correct etiquette!
Your Group Interview Goal
When you step into a group interview you should have a simple mindset:
You want to shine, you want to positively contribute, you DO NOT want to dominate or block others from contributing.
Leave the room remembered for all the right reasons, not for as someone who never allowed others to speak! It is therefore a very careful balancing act that you need to tread.
If you are overly extrovert or introvert as a person you may need to control yourself. You do not want the recruiting team to think “WOW, this guy is a bit full on!” and likewise don’t be the guy where they wonder “did the quiet guy in the corner actually say anything?”
It has to be a balance and that is your goal.
Preparing for Group Interviews
As we outlined above, it can be hard to prepare for a group interview. But, there is an etiquette (some of it very basic) you should adapt to help you navigate a group interview:
Ensure you arrive early. You do not want to have to walk into a room full of other candidates and make the walk of shame in front of them. Above all else it is obviously courteous and allows you to gather your thoughts and collect your emotions so you can remain calm.
Be friendly. Talk to the other candidates. Ask if they had to travel far this morning, have they had many other interviews recently? This kind of small talk starts to build relationships that could be useful during the interview. You are going to have to work with the other candidates sooner or later and I suggest sooner is better. It can also be noticed by the interviewers when they enter the room and that is no negative thing.
Speak with purpose. A group interview is not somewhere for shrinking violets, but as said you don’t want to come across as domineering. When you speak, speak with purpose, with intelligence and give your genuine opinions. Just nodding and simply agreeing with others is not going to win you the job. If others take the conversation away from you, do not be scared to raise your hand slightly as a non-verbal cue you want to speak. You can pull that trick once probably once, but beyond that you really are looking for a natural moment where you can join in.
Listen! Probably the most important thing…your stressed, your nervous and you want to make a valuable contribution…well start by relaxing and listening to those around you. Listen to the interviewer, listen to the other candidates and stay engaged. Body language is vital here. You want to be leaning forward to those talking, nod in agreement if appropriate and take onboard their thoughts. When you do talk (with purpose) the last thing you want to do is repeat what someone else has said.
Be inclusive. The last thing you want to do is isolate yourself from someone else in the group. Remember you are here to be positive. So, when you talk to the group talk to everyone. If you have noticed someone is struggling to contribute be brave enough to draw them into the conversation. Interviewers will notice these things.
The Dos and Don’ts of Group Interviews
Beyond the above we have below a couple of simple dos and don’ts to remember.
- Project a positive attitude
- Be polite
- Listen and acknowledge others opinions
- Wait your turn to speak
- Respond with intelligent responses or questions
- Be respectful of other’s ideas
- Demonstrate leadership or the ability to delegate if required
- Share a plan or support the plans of others when presented.
- Interrupt others
- Be overly competitive
- Monopolize the conversation
- Forget to praise others
- Become shy and say nothing
- Relax too much and become informal
Group interviews can be terrifying. That moment you have to stand in front of a group of strangers and present something is akin to jumping off a cliff. Everyone in the room is in the same situation, and despite appearances everyone is nervous. Frequently though it is all about just learning and putting into practice the required etiquette to succeed. For what it is worth I remember my first group interview…and wow it went badly:
As a fresh-faced graduate I went to a group interview with a financial institute. It was horrendous! When I graduated, I had a masters degree, and while they are common today it was more of a novelty back then. That may explain why I found myself in a room with Oxford and Cambridge graduates who could intellectually run rings around me.
When I arrived for the interview, I was the first there (gold star) and introduced myself to the interviewer in the room. He was polite and happy to chat as we waited for others to arrive….15 minutes later I realised this guy was actually just one of the candidates! Such was his ego, presence and alpha male status that it became clear I had made a slight misjudgement. What was worse, I started to experience imposter syndrome wondering why I was even in the room in the first place. Needless to say, my group interview (which went on for 6 hours) went from bad to worst. I certainly didn’t get the job!
Experience is a wonderful thing. I should have taken the positives and realised I was put in that room because I was capable of giving the other candidates a run for their money. Instead….I just carried a chip on my shoulder about group interviews for the next 5 years! Luckily, group interviews were not as prevalent then as they are today or I may never have found a job.
For any candidate struggling with group interviews just remember to try and keep learning from the experience and try to improve your performance. Still nervous about group interviews – then give us a call at The Recruitment Lab and we’ll give you some more pointers.
About the Author
Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency based in Aldershot that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond). Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade. He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.