With an increasing amount of job applicants and an increasing obsession with time-efficiency, group interviews have become relatively common practice. They allow employers to save time without having to compromise on the number of candidates they’d like to interview. They also represent an opportunity to compare and contrast multiple candidates simultaneously, and to test them under pressure, as, along with typical individual interview questions, group interviews often involve problem solving exercises and work simulations. The purpose of this type of interview is to see how the candidates negotiate and interact with others, demonstrate their skills in a crowd, and solve problems on the spot.
While group interviews seem to be a great “gimmick” from an employer’s point of view, you may not find them as great if you’re the one sitting on the other side of the desk! Especially if you’re a rather reserved and shy person, a group interview could be quite daunting, intimidating, and even uncomfortable. But you shouldn’t give in, you should nail it and impress the panel in order to progress in the selection process and secure yourself a second, individual interview.
Here are some tips that will help you succeed in group interviews:
Be an inclusive leader: Employers look for confidence and assertiveness, so don’t be afraid to take the initiative and to be the one who runs the show. But remember, it’s not a one-man show! One of the core characteristics of a good leader is the ability to make sure everyone’s opinions are heard, not their own. If there’s a shy fellow interviewee in the group, get them involved and encourage them to participate. This will make you look like a thoughtful leader, sensitive to other people’s weaknesses.
Be a good listener: Turn-taking in group interviews can be quite tricky, especially if you are a confident and outgoing person. When all you want is to impress the interviewer(s) and show them you have a prompt answer to all their questions, talking over people is a mistake you may easily fall into. When competitiveness kicks in, it can be hard to restrain oneself, no doubt! Remember, however, that it’s not the volume and/or the quantity of your words that count; it’s always a matter of quality. So, speak with purpose, at the right time, and to do so, make sure to be a good listener, one who follows the conversation in its entirety and knows exactly when the right time to chime in comes. If a thought pops up and you’re afraid to forget it by the time your turn comes around, jot it down, instead of interrupting. When it’s your time to speak, you’ll likely have even more to say.
Be friendly, be a team player: Before the interview starts and you’re there waiting with the other candidates, be the one who breaks the awkward silence. Introduce yourself and ask questions to get to know the others as much as you can give the short time. Even if the interviewers aren’t in the room yet, chances are that someone is already observing you, so you can start to score good points! Further, once the interviewers walk in the room, they’ll spot right away who’s been facilitating and animating the conversation. This behavior will show them that you’re open to networking and will make you seem confident. If you can, memorize people’s names and use them if/when, during the interview, you’re asked to assess or report on something someone said or did. Good leaders always know their collaborators’ names! In addition, during the interview, when others speak, pay genuine attention and use body language to show you’re engaged throughout the conversation, even when you’re not talking. When appropriate, praise others’ ideas while showing ability to provide objective assessment of shortcomings, without throwing anybody under the bus.
Don’t disappear into the crowd: While being a team player and not a diva is certainly crucial, make sure to be seen. This is particularly relevant if you have a more inward personality. It’s possible that, whether they’re genuine or not, someone will try to take control. If this is the case, don’t be intimidated or frustrated by them, but use this opportunity to your advantage. They will certainly raise points you don’t agree with, and this is the moment when you should interject, offer your own opinion, and perhaps open up the discussion to the other members, who may be feeling intimidated too. As mentioned, you don’t need to talk constantly or loudly to be noticed. Be the one who talks at the right time and offers a different and original viewpoint to the conversation. Now might be the time to modify your rehearsed answers to common interview questions, which will most likely be very similar to those your fellow interviewees have prepared, and try to move the conversation forward with your unique contribution.
Practicing skills and qualities, such as leadership, competitiveness, assertiveness, which are needed to succeed in group interviews is certainly advisable, but you should never forget to remain true to yourself: don’t create a completely different and artificial persona that doesn’t fit your nature in the least. Remember: experienced interviewers can easily detect when someone’s trying too hard!