What do I do in a group interview for a job?
May 24, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle being in a group interview for a job tomorrow? I understand that more and more employers are interviewing this way lately, and I've never been interviewed for a job this way before.

Interviewing has been a strong point for me when looking for jobs in the past, but I've only ever been interviewed one-on-one. The position I'm being considered for is to be a teller at one of the large, household-name banks.

How are group interviews structured differently from one-one-one job interviews? What is it that HR people are looking for in a group interview that they wouldn't see in a one-on-one context?

Is there a protocol, or etiquette, or rules of thumb that are particular to being in a group interview? Do you only speak when directly addressed/when it's your turn, or are they looking for you to engage the other people?

The only clue I have about group interviews is a radio story I heard recently that included a clip of people being interviewed to be customer service reps at a call center. The interviewer asked a question of one applicant, and then the others had to answer the same question in turn. The first person gave an answer that seemed like just the answer an employer would want to hear.

So if you're one of the next people, are they expecting you to expand on what the previous applicant(s) already said? If they have already given the answer that you would have given, are you marked down if you just say "I agree with ___, I would do the same, etc?"

Any guidance or info will be greatly appreciated!
posted by JustDerek to Work & Money (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
To clarify - are you talking about interviewing multiple candidates at once? We do group interviews at my employer, but that means a group of employees interviewing one candidate.
posted by jeoc at 1:01 PM on May 24, 2011

One trick, such as it is, is to make a mental note of the person who's made the best answer so far, and then acknowledge them by name and build on their answer.

"I thought Bob's answer was very good, when he said X, but I think you can go further with that, and do Y." It shows you've been listening, remember names, work well with others, have initiative, all sorts of good stuff.
posted by mhoye at 1:06 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: jeoc - They're interviewing multiple candidates at once. So I'll be in there with a handful of other applicants.
posted by JustDerek at 1:10 PM on May 24, 2011

One thing I have been told is that group interviews are looking for both leaders and followers. You don't have to dominate the conversation to prove yourself, you just have to play nice with others, be yourself, and show you can work on a team. Sometimes there are team components to the interview - as in three or four of you are given a task to complete in a time period. They want to be sure people can work together and be effective.
posted by hepta at 1:19 PM on May 24, 2011

Group interviews can be used to see how an applicant will handle himself during the times when he's not the focus of the question. I know that in flight attendant interviews 20+ years ago when I thought it might be fun to be a flight attendant (I was too tall, anyway), one of the things the interviewers looked for was if you were listening to what the other applicants are saying.

They may also be looking for you to "add value" to other applicant's answers. So the question of an applicant coming up with the "right" answer to a question may make it a little more pressure for you to add on to that answer.

Or it could just be that they have a number of positions to fill, and this is the most efficient way of going through applicants.
posted by xingcat at 1:20 PM on May 24, 2011

Career Tools - How to Handle a Group Interview

I've been listening to the podcasts from Career/Manager Tools for a few weeks now and they've been very insightful. I haven't listened to the group interview one yet, since it hasn't applied to me, but I recommend giving it a listen. They also have other podcasts about interviewing which apply to interviews in general.

Good luck!
posted by Homo economicus at 2:07 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If there's a team activity, and they call for a volunteer to present, scribe, or facilitate the discussion, always put your hand up; don't be afraid to stand out or take on an impromptu leadership role.
posted by dave99 at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2011

I do great in one-on-one interviews, but my only group interview was a failure and I'm not sure why...

I was trying to get a job working the ticket counter at a major airline and there were probably 40 people in my interview. I spoke clearly, answered the questions well, etc., but I did not get asked to stay for the next round. The people who *did* get picked seemed to be the overly-cheesy, boilerplate-answering ones.

Just my experience.
posted by tacodave at 4:12 PM on May 24, 2011

Ooh! I know this one! :) I've done a bunch of hiring in my career as a manager, and group interviews are my favorite way to go. Here are my tips:

1. I like group interviews partly because it's way more efficient-I could interview 12 candidates in 3 hours, rather than in 8-12 hours. I also remembered the candidates much better than I did when I did masses of individual interviews-I spent more time with them, and I saw them actually interact, rather than just give me the same canned interview answers ("My greatest weakness? I guess it's that I try too damn hard").

2. Some of this depends what job you are applying for. In my case, I was looking for people who could be articulate when under stress, work towards a goal with a group of unfamiliar and sometimes hostile people, and who had good social skills. The candidates who did things like dominate the conversation, insisted on being right, sabotaged others to score points, or, in one memorable case, told the rest of the group to "Shut up" (this one was a therapist) didn't make it to a second round. Try and assess what characteristics they will be looking for in your particular job and use this as a chance to shine. Support the group process, make sure you and the more subdued members are heard, be assertive about your opinions but listen, etc.

3. I agree with dave99 that volunteering is a good idea. On the other hand, I think it looks great if you help others in the group: "Christy had a good idea earlier, and I want to give her an opportunity to tell you about it herself".

4. I usually had a series of exercises: group activity (I did activities like cave rescue and lost at sea-I like using exercises that require hard choices, can inspire conflict or heated discussion, and are unlikely to be influenced by anyone bringing any personal expertise. In other words, I'm not looking for the best cave rescue guy, I'm looking for the best group participant After group activity, I'd have folks do a 5 minute individual presentation (Who are you? Why do you want this job? Why should I hire you) and finally have a written exercise.

I always ended by giving the folks an opportunity to fill out an anonymous survey about the process. Most folks were really stressed by the idea in advance, and really actually were positive about the process afterwards. YMMV, of course.

Good luck!
posted by purenitrous at 7:15 PM on May 24, 2011

I had a group interview before. The interviewer would ask a question to the group, and then it was up to us (I think there were five or six of us) to answer. They didn't call on anyone, so you had to be quick if you wanted to answer first. If you waited, then you had to think of an answer that didn't just parrot the guy who answered before you.

Answering first and answering last each had its merits and demerits. The whole interview I was trying to ascertain which was better. Good luck.
posted by zardoz at 8:54 PM on May 24, 2011

Treat it like a structured group discussion or meeting with a bunch of people you don't know - meet the other candidates and the interviewer, remember their names if at all possible, during the interview try to stay on topic, acknowledge if somebody's made a good point, if you can expand on it and provide a further point that's great. If you disagree do so respectfully and be clear what part of their contribution you disagree with. If you agree but have no further point to add perhaps relate an experience that validate the point. Whatever feels appropriate at that point in the conversation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:54 AM on May 25, 2011

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