What do you think about group interviews?
December 20, 2018 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Are they horrible or effective?

Many years ago when I was first on the job market (when the dinosaurs roamed!!) I participated in a group interview for a job. Basically about 10-15 candidates were brought in and told about the organization and asked some basic "screening" questions to assess interest. People were then asked back for more formal interviews later on. This was for a social services position, so sitting around in groups was actually common in the job. I HATED this style of interview! I found it disrespectful that they wouldn't devote the time to actually talking to me in person one-on-one. But then again, I got the job and really liked the place in the end. I sort of wonder if I was being picky, arrogant or unreasonable not approving of this style of interview. I don't think I've seen this type of interview since though, so maybe not.

Now I am interviewing people for positions and it takes a lot of time to screen them. I was just thinking, golly it might be more effective to bring in 10 people at once and tell them about the job and gauge interest from there. This again is for positions that are social in nature and require a lot of engaging in group/meeting settings. Is this just too terrible for words or is there some precedent for this? Have you had this type of interview before? What did you think?
posted by Toddles to Work & Money (21 answers total)
Maybe you should tell them about the job before they apply and then you can take their application as a statement of interest. Don't set up a hunger-games-esque interview. That's awful.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:25 PM on December 20, 2018 [27 favorites]

Think about how it's going to feel to the candidates to see who else applied, see how the others performed in the group setting, and then see who gets the job.

If there's bias in the selection process, nine disappointed candidates will be eyewitnesses to it, and will talk about it in their networks forever. So, maybe the group interview is a good thing. It'll keep your hiring team on its toes.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 7:25 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

So I typed out the following, decided it might be a little too emotional and nearly deleted it, but then on third thought felt like maybe it would still be useful to you, albeit with the preface that the below is simply my immediate, visceral reaction:

Noooooooooooooooo as an applicant I would hate this and if I didn't seriously want/need the job (and I'd want it a lot less after learning that it was the kind of place that did this sort of thing) I'd seriously consider just not doing it. I'm a (prospective) employee, not a goddamn dancing monkey. Ugh, ugh, no.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:27 PM on December 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

If the suitability of the candidate truly depends on how they interact with other people, they can work. However, it can’t be just the same interview you would do 1:1 just to 10 people instead. It would need to be setup to facilitate the necessary interactions. I’d look into people describing Apple Store group interviews.

However, if you are hiring just one person, and it’s for a role that tends to hire one at a time, you do run the risk of a something “Hunger Game-esque” like mentioned up above.
posted by sideshow at 7:28 PM on December 20, 2018

I have been in these interviews in ancient days and they were not a good omen. They are also in my experience generally limited to extremely entry-level positions.

But a screening call sharing the job-related information isn't too bad, and could perhaps be shared across a team or given to a junior staff person.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:28 PM on December 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

As a confirmed introvert I hate group interviews because it is such a competitive environment- everyone is trying to talk at one and outshine the others that I found it hard to get a word in edgewise- whereas usually in a real meeting the pace is a bit slower, people take it more in turns and you have the benefit of a predetermined hierarchy and no real competition. So I think it is much fairer to do one on one interviews and maybe hold an information session about the job to tell candidates things en mass.
posted by EatMyHat at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

What will really help though is job advertisements with a clear, accurate description of the duties and a pay range expressed in actual numbers. When I've had to interview for jobs, I've passed over so many job ads simply on the basis that they didn't tell me little details like, "What will I be expected to do?" and, "How much would it pay?" You know, the two most important things about a job.

Put those in your ads and I think you'll find you get a pool of applicants who know what the job entails, have reason to believe they'd be good at it, and would be willing to do it for the amount of money that you're prepared to offer. That will take care of a lot of your screening right up front. I don't understand why all companies don't do this. The only explanation that seems to make sense is that they're offering a lousy deal but hope they can sell you on it anyway if they get you in a room alone.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:33 PM on December 20, 2018 [45 favorites]

Another vote for horrible. One time I was made to eat lunch with all of the other candidates at a tech startup. I was 34 years old and they were all bright-eyed fresh Stanford grads. It was insufferable!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:58 PM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I found them effective when I was literally hiring dozens of people at a time, when I knew, statistically, 30% would no show or quit before I needed them.

The pay was in the advertisment. I spent time on the initial phone screen and during the group interviews explaining, in detail, the realities : no heat/no ac, cement floors, no you couldn't study in between customers, etc.

The group interview forced them to not always go for the obvious answer, as someone else probably took it. You got to see how they treated each other. But mainly, honestly, it gave me back hundreds of hours. If you don't need to do it, don't. But if you have to, go ahead. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and all that.
posted by greermahoney at 8:02 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've observed about 20 group auditions and interviews.

The people I've seen do really well in these rather stressful settings are generally great at making a splashy impression, saying clever or funny things, and building a shallow rapport quickly. But the negatives can be that these people are also often extremely manipulative, competitive, social climber types, and they can later add a cliquey, toxic element to the eventual group dynamics.

In my observation, group interviews run the risk of selecting for people who are able to leverage the discomfort of others to pointedly outshine people who are shyer than them. In short: group interviews can really help backstabbing buttkissers get ahead.

People who are actually good at facilitating a positive group dynamic tend to do so by knowing how and when to be quietly supportive, listen, encourage, draw out others, build relationships and trust over time, communicate respectfully and lighthandedly, and help the whole team to shine... which is a set of actions way too complex, time-consuming, and nuanced to really show in a group interview. So your group interview really might end up creating a shitty group.

Group interviews also heavily privilege quick thinking, high energy, verbal extroverts over other energy levels and and communication styles, which means they aren't a great way to create a balanced team.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:06 PM on December 20, 2018 [41 favorites]

HR consultant here. Your considerations should be:

1=. Make the selection process as accurate as possible, so you attract, select and hire the right candidates
1=. Make the candidate experience as positive as possible, so your desired candidates will accept your offers, and even unsuccessful applicants will consider the interaction positive, would apply for another role in the future, recommend friends apply to work there, and would consider becoming a customer of your company
2. Make screening as efficient as possible so it doesn't drain your resources

To help with all these, your job descriptions and role profiles should be as realistic, informative and accurate as possible. This will help candidates decide whether or not their skills/personality/background is a fit and self-select out if not. It will also help you assess the candidates against concrete behaviours, qualifications etc.

Your initial screening process should happen before the interview. Your candidates don't want to waste their time coming in for a role that wouldn't be suitable for them either, so try to give them as much info as possible ahead of time. Detailed job descriptions, as well as info about your culture, should be available online or as documents you can email.

If you have any kind of ATS (applicant tracking system), you can include screening or 'killer' questions, which applicants must answer correctly to progress to the next stage.

You can also include more sophisticated assessments in your online process. EG. psychometrics or situational judgement tests.

But if you don't have an ATS, just have phone call screening interviews. These can be really brief and just cover the role, company and basic screening questions, or you can have a longer, first interview phone call.

It's not necessarily wrong to bring candidates in together (graduate recruitment processes often include an assessment centre, which usually includes group activities, tasks, and role plays), but these are:
a) designed to show how candidates perform with others against specific requirements
b) generally also include individual interviews
c) usually (or at least should) provide both successful and unsuccessful candidates with individual feedback on their performance to help with their development and job search.

Just bringing unscreened applicants together to tell them about the role and gauge interest doesn't seem like a great use of time, or a particularly positive applicant experience.

So my advice would be:
- more upfront work to define roles and design collateral you can share with potential candidates to help them self screen
- brief online assessments or telephone screening calls to qualify
- 121 interviews with candidates who meet the on paper requirements to assess fit
posted by Dwardles at 4:17 AM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

Nthing all of the above answers. I just wanted to second the idea to spread the hiring process across the team, if you're not doing so already, instead of doing all the interviewing yourself. An initial phone (or in-person) screening interview can be conducted by other team members. Since this is a fairly social job, it'll be an opportunity to learn how the candidates interact with different people. Also, other team members probably have good insight into who might be a good fit for the role.
posted by ersatzhuman at 5:39 AM on December 21, 2018

In college I had a group interview like this to be a dorm RA. They needed hundreds of us to be sociable excited group cheerleaders for freshmen so it made sense. They were literally screening for us to be fun and socially strong in groups. They also needed to hired resident IT people and budget people aka people who needed to demonstrate some specific knowledge. Those they interviewed 1:1.
posted by sestaaak at 6:05 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've participated in some terrible interviews designed to save the interviewers' time and effort Nope. It worked out in hat 1 instance for you, but it's a horrible way to treat people.
posted by theora55 at 6:11 AM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


aside from all the issues with the interview itself, if these are people who are at any point past entry-level, they probably expect a certain level of discretion in a hiring process-- many will not have made public yet that they're looking for a job, and most will not want to broadcast that fact to a random, as-yet-determined group of peers in their field.
posted by dusty potato at 6:50 AM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with the crowd here, and I do a fair bit of hiring/recruiting work.

If you feel the need to bring people in 10 at a time to "screen" them, then somebody isn't doing their job right during the actual—that is, pre-interview—screening. The weed-out stage should be over the phone or email or whatever, not in person. People you bring in should be folks you're at least theoretically interested in, who look good on paper and sound fine on the phone, and you want to meet the staff to see if they're a good fit for the company/position/etc. And at least in my industry, it's also about wooing them, because good candidates probably have multiple offers and can take their pick of places to work.

The best interviews I've participated in were "group interviews" in the sense that there were multiple staff members from the hiring company for a single candidate. It felt less like an awkward 1:1 interview and more like a meeting where you're presenting something to peers—which is good, because that's an actual workplace context that happens often and people need to be comfortable with (in the roles I work in, anyway). Not a "firing squad"-type panel like you're doing a thesis defense, though; more the candidate is meeting the team and the team is interviewing them.

But the idea of interviewing with multiple candidates? That's like some sort of weird audition. At <5% unemployment and a very tight market in many industries, that's just not how things generally go. I'm not sure I'd absolutely walk out immediately if I showed up at a company and they did that, but I'd think really hard about it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 AM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Now I am interviewing people for positions and it takes a lot of time to screen them.

I wanted to focus in on this part, because "group interviews are awful" has been thoroughly covered. In my last job, we were hiring for a new position where the ultimate interview and hiring decision would be conducted by my boss. But she wasn't involved AT ALL in the initial screening. Instead, a team of three people who worked under her went through all the applications, tossed the obviously unsuitable ones, and then split up the remaining pile three ways. We each conducted our share of screening calls, winnowed our piles down again, and then came together to compare notes. Then we sent the top 5 or so candidates' resumes and cover letters to the boss. Only then did anyone get physically invited to the office for an interview.

So, the question is - do you have anyone at all who may be able to help you screen these candidates?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:02 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Okay, I'll go against the majority on this one. I use group interviews as a hiring manager. The jobs all require strong skills interacting in small groups. All of the candidates have been pre-screened based on their written application. There are always several jobs available, so I think that eliminates the "Hunger Games" worry?

I agree with pseudostrabismus--group interviews tend to favour extroverts. However, I train the staff who observe the group interviews to look out for obnoxious, loud, show-offs and back-stabbers, and to favour candidates who show they can listen well, help to keep their groups on track, give others positive feedback, and so on. Many of the people I end up hiring say they didn't think they had a shot because they were more quiet or less forceful/bubbly/chatty than folks who didn't make it.

I don't think group interviews are the way to go if you just want to save time. It takes a lot of work to set up a good agenda, and many staff to help run it and observe candidates. But if small-group interactions are a crucial part of the job, I think group interviews are a more effective way to learn about the candidates than anything you could learn from individual interviews.
posted by Frenchy67 at 12:25 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Personally I am someone that is really good at interviewing but I am horrible at group interviews. I feel like they are just a way for everyone to battle for the job which makes it harder for the employer to see actual skills.
posted by laurensmith at 1:49 PM on December 21, 2018

Even if the job requires a lot of socialization and group interaction, it's important to consider whether a group interview would represent the type of socialization and group interaction they would have to do. I socialize a lot in my job. I work as part of a team. But I'm never in a situation where I'm forced to cooperate with a group of people who are all secretly plotting to backstab each other. If that's the kind of thing that's normal in your workplace, you have a toxic workplace.

Plus, you're going to have a certain number of potential candidates who either just won't play this kind of bullshit, zero-sum game or who will be doing it with stomachs that are churning with bile and loathing the entire time.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:33 PM on December 21, 2018

The points made above are all valuable. Especially the one about applicants, who have a current job and don't want to quit it (nor for things to get awkward at work because colleagues find out that they wish to leave) before they have secured a new position.

Additionally, FWIW I'm an ambivert and have managed well in a few group interviews in my day, but put a loud and clueless enough person in my group, and I will be so overcome with Fremdscham that my brain will basically freeze.

Therefore (and for other reasons as well), if you decide to do group interviews, make sure there is a good enough pre-screening process before you bring people in. Has anyone mentioned Skype yet? I haven't used it for recruiting myself, but I hear it can be an effective tool.

Most of all: give every applicant at least two, preferably three different "input channels" into your selection process and require one to be text composed at one's own pace, in answer to question(s) / scenario(s) that you pose (those dog-awful web forms do not count for this -- the ones that give you a zillion stamp-sized fields to fill in and then die if you're not done with one page in 10 minutes). At least in my field and region, introverts abound, and they typically interview worse than they work, while the opposite is often true for extroverts.
posted by AthenaErdmann at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2018

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