group job interview
April 21, 2008 9:10 PM   Subscribe

I got invited to a group interview for a job.

I don't think, based on my personality and strengths, that a group interview would demonstrate my best qualities. It seems like an environment that would work well for someone who's aggressive in a way that I'm not. I'm also not keen on having an audience to the whole thing.

What are group interviews all about? I'm interested in the job but I can't help but think this will be bad.
posted by loiseau to Work & Money (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Depends. Maybe they wanna see how you do under pressure. Or maybe they're just trying to save time rather than having each person interview you 1-on-1 and ask a lot of the same questions.

Sometimes there's an actual logic to it (perhaps one person will ask you job-specific, technical questions, while another tries to gauge how your personality fits with the rest of the team)
posted by meta_eli at 9:15 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been on one. I had a really bad head cold and it was at 8.00 am so I was pretty low key and quiet which they called me on afterwards saying they were concerned I hadn't participated enough , quiet and wasn't vocal.

So my advice would be to participate. Answer questions in a way that the interviewer(s) sees and hears that you are involved. It helps if you contribute something intelligent. You don't have to have the right answer but I don't mean that you should blurt the first thing that comes into your mind.

It will be an interesting experience and you'll get to see who some of your co-workers may be.
posted by eatcake at 9:24 PM on April 21, 2008

OK, I'll give you one of my big interview tips. I heard this or read this a zillion years ago, thought it was absolute bullshit, but it works every time. Actually, it might not apply in a conference room setting, but it's worth a try. Here's the deal:

I carry something with me to every interview. It's a maroon leather daytimer (ask your parents), basically the paper and leather version of a smartphone. You can even use your smartphone, it doesn't even matter what the item is. The only reason you're carrying it is to shift the momentum of the interview. If you feel like there is a point in the interview where you are getting heavily dealt on and the interviewer(s) are either lording their position over you or otherwise making you feel like you are inferior, here's the move:

Take the physical item (make sure it's in your hand and/or in plain view during the entire interview) and reach "way, way, way over the table" and place it near the person.

That's it.

I thought for sure it was bullshit until I hesitantly did it, maybe 15 years ago. I've done it many times since, as required. It supposedly has to do with invading the other person's personal space and asserting dominance so it works particularly well when you're in someone's office. I am still amazed to this day how an interviewer's attitude changes in an instant when you do this. Like me, you'll probably be scared when you do it the first time, thinking they'll say "What is that bullshit? Did you read that in some self-help book? In practice, It seems as if the move is completely invisible to them and they just react like one of Pavlov's dogs.
posted by Rafaelloello at 9:32 PM on April 21, 2008 [15 favorites]

I've never had interviewers go all-out family style on me, but I have been double teamed a few times. They might have chosen that format to save time, but in at least one instance, it seemed to me that they did it so that one person could observe me without being occupied by having to lead the interview.

Either way, I think that a good strategy for you is to keep in mind that they can't really "gang up" on you. Only one person can ask a question at a time, and you only need to address one interviewer at a time. Just forget about the rest of the people for the moment.

It's sort of like a '70s kung fu movie. Ten thugs may gather around Bruce Lee, but only one will engage him at any give moment. Thus, he can dispatch each attacker with plenty of style. And potentially, so can you at your group interview.
posted by ignignokt at 9:39 PM on April 21, 2008

Oh, a caveat to "forgetting the rest of the people for the moment": You still need to speak loudly and clearly enough that everyone can hear you, but hopefully, the interviewers will be arranged closely enough that you don't need to speak too much more loudly than you would to be heard clearly by one person, anyway.
posted by ignignokt at 9:42 PM on April 21, 2008

Well, just to be clear, my understanding is that group interviews are a group of interviewees. I've been interviewed by a panel before. To be honest I think I would prefer that. But unles I'm mistaken they're interviewing a bunch of us at once.
posted by loiseau at 9:48 PM on April 21, 2008

Rafaelloello- then what? So you put the object near them and then what do you say when they ask "what do you want me to do with this?" or do you just stare at them and blink some? I'm just really confused. It doesn't make any sense at all. Do you do it during the conversation and hope the interviewer doesn't say anything? Or is it to open up some kind of dialog? Or what? Help me out here.
posted by greta simone at 9:54 PM on April 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

Ohhh. OK, I have never heard of that, outside of game shows. My advice is irrelevant.
posted by ignignokt at 10:05 PM on April 21, 2008

I had one of those once. By the end I hated it, because you have to balance answering first vs. answering originally. The way it worked was the manager and asst. manager would throw out a question to a group of about seven of us, and whoever wanted to answer it first could. So if you're quick on your feet and answer first, that's a plus, because then the remaining interviewees would have to answer the same question, but you don't want to parrot what's already been said, so you have to be original in some way to stand out. For basic questions this can be pretty difficult. The managers kept the mood pretty informal and relaxed, but the competitive nature of answering first and/or best was pretty tiring. I think about half of us got the job, but I hated it and quit after a few months anyway!
posted by zardoz at 10:12 PM on April 21, 2008

Yeah, Rafaelloello, I'm pretty sure I'd notice that if I were interviewing you. Little things like that drive me nuts - if your tie is crooked, pocket button unbuttoned, whatever. I would either say something or not, but I would definitely be thinking WTF? I might just ask you "Is that for me?" I might pick it up and toss it into my wastebasket and stare at you. Depends how my day has gone so far. And, I'd hire a polite pretty-smart person over a genius arrogant asshole every time. If it works for you though, well that's what matters, I guess.

I think the whole point of a group interview is to see your teamwork people skills. If the job demands collaboration and conflict resolution, they don't want someone who's going to cave at every sign of disagreement, but they also don't want a bully. If you're a reasonably normal social person, you'll do fine.
posted by ctmf at 10:16 PM on April 21, 2008

Yeah, I wasn't too thrilled the one time I had a five-person team sprung on me in an interview. Especially since none of them actually knew what the position entailed (huh?).

My note from this: bring TONS of resumes. Nothing like bringing three copies and there's five people. Oops. Other than that, you just have to roll with whatever they're dishing, and try to look around the room at everyone and switch who gets eye contact when you give answers.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:18 PM on April 21, 2008

I prefer to answer second. The first person to answer inevitably leaves something out. Your answer then is "I basically agree with bozo there, but he forgot to mention..." [backstab!] Also occasionally, the guy in a rush to answer first fell for the trick question, which you get to correct.

It's ok to agree with what's already been said (unless it's wrong.) Just add something useful or point out a tricky part of the solution that would have to be watched out for.
posted by ctmf at 10:20 PM on April 21, 2008

I can't really speak for anyone else, but here's my take on it: I, as a professional, expect to be treated with a certain amount of respect. I don't attend cattle calls.

Yes, I'm looking for a job. But I'm not going to grovel for it, and if a company mistreats me during the interview they're very likely to mistreat me after I'm hired. There are a lot of jobs out there, and the interview is a two way street. They're interviewing me to see if I'm worth hiring, and I'm interviewing them to see if I want to work for them.

If I was told I was going to be part of a group interview, my answer would be, "No, I'm not going to be part of it."
posted by Class Goat at 10:27 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it's just a time-saver (ask questions once instead of 8 times, dispense with wasted time between, etc.), then it may just be like this:
-Answer in sequence around the table
Which would remove some of the competitiveness/assertiveness factor. I've done one of these; not so bad, although if the other candidates are a lot dumber (or a lot smarter, I guess) than you are, that might be disconcerting.
posted by SuperNova at 10:27 PM on April 21, 2008


That is the craziest thing I have EVER heard. So crazy I have to do something about it. I am SERIOUSLY considering applying for some crazy-ass job that I have never done, doctoring a resume, getting an interview, get beat down, then try it.

What the hell does it do?

I have to see it in action, to see if it is complete BS, or if its legit.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:38 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

If being interviewed by a group: figure out who alpha dog is, and mainly talk to him. Also, check out the team dynamics of the interviewers; how they relate to each other can give you important info on whether you want to be on this team or not.

If being interviewed as a group: wow, I've never heard of this, it sounds awful. I think I would not say anything until the others have said their piece, then be the closer.

I'm very confused on Rafaelloello's tip. I understand the dominance theory behind it but if someone did that--"Take the physical item (make sure it's in your hand and/or in plain view during the entire interview) and reach "way, way, way over the table" and place it near the person."--I'm not sure what I would do. Probably flip through the portfolio or ask if they needed me to make a call... sure wouldn't submit and show my soft underbelly, though. (That said, I think the point is to shift attention, and the visual would help. I guess I wouldn't push the visual aid in their face.)
posted by sfkiddo at 10:44 PM on April 21, 2008

From what I've heard from HR people, interviews of a group of job applicants (just to be clear about what we're talking about ) are usually about sussing out who works well in a team.

If you're aggressive, or talk over the top of people (etc) then you're out.

And don't be too surprised if the "interview" turns out to include some kind of roleplay or problem-solving scenario: "ok, guys, now imagine you need to paint this building pink by tomorrow...come up with a plan between yourselves for how you're going to do it..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:27 PM on April 21, 2008

Yeah I'd agree with Ubu -- be prepared for "We're in a balloon and it's sinking! Why shouldn't you be the guy we throw out!?" and the like.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:27 AM on April 22, 2008

A lot of group interviews are about teamwork and seeing how you interact with other people. Have they indicated how long the interview will take? A lot of group interviews include a lot of games/problem solving/roleplay etc but that sort of stuff can take a few hours - all day. If its not much longer than a regular interview then it could be they're just sitting everyone around a table and asking round the room to save time.

As to Rafaelloello's 'technique'. I can imagine it would be quite effective at cooling a hot situation by putting the interviewer off, but how effective is it at getting you the job? If I were the one interviewing you, I would immediately write you off as weird and more than a little rude.
posted by missmagenta at 12:32 AM on April 22, 2008

Further to the last few answers, I've attended a group interview in the past. They asked me to allow 3hrs or so, iirc, and it involved a bunch of exercises and roleplay. There was also a shortish 1-to-1 interview as part of the whole thing. I was subsequently invited back for a second interview that was a more conventional 2 person panel.

I would definitely read up on the best way to approach the group dynamics of discussing the kind of questions that Ubu and Ambrose mentioned. I'd also give consideration to practicing some kind of relevant roleplay (eg if it's a sales job, practice some negotiation roleplays).

If the timing they've indicated is too short for all of this, then I got nothing.
posted by Jakey at 2:00 AM on April 22, 2008

We do these interviews. I thought I'd written about these before, but I can't find it.

This is our final stage interview. We've already completed the phone screen interview and first and second rounds. We only use these types of interviews for our very senior positions when we cannot agree on a candidate. This isn't the interview when we grill you about your experience. This is an interview where we learn about how you approach a problem. Three candidates is the best number. Two is head to head competitive and four is unwieldy.

Don't dominate the conversation; participate in the conversation. Listen to the other candidates' answers. Really, don't tune out when you're not the one answering. It's rude and you'll end up either repeating or contradicting another person. That's never good. We don't want the loudest person. We want to find the person who can communicate their experience in a room of their peers.

Interview process:When we invite you to the panel, we explain the panel process. There are no surprises and no gotchas. We explain where we are in the hiring process and why we're doing this type of interview. In my experience, I've had 1 person back out at this stage.

Each candidate is met separately by a "host" interviewer. The host interviewer makes sure the candidate can visit the restroom, get a drink, etc. Then the interviewer and candidate chat for a few minutes. Next we bring all of the interviewees and interviewers together. We always do formal introductions and use name tents (first name only). There is a interviewer who will facilitate. If one candidate is overly dominant, the facilitator will handle it. Usually, these interviews are fairly long and we might take a break in the middle.

After the interview, the host interviewer debriefs with the candidate, sets expectations for next steps, makes sure parking gets validated. After all of the candidates have left the office, the interviewing panel meets to discuss. These discussions are always fairly short. We walk out of the panel interview knowing who the best candidate is. Even when we went into the panel disagreeing about our preference, we've all agreed after the panel discussion. These candidates have always worked out for us - both in accepting offers and doing well at the company.

Bonus: Here is what you'll learn from the panel interview - these are the people that you stack up against. Your resume and interviewing skills got you to the final interview. If you know you're far more qualified than the other candidates, then you need to revise your resume or refine your job target or improve you interviewing. It's a valuable insight to have.
posted by 26.2 at 2:22 AM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've been on both sides of gang interviews. I don't like to set up interviews like this because I think it's a poor way to talk to someone, but it does have the advantage of giving as many possible co-workers a chance to meet you and talk to you, and minimizing disruption to the a team.

Strategy if you're the interviewee? Treat it as a group conversation. Know yourself, don't BS, do ask questions when things aren't clear, and be engaged.
posted by zippy at 3:32 AM on April 22, 2008

I did one of those some months ago and it was total bullshit. We were 6 and the reason the guys who were hiring did it was because, basically, they didn't want to repeat themselves. Yes, they basically told us that doing it this way were saving them time.
I guess every group interview is slightly different. In that case they didn't ask any questions about professional background, experience, any of that stuff. They just explained what was the company and the job all about.
They didn't even warn us it was a group interview beforehand.
The even more unsettling thing was they we weren't there for the same position, there was a guy that was applying for a graphic design job another for a sales job etc...
At some point they asked us if we had any questions and of course the questions were ranging from sales to graphic design and video production. It was also really long, it lasted almost 2 hours.
It didn't even feel like an interview, it's like they didn't read anybody's reseume and they thought no one in the room knew nothing about what they were doing.
By the end of it i just wanted to run away as far as possible from the place.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:55 AM on April 22, 2008

I figured you meant you'd be in a group of applicants being interviewed. Try to avoid being the first person answering a question, because you'll give the other applicants stuff to riff on. It's always easier to go second. But last is tough to because by then almost everything has been said, and there's nothing really new to say. Don't cut the other applicants off, don't talk over them, but don't be afraid to speak up either. It is most definitely a competition and you want to win.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:20 AM on April 22, 2008

I can see why you're uneasy. If you know it's a great company, and really have to do this, get a group of friends to help you practice.
posted by theora55 at 7:40 AM on April 22, 2008

Rafaelloello- then what? So you put the object near them and then what do you say when they ask "what do you want me to do with this?"

First, you don't chuck in onto their lap, you merely place your personal item down maybe up to mid-way across their desk, probably a third of the way is fine. You're just putting down an object like you would put down a coffee cup, the only difference is it has to be something that's clearly your property. Hopefully, you have something to say as their attitude changes (and it will), but you have to figure that part out for yourself.

Here's another tip. I always act like I already have the job and shift the conversation to what are the most important things your new boss would like you to accomplish in the first week, month, several months. Get them to actually visualize you taking whatever headache tasks they have off their plate, convincing them that all you need is a one sentence explanation of the task(s) at hand and you'll be accomplishing them at great speed with almost no further direction needed.

BTW, even if you don't want the job, always act like you want it. Let them commit to you and then you can make the decision when the offer is formalized if you'll accept. Put yourself in the driver's seat.

At this stage in my career I don't have to interview very much, but I pride myself on my .666 batting average. I get two offers for every three interviews I attend.
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:01 AM on April 22, 2008 [5 favorites]

I went on a group interview once, a few years ago. It was for some selfhelpy company, and their interview process was just as hinky as the product they sold. There were about fifteen people there, interviewing for three different positions, with not much room for anyone to start a dialogue or for the interviewers to get to know any of us. Plus, they administered one of those multiple-choice tests that supposedly evaluate your work ethic and whether you're going to end up stealing anything, and they warned us that they'd be able to tell if we lied on the test. I failed the test; in fact, nobody from that group interview passed it.

My experience was probably the exception and not the rule. But it wouldn't hurt to call and ask for an approximate schedule or more details so you can come prepared.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:06 AM on April 22, 2008

I'm not sure what I would do. Probably flip through the portfolio or ask if they needed me to make a call...

That would actually be pretty funny, especially since my daytimer contains the calendar book from May 1987. Also the gold monogrammed pen that's in the leather loop on the edge has needed a refill for about 12 years.

To be sure, it's just a prop for use in a particular situation. Remember, I'm not being arrogant or incendiary, I'm just hitting the "off" button on someone who is. I also mis-spoke when I said "way, way, way, over the table", I just meant don't put it down right on the edge, reach a bit.

Of course with the ensuing discussion here, it may work differently now:

Places down item

Interviewer: Hey, you're on Metafilter? Cool!
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:16 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had two group interviews and each was very, very different.

The first was obviously laziness on the employer's part. They asked a question, each of us answered it in whatever order we wanted, there was no group interaction-- basically, it was a timesaver. It was really weird and I felt awkward because I didn't feel I was getting enough one-on-one attention to really show my personality. Plus if you weren't one of the first ones to answer, there was this awkward I'll-start-no-you-start-ok-go-ahead thing happening, or you'd have to come up with another answer because someone used yours already, etc.

The second one was a bit better; it was a new business and you could tell that the group format actually had the purpose of establishing a team environment and seeing how you reacted to other people. Some of the exercises were lame, like the whole "interview the person next to you and describe them to the group" sort of thing but the dynamic was much more enjoyable because you could tell why it was a group interview. It felt much more laid-back and realistic, if that makes sense.

FWIW I didn't get an offer on the first, but the second company called me back and gave me a job. I think the success of a group interview really depends on the company and their reasoning behind it.
posted by riane at 8:30 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could you ring and find out a bit more about what will happen during the interview? Is it the only part of the selection process?

I've worked for one place, we'll call it the charity, that had group interviews, so I've not only been through it there, but also been involved in the selection process for other roles. I've also been for an interview, at the museum, where there was a panel interview one day and then the next day they bought together all the candidates to do a group task. I didn't get the museum job because I royally messed up the panel interview, I absolutely stormed the group task the next day (mostly because of my experiences at the charity).

Both organisations did it this way partly because the jobs would require you to regularly work with teams of people you didn't really know, so the interviews were set up to simulate that environment. The parts of the selection process for both places that involved working as a group were mostly focused on your team work and interpersonal skills; there were specific tasks you had to complete as a group. Which is why I suggest you find out exactly what they mean by group interview and what format it will take. Is it really an interview or are they going to get you to do some tasks as a group?

The charity also did this because they were a youth charity, and they were very open to the idea of ability rather than experience, and they are one of those 'my dream job would be to work for XXX' organisations, and it can be hard to weed out the fanboys from the application form alone (nothing wrong with fanboys, and some did quite rightly get hired, but the professional staff needed to have a little bit of emotional distance and see the bigger picture). They would invite everyone who had met the minimum requirements to a day-long interview. The morning was a selection of tasks some of which you did individually, some as a group: a group discussion, an IT skills test, a 5 minute presentation you'd prepared beforehand, and an informal group interview/discussion to find out a bit more about the job. Then they gave you a nice lunch, when the people who made decisions about these things selected the candidates that they thought would be suitable. They'd ask those candidates to stay for the afternoon, when they'd have a formal panel interview, and the others went home.

At first I thought this method was a little harsh, especially the lunch time cull, but I've come to realise that it's really no different to a two stage interview process, just all done on the same day, which actually made people's lives a bit easier as they didn't have to take two days off work or travel twice. They weren't particularly good at letting candidates know what to expect beforehand, although they've got better, so some people who got culled at lunchtime felt a bit done by because they hadn't had a formal interview.

The museum was different. We were given a group task to complete, which involved reviewing one of the galleries and then preparing a presentation to feedback our results. It lasted a couple of hours.

I actually enjoyed doing both interviews. And it now means I'm not really phased by any task interviewers throw at me (although I still need to work on my formal interview skills. I'm not so good on my own on the spot). Plus, it was really insightful to meet other people going for the same roles, and see what they have done and are doing. It's good to know your competition.
posted by Helga-woo at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2008

I've done a three-person group interview, and got the job. It wasn't a very tough or important job, but the group interview adds a twist on things. In my situation, the interviewees had to respond in a pre-selected pattern, to prevent one person from taking over the interview.

Answering first does put you at a disadvantage, no doubt about it. However, there's no reason why you should purposely give a worse answer as not to help your fellow interviewers, because then you will look downright incompetent after the next person speaks. If you hit the obvious answers and come up with something good on your own, the next answerer will find it difficult to come up with anything new.

If you go after someone else, and want to build upon a previous answer, I think it's important that you correctly attribute it to the previous interviewer. Just like in a panel interview where you would identify each interviewer by their own name, you want to be seen as a team player - this includes giving credit where credit is due.

I would also ignore Rafaelloello's "invade the interviewer's personal space" tactic. If your interviewer is "lording their position over you or otherwise making you feel like you are inferior", then you have a bad interviewer - possibly a bad company, and you should reconsider whether you want the position. If someone I was interviewing did this (I've interviewed a bunch of people), you would be "that person who doesn't know how to interview" or "that person who relied on a 'trick' because they couldn't handle a tough situation".

His advice in the second comment is better though - if the interviewer is someone who you will be working under or a peer, you need to show how you will make their lives easier, not how smart you are.
posted by meowzilla at 10:26 AM on April 22, 2008

The key to succeeding in a group-of-applicants interview is knowing why they want to interview applicants in groups.

There are three kinds of jobs where a group-of-applicants interview makes sense .. The most common is jobs which are heavily team oriented, to the point that you rarely originate or execute anything of your own. More rare: leadership jobs where "cool kid" quality is essential and can be measured by ability to charismatically dominate as tough a room as competing job seekers. Rarest of all: alpha-male jobs where your ability explicitly to dominate the room, cool kid qualities not needed, is a qualification -- so rare not because these jobs are rare, but because someone who wants conventional boss material is unlikely to do something so unconventional as a group interview.

If you can't figure out how the position in question fits ought to fit into one of those three paradigms, than you have to go to option four: the hiring process (and in all likelihood the company) is full of toxic bad ideas about employees which will have constant ramifications in how they supervise and motivate you.
posted by MattD at 10:41 AM on April 22, 2008

MattD: There are three kinds of jobs where a group-of-applicants interview makes sense .. The most common is jobs which are heavily team oriented, to the point that you rarely originate or execute anything of your own. More rare: leadership jobs where "cool kid" quality is essential and can be measured by ability to charismatically dominate as tough a room as competing job seekers. Rarest of all: alpha-male jobs where your ability explicitly to dominate the room, cool kid qualities not needed, is a qualification -- so rare not because these jobs are rare, but because someone who wants conventional boss material is unlikely to do something so unconventional as a group interview.

If you can't figure out how the position in question fits ought to fit into one of those three paradigms, than you have to go to option four: the hiring process (and in all likelihood the company) is full of toxic bad ideas about employees which will have constant ramifications in how they supervise and motivate you.

I've gotta say that I'm wary of this interview for the reasons you're proposing. If this was a job for which the company would be hiring multiple candidates, or which required a low level of responsibility, then it would make more sense to me.

I don't want to say much more about this specific invitation or the job, at least not right now, but I can say that the invitation was by email and I got just 24 hours' notice. Despite being quite interested in the job, I think I may decline this interview simply because I am not prepared and won't have the chance to suss out more about the process before going in.
posted by loiseau at 1:09 PM on April 22, 2008

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