Group Interviewing

(By Samantha Gonnelli – C2C Career Advisor)

With the number of students graduating from college rising and every job becoming more and more competitive, the practice of group interviewing has increased. It saves time and typically gives candidates the opportunity to play the role for which they are interviewing. Group interviewing is exactly what it sounds like – the practice of interviewing several candidates at a time for a single position or, sometimes, multiple positions. There are both advantages and disadvantages of interviewing candidates in a group, and the interview can look different depending on the industry. Some common group interview formats include:

The “Panel-Style” Group Interview – The interviewer poses a question and all of the candidates answer, one at a time. Additionally, the interviewer may pose a question and any of the candidates may answer, and not all will have a chance to speak.
Team-Building Exercise – Candidates participate in a team-building exercise while the interviewer observes (and, sometimes, facilitates).
Mock Team Meeting – Candidates assume the role for which they are applying and participate in a mock meeting with other candidates and/or current employees. Typically, the participants will be given a task or a problem to solve as the basis for the meeting.
Group, plus Individual, Interview – One of the above formats, preceded or followed by an individual interview.

As I mentioned previously, there are both advantages and disadvantages with group interviewing; in fact, each advantage is typically coupled with a disadvantage. I’ll explore some below:

More People, Less Focus on You – Because there are multiple candidates in the room, you may feel less nervous and even gain more time to formulate a response to the interviewer’s question. This can also be a disadvantage because:
You might feel more pressure to provide responses that are as “impressive” as those of your peers, i.e. you’ll compare yourself to others.

You might overthink your answers.  It may be more difficult to find an appropriate time to contribute to the conversation, depending on the interview format.

To combat this, as for any interview, research the organization thoroughly, have answers prepared for standard interview questions as well as any other question you think may come up, and think about the future of the organization for which you’re interviewing. Anticipate their challenges, their areas of growth, their needs, etc.

Tips for Success:

Use your active listening skills during the interview. Sometimes, it can be hard to speak up, but you need to find a way in. Be patient, but assertive. Also, remember it’s okay to disagree, but do so respectfully and offer solutions.
It’s important to showcase your ability to work in a team. You may find yourself in the role of leader within the group, depending on the format, but you do not want to come off as monopolizing the group. Interact enthusiastically and professionally with the other candidates and ensure the task gets done.

Be confident in what you bring to the table. No candidate is the same and it’s not worthwhile to get bogged down in comparing yourself to others. Before the interview, reflect on your unique skill set and experience. Also, think about a time you worked on a team and it went well. Bring that knowledge and experience to the interview and, remember, you have already impressed the interviewer; s/he wouldn’t have asked you to come in if they did not think you were a good fit for the position!

Bring multiple copies of your resume and check the dress code. The latter is especially important if you end up having to participate in a team-building exercise, as you may need to move around a bit during the activity.
Have a brief introduction prepared; you’ll need to do one.

Some Examples of Group Interviewing:

“Panel-Style” Interview.  At an interview for a nonprofit job, I was assigned to a small group of other candidates, also interviewing for the same position. One interviewer stayed with our group, asked the candidates to introduce themselves, and then posed a series of questions, allowing each candidate to answer before moving on. It is important to note that this was only one part of the interviewing process for this organization. On the other hand, for a fellowship I interviewed for during college, about 10-12 candidates were seated around a table with a single interviewer, who asked the group questions at large. Not everyone was given the opportunity to answer each question and, at times, it was difficult to insert myself into the conversation. In situations like these, it is important to be assertive, but not rude. If you and another candidate begin speaking at the same time, you might suggest, “Why don’t you finish your thought and then I’ll share mine?” Start after the other candidate stops and, if another candidate attempts to interject, remind him or her that it is your turn to speak.

Team-Building Exercise.  I was asked to engage in a team-building activity for an interview for a pre-college program. In the job, I ended up having to work very closely with my co-workers in addition to carrying out my individual job as a Teaching Assistant. I had to run 1-2 activities daily with my co-workers, supervise a floor with a co-worker, lead field trips with my co-workers, and meet nightly with my co-workers to debrief each day. Collaboration with my co-workers was, needless to say, critical; therefore, it was important for the interviewers to find a staff with strong chemistry. They succeeded, as this was one of the best, most effective teams with which I have ever worked. This is a textbook example of how group interviewing can be beneficial to and appropriate for an organization.

Mock Team Meeting.  I was asked to participate in a team meeting at an interview for a School Counseling position. Other candidates for my position participated in the meeting as well as candidates for various teaching positions. We were given a rubric for grading the students based on character. The traits were in alignment with the school’s mission. It was our task to decide how we would integrate the rubric into the curriculum and make it part of the school’s culture. How would we convey the expectations to students and then evaluate them on it? This exercise was meant to see how the candidates would address a real problem facing the school and how they would interact with colleagues in their desired roles. It provided the candidates with a taste of what they could expect from weekly team meetings, and it provided the interviewers with a taste of how you would fit in with their current team. It should be noted that I also interviewed individually with a faculty member, a counselor, and two administrators and then wrote a brief essay before participating in the exercise detailed above. I also interviewed with a group of position as part of the hiring process for this institution. I was interviewed from almost every angle for this job!

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