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How to Survive and Excel in a Group Interview

Group interviews are becoming a more common hiring practice as companies place greater emphasis on teamwork and communication skills in addition to basic job task competencies. There are two types of group interview. The first, more correctly called a panel interview, involves a team of employees interviewing an applicant at the same time. The second type of group interview, which we will discuss here, is an interview that includes multiple applicants for the same position being interviewed together. Excelling in a group interview requires additional skills to those you need in a traditional one-on-one interview.

What to expect in a group interview

During a group interview, you will frequently receive a formal presentation about the company and the position. Although each company may have slight variations on this theme, it is likely that you will be asked to introduce yourself to the group and perhaps tell a bit about yourself and your background. Then, there may be an open discussion, directed questions, or you may be asked to participate in group exercises. Contrary to your possible impressions of group interviews from TV shows like “The Apprentice”, the group interview is not an adversarial process. It is however competitive and you will make or break your hiring chances based on your performance.

Getting off on the right foot

The first few minutes of a group interview will be ice-breaking or warm up. The interviewers will introduce themselves, either to each applicant personally or to the group. Look the person in the eye and smile. If it is a personal introduction, use their name in your reply, “Hello Sam, I am Frank Burns, it is nice to meet you. I am really looking forward to talking about XYZ Company and the account representative position.”

During the initial presentation about the company and the position, listen actively. That means, look interested in what is being said and give the presenter some non-verbal feedback by nodding your head, establishing eye contact, and appearing open by keeping your arms on the table or at your side. Do not sit back and fold your arms across your chest as if you are judgmentally evaluating them.

Do your homework on the company before the group interview just as you would during a one-on-one interview. Learn about the company from its website as well as trade publications and news reports. In preparing for the group interview also research information about what it is like to work at the company by reviewing blogs or other social networking sites maintained by key employees. The informality of blogs, as opposed to the company’s website, provides clues to how the company expects its employees to behave and how employees are treated. In the group interview, you want to appear to be similar to the current employees in terms of attitude and comportment. Your subtle message is “see, I would fit in here”.

When you introduce yourself, act relaxed and speak clearly and slowly. Look at each person around the table while you speak and don’t forget to smile. Be prepared to present a synopsis of your background in two to three minutes.

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How can you stand out favorably in a group interview?

To some extent how you can stand out depends on when in the hiring process the group interview occurs: as the first interaction, as follow up to a phone interview, or as the last step after you have had one-on one or panel interviews. You stand out in each of these circumstances by favorably answering the questions in the mind of the interviewers. So, if this is the first contact with the employer, they are asking themselves, “can he do the job, does he want to do the job, and will he fit in here?”

If you have already had a phone interview, the employer believes that you can do the job. So, the interviewers are trying to answer the other two questions. You communicate to the interviewers that you want to do the job by demonstrating your knowledge of the company based on your research, by the attitude you have when listening, and by the questions you ask. When you are interviewed with other candidates it is better to lead than to follow. Be willing to step up and ask a meaningful question at the first opportunity.

While other candidates are introducing themselves, asking or answering questions, you should be interested and supportive. Part of the goal of the group interview is to assess your ability to work well with others. Although you want to appear to be a leader, you do not want to dominate the group by talking too much, interrupting others, or acting in any way disrespectful to the other candidates.

If the group is given a task to work on together, here is where you demonstrate your ability to listen to instructions, work well with others, provide leadership, support the team, and communicate your ideas effectively. Working together with the candidate team is also a chance to show how you deal with stress. There may be disagreements and time pressures. Show that you can work productively with the team by providing constructive comments, resolving conflicts, and making sure everyone on the team participates.

After the meeting is over

Thank everyone, by name if you can, and express your appreciation for the opportunity to participate. Let the employer know that you want the position – tell them; do not assume they know. Use a thank you note as an opportunity not only to express appreciation for their time and information but also to restate your qualifications and interest in the position.

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