Group Interviews: How to Excel at a Group Interview

At some point during your career, you may find yourself in a group interview. These are especially popular with companies that recruit several people at once - call centres or a retail environment are good examples - when it's more efficient to assess several people at the same time. They are also excellent opportunities to study candidates in a team situation.

What to Expect

In a group interview, a panel of interviewers, usually comprising managers, supervisors and HR personnel, meet several candidates at once. The day may take on any format, but typically the candidates are asked to take part in group problem-solving activities of some description.

In the case of a large company or organisation, the day or half-day may start with a presentation about the employer. Candidates may be asked to stand up and introduce themselves and briefly state why they're interested in the role. This gives everyone a chance to get orientated and to settle into the group.

Group Interview Questions and Answers

Sometimes a group interview may start with a questions and answers session, or an open discussions. Discussion subjects may relate only indirectly to the job, having been selected to reveal attitudes of the candidates.

The interviewers will be watching all the participants in these discussions, noticing how they communicate, how coherently they present their ideas, how they deal with individual interactions and how much they participate.

Group Interview Activity / Games

With everyone warmed up, the group of candidates may be asked to take part in a work simulation activity. This is frequently a role play, based on a situation with a customer that is typical to the job. The group may be divided into two teams, each with a different case to address and resolve. Each team will usually have to elect a team leader and allocate other character roles. They may need to elect a spokesperson to present their findings at the end.

Sometimes, these activities are unrelated to work situations. As with outdoor professional development programmes, the exercise may be a hypothetical situation, such as building a bridge or saving a person from an accident.

Again, the interviewers will be watching the proceedings with interest. They'll take notes, provide more information where necessary and sometimes ask questions. Each person is being assessed during these exercises, so while the success or failure is a team outcome, candidates are only judged on their own contribution.

These findings will inform the interviewers' decision about who to invite for a one-to-one interview. This may take place immediately after lunch, or on another day altogether.

What Employers Look For

The interviewers observe candidates for specific characteristics and behaviours, depending on the role in question. Having watched each person interact with other people in a stressful situation, the employer can assess whether they are able to:

Bear in mind that some people can actually be obstructive to a group reaching its objectives and you'll see why this is a useful exercise for employers. An unsuccessful candidate might be loud and not listen to others, override other people's views, or take the group along the wrong route due to ignoring the contributions of other people.

Team Leaders or Team Members?

A good leadership candidate will do the opposite, listening to other people, inviting thoughts from quieter members, discussing ideas and allowing new approaches to evolve. They will also drive towards a decision, recognising that actions have to be taken.

Not everyone is a leader and nor should everyone try to be, if it is not in their personality type. The person who organises discussions may be a good chairperson, which is a valuable attribute in itself and shows the ability to operate effectively in meetings. Other people will combine offering ideas with taking direction from the leader, taking on roles according to their strengths. However, nobody should aim to be the 'invisible' group member who holds back, is unable to raise a point or express an idea, and who follows without contributing.

How to Prepare for a Group Interview

It's difficult to prepare for exercises when you don't know what they are going to be. When you receive an invitation to a group interview or an 'assessment centre', call the employer and ask about the format the day or half day is to take. The employer may give you a clearer idea of what to expect, or they may not. All you can do is ask.

Research is Invaluable

You always need to undertake some thorough research into the employer and the job. Read beyond the job description and take in details from the website and all the organisational literature from brochures to the annual report. The more you can learn about the organisation's culture and, if possible, the department you're likely to be joining, the better.

You can research the job's person requirements in more detail by looking at other advertisements for the same kind of position with other companies or organisations. In a very specific role, such as a customer service representative, which qualities come up time and time again? Spend some time thinking about why your skills and personal attributes would suit these person specifications.

You are going to need to talk in front of a group of people at some point. Are you able to do this? Rehearse talking and giving a prepared self-introduction to your family or a few friends. Hearing the sound of your own voice like this will help you to stay calm when you have to speak up in the group situation.

How to Behave on the Day

Before the formalities begin, you have to act as if you're on display - because it's very likely that you are being observed. Make an effort to politely introduce yourself to other candidates. The advantage of doing this is that you'll feel more at ease earlier than if you don't.

Dealing with Nerves

Taking the initiative is a good way to calm your nerves and open up easier communication channels in the exercises that come later. How do you respond to stressful situations? Remind yourself to relax your muscles and take deep breaths from time to time.

Active Participation

Throughout the day, it's important to be seen as an active participant rather than merely an observer. Make sure you get to contribute your views and ideas whilst also listening to the other candidates.

When in a question and answer session, use your research to ask well-informed questions. Make sure you're not asking a question about something that's already been addressed, or that's obviously a 'showing off your knowledge' question. Keep to the flow of whatever's being discussed.

Think before you speak, and when you do speak, ensure your voice is loud enough to carry to all group members. Never interrupt. If someone interrupts you and cuts you off, return to your point once more, but don't persist. Leave it to the interviewers to observe the other person's behaviour.

Remember to Listen

Active listening ensures that your ability to hear out other people's ideas gets noticed. This involves nodding in acknowledgement of other people's statements, while repeating and summarising them for clarity. Give verbal praise and acknowledgement where it's due.

With many candidates all trying to contribute, someone may make your point first. If this happens, think of a statement that adds to this point. This demonstrates that you listen actively and think on your feet.

Handle Disagreement Effectively

Don't get involved in power conflicts with those you see as wishing to take over the group. Doing so will backfire as it will make you look uncooperative, with all the characteristics you think the other person has! Always remain calm under pressure.

Mind Your Body Language

Finally, be conscious of your body language at an interview. You may keep your facial expression clear, but if you're folding your arms tight across your chest, that will give your true feelings away. Don't tap your foot with nerves or fiddle with your watch either. Make sure you are sending the right non-verbal message with your interview body language.

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