What is a group interview?
You finally got an invitation to an interview. You are excited and you go through all the motions. You have researched well, your suit is well pressed and your certificates are ready. On the material day, you get to the company’s reception on time and the recruiting manager greets you courteously and asks you to follow her. You walk down a hall and into a room where you find another 4 interviewees. The recruiting manager then breaks the news that this is a group interview. What do you do? You were prepared for a one-on-one but the playing field has changed in seconds!
Group interviews are increasingly being adopted by employers with the major aim of assessing how potential employees would work in a team. Teamwork is one of the key skills that play a major role in modern organisations. Additionally, a potential employer may use a group interview for a role that requires customer interaction. The aim is to assess each candidate’s emotional intelligence and ability to solve problems.
In the current job market, management trainee positions lean heavily on the group interview technique. This is because the positions utilise a lot of teamwork and more often than not, they involve close interaction with clients. The challenge for most candidates, therefore, is to find the right balance between being overbearing and being a team player. While it is challenging to balance the two, the idea is to ensure that the interviewers remember you and your ideas.
Group interview formats
A group interview can take three major formats but you should not panic as they all involve discussions and group activities.
- A group discussion: This format involves a panel of interviewers asking questions to a group of interviewees. The interviewers may ask each candidate a question or ask questions and any candidate can answer. If the interviewers ask each candidate a question, it is your role to ensure that your answer stands out. If the interviewers ask questions to be answered by any candidate, it is your duty to actively participate in the session without dominating over other candidates.
- A group interview then individual interviews: Some companies first assess candidates in a group setting and then each candidate individually. The purpose of the group interview here is to pick out candidates who are team players and can balance their viewers in a team setting. Once the best candidates are chosen, they are taken through individual interviews to further discuss their skills. Your aim is to, therefore, be consistent by expounding on your skills during the individual interview.
- A group activity: A group interview may also take the form of activities which analyse your problem-solving skills. In this case, the group is given a problem to solve and present the findings and solutions. The group may be given a few hours or a couple of days to solve the problem. The aim here is to ensure that every group member participates in the activity. The interviewers are also looking for the ability to resolve a conflict. It is ill advised to have one person doing all the activities as the person shows the inability to work in a team.
Tackling the group interview
If you find yourself in a group interview, here is what to do to ensure that you get the chance to proceed.
1. Relax and smile
Avoid showing shock and disappointment. This is just the first step and panicking erodes your composure so smile at everyone, say hi and take the seat offered to you. Your reaction may be a test so do not freak out and shrink in your chair.
2. Involve all the group members
It is tempting to dominate over other candidates. But, bear in mind that this is an indication that you are not a team player. Besides, involving other team members can be helpful to you as you can learn from them and use this knowledge to your advantage. If it is a group activity, let each team member participate and pay attention to what is said.
During the interview, feel free to add points to ideas that have been floated. For example, you may say “To add to Faith’s point, I think the test phase of the activity should be given about two weeks for a conclusive outcome.” This shows that you are attentive. It will also help you to avoid repeating what has been said, which is a very present danger in a group interview.
Remember, leadership skills are also being assessed and involving all the team members shows the ability to be an inclusive leader who brings the whole team on board. A good leader is one who ensures every person’s strength is harnessed and this is not possible when some team members are excluded from discussions.
3. Be active
This can be challenging if you are an introvert or if you feel like other candidates have more qualifications than you. While you do not want to be in the spotlight, you should also not disappear into oblivion. Being active demonstrates that you are interested in the activity and the job. As such, you should answer questions whenever possible and give ideas.
Being actively involved in a group interview also lets you share your ideas and opinions and this can be very helpful in landing you the job. A good way of shining in a group interview is by ensuring the interviewers remember you and that can only happen if you give good ideas.
If you sit back and let others do all the talking, you also appear as being individualistic which makes you a ripe candidate for disqualification.
Do not wait until you are prompted to speak for you to contribute to the discussion. While it is not good to hog the spotlight, it is also detrimental to be dormant. A good balance will help you shine and secure the job. The interview is supposed to involve all the participants, be there.
4. Respect other people’s views
We all have divergent ideas. As much as you may not agree with some ideas, you should not trash what other people say. This demonstrates a condescending attitude which is a big red flag. If you have been given a group task, ensure that you respect every person’s idea even if you do not agree with it. Do not shoot down what another person says.
Disrespect rubs people the wrong way and no one will want to work with you. It also alienates you and you set yourself up for disqualification. As much as you want to shine with your ideas, showing disregard for other people’s ideas, even if you do not agree with them, is totally unacceptable. If you do not agree with a person, you can, for example, say, “While I appreciate X’s point of view, I think the economy has provided numerous informal jobs in the past few months and this is a positive thing, in my opinion.”
5. Pay attention and listen keenly
A group interview can be hectic and this can result in lots of tension as you are trying your best to be noticed. It can thus be hard to be attentive as you are worried about your performance and whether you will get an opportunity to speak.
If you want to give good ideas, start by listening keenly. The purpose of a group interview is to build ideas and this can only be achieved through keen listening. You can also show attention by using body language. For example, if an idea pops up while someone else is talking, note it down so that you can speak when the opportunity to contribute arises.
Paying attention also helps you to stay active as you get ideas to contribute from what others are saying. Even if you have no ideas, you can easily get a light-bulb moment by listening to what others are saying.
6. Be your genuine self
It is very easy to get lost in the group especially if the team is trying to stick together. One can easily take on another character. This is dangerous especially if there is a follow up with a one-on-one interview. Be careful not to get carried away as interviewers can pick this out and disqualify you.
What to avoid during a group interview
As you try to get the attention of the interviewers through your ideas, it is easy to fall victim to some harmful behaviours which can get you disqualified. Here is what you should not do during a group interview.
- Do not be overly competitive
An interview is a competitive process. However, a group interview is primarily meant to gauge your teamwork skills and emotional intelligence. Being too competitive projects a lone ranger which is exactly what the interviewers are not looking for in a potential employee.
By being too competitive, you also deny others a chance to participate in the group activity and this is going against having an inclusive team. So, while you want to shine, let the group interview be all inclusive. The purpose of a team is to harness each team member’s strengths for great results on tasks. This means that each person has a contribution to make and if you are overly competitive, you steal the spotlight.
- Don’t shy away from praising other team members
Although a group interview is a competitive process, there is no harm in praising another person. Remember you are a team and praising another person in a group interview shows that you appreciate what another person is bringing on board.
Each team member has something to bring on board and praising other team members shows that you have good leadership skills as you recognise the need for diversity.
- Do not take a back seat
During a group interview, there are some people, especially extroverts, who stand out from the rest. One can be tempted to relax and let the loud mouth do all the work. This is a wrong approach as you can be forgotten and appear disinterested. If you are an introvert, you may feel overwhelmed by the person taking control of events.
In such a case, you should take advantage of the outspoken person to shine. It is pretty simple, just listen keenly to what he is saying and add your own points to his or give a different opinion to his. This makes you also stand out and secure your chances of passing the interview. The ability to also support or disagree with someone shows that you are attentive and analytical.
Group interviews are designed to test your soft skills. The idea is to see how well you can solve problems in a group setting. So, do not panic. Be a team player and you will sail through without any problem.