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How to handle a group interview

interview tips job hunting Jan 05, 2023
Five people sitting together on one side of the table. They are all looking at one person as they speak, with their hand touching the table.

Have you ever arrived at an interview, saw your competition in the waiting room, and then realized that you would all be interviewing at the same time?

 

Group interviews are a nightmare for some people, but unfortunately, they are not rare. Many companies want to save time by interviewing two, three or even more candidates at once. This means you have less time to make an impression, so every word matters.

 

Other group interviews are stacked on the company side. You may have a human resources rep, team lead, and manager working together to interview you. Suddenly, you have three sets of body language to read while you’re answering questions to determine if you’re the best for the job.

 

Here’s how to handle them.

 

Research

The best way to handle a group interview is to not be surprised by one. If you can, find out if you are being interviewed by a panel of interviewers or if you will be joined by other candidates.

 

If you have a panel:

Once you know who your interview panel is, you need to know these key things about them:

  • Full name and pronunciation
  • Position at company and general roles
  • Educational background
  • Where they are based

 

This information can help you anticipate the details they may bring to their questions. It will also help you craft some of the stories you will share to each panelists’ interests. If you are being hired by the manager, a recruiter, and a member of your team, you can speak to work culture and your qualifications in better detail, according to their roles in the company.

 

Knowing more about candidates can also help you break the ice. Maybe you went to the same school as a panelist. Maybe you live in the same city as a panelist. Maybe you have nothing in common with them and you need to do more research until you find out you do. The more you know, the better.

 

If you have other candidates:

It’s not likely you will know who the other candidates are, but if you do, you should research them too. Don’t let their experiences psyche you out. You were all brought to the interview process because you showed potential. You want to know what strengths they bring to the table and also where they may fall short. You can prepare to speak to gaps in their skillset that you can fulfill. 



Using the STAR Method

This is an important technique to know whether you are in an individual or group interview. The STAR method stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Result

Source: MIT Career Advising and Professional Development

 

When someone asks you a question about how you would respond to a conflict in the office or how you have acted in past work experience, you can organize your thoughts this way.

 

Describe the Situation. What was the issue and who was involved?

Describe the Task. What needed to be done and why?

Explain your Action. What was your role and how did you contribute to the situation?

Share the Result. What were the outcomes and what did you learn?

 

Address everyone in the room

Even though you are in the same position as the other candidates, address them as if you are being interviewed by them. Greet them and introduce yourself when you arrive in the waiting room or the interview room. You are showing that you are respectful, confident, and intend on treating the situation like a normal conversation.

 

Of course, great interviewers as well. Thank them for taking the time to see all of the candidates to acknowledge your peers. 

 

When you answer questions, focus on the interviewer or interviewers, but also make eye contact with the other candidates as you speak. This involves them in the conversation and creates less distraction for you. Instead of trying to ignore the other people in the room, you are engaging them, even if they aren’t mean to respond to you.

 

That being said, when other candidates are speaking, you can look between them and the interviewers to maintain the conversational tone. This will also make it easier to break in and answer a question seamlessly, even building on other candidates’ answers when it is your turn to speak. 

 

A simple, “[Name] makes a good point about this. When I was in a similar situation, I did this…” shows that you are listening to others and confident in what you have to offer. 



Listen more than you speak

Don’t rush to be the first person to speak. Listening to other people’s answers and watching how the interviewer/interviewers react could help you in many ways.

  • It gives you a chance to think of your own answer
  • It reveals if the interviewer likes the way the candidate answered the question
  • It shows the interviewer that you are quick to listen and slow to speak
  • It gives you an opportunity to be inspired by the candidates’ answers and build off of their response

 

This doesn’t mean you should never speak first. In fact, you should speak first every once in a while so the interviewer can see you are a self-starter and you can be memorable by the time the interview is over. 

 

It’s about striking a balance. You can even consult with the other candidates to figure out speaking order. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact, nod in encouragement, or tell them they say what’s on their mind first if you would like them to take the reins. But don’t be afraid to jump in when you know you have your answer ready either.

 

Don’t be afraid to disagree

When it is your turn to speak, don’t be afraid to take your responses in a different direction. If other candidates share an idea or response that you don’t, stick to what you believe to be true. You don’t have to be argumentative, but you can counter with a simple transition word like “Actually” or “Alternatively” to present your point.

 

If what the interview calls for a strong opinion on a subject one way or another, explain why you feel opposite to the other people in the room. Use an example rooted in your past experiences if you have to.

 

This will show the interviewer what disagreements will look like in their company. Teams don’t always agree with each other, but talking it out based on a diversity of past experience is what strengthens teams to work better together in the future. 



Common questions during group interview

  • Tell me about yourself
  • How would your colleague describe you?
  • Why do you want this job/Why do you want to work at this company?
  • Who would you hire from this group of candidates? Why?
  • What makes you stand out as a candidate?

 

You can practice how you answer questions with the Video Interview Bot.

Source: Video Interview Bot

 

The simulation will show you what you do well and what you can improve on by giving you prompts and recording your responses.

 

Questions to ask during a group interview

Again, you should involve the other candidates in this question. Acknowledging that you are not the only person in the room and that you could be asking on behalf of others is a sign of attention and respect.

 

Other questions to ask is: 

  • How will our success be measured in this role?
  • Based on our various experiences, qualifications would make someone an ideal candidate for this role? What other experience would we need to become that ideal candidate?
  • What sets this company apart from the other companies we have worked at?

 

And finally:

When will we find out who the successful candidate is?

 

Make sure to shake hands or address the interviewer and other candidates on your way out. If you can remember all their names, use them when you are saying goodbye.

 

Then cross your fingers and hope you were the cream of the crop.



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