You’re in a lobby
waiting for your turn to be called for your job interview. There are four other
people waiting, but you don’t pay any attention to them because you’re busy rehearsing the
interview answers in your head. Then a recruiter calls your name followed by
the names of the four people sitting in the lobby
and then directs you all to a big conference room. It turns out you’re going to
have a group interview, not the one-on-one you expected.
Surprises like this aren’t unheard of, but thankfully they’re happening less and less because of social media and websites like Glassdoor. In this post, you'll learn about what to expect in a group interview and about how group interviews are conducted.
Two Types of Group Interviews
Your experience and the strategies you’ll need will depend on the type of group interview you’ll attend. Will you be talking to multiple representatives of the same company, or will you be competing against several candidates for the same role? Read on to learn how do group interviews work and the two group interview types you can expect.
1. Group Interviews and Group Activities
The typical setup is usually one interviewer questioning multiple candidates. You’ll each get a turn to answer the same question and your main goal is to stand out against the competition. Group interviews with more than ten candidates, however, don’t always proceed this way because there’s not enough time for everyone to get a turn. So, in this case, you need to find the balance between answering as many group interview questions as you can and not monopolizing the interviewer’s attention.
Some group interviews also include an activity or task, where you’re expected to work with other applicants to achieve a common goal related to the job. In sales jobs participants are often asked to create a presentation of the company’s products, which will then be shown in front of the whole group, while programming jobs sometimes include a debugging task or small coding project.
2. Panel Interview
In a panel interview, you’ll be answering questions from multiple interviewers, which often include a representative from HR, your potential boss, and someone with a similar role. Compared to the setup described earlier, panel interviews tend to feel like an inquisition because of all the follow-up questions you’ll get.
Why Do Companies Use Group Interviews?
Group interviews are often done for frontline jobs like those in retail, customer service, and food service because these roles rely on a candidate’s ability to solve problems, keep calm and think fast all while wearing a smile.
It doesn’t mean that group interviews are limited to the above-mentioned roles, as more employers are starting to prefer this setup because it’s cost-effective. It’s cheaper and faster, after all, to interview ten people at once than it is to talk to them individually. And since applicants will need to interact with others during the discussion, it also gives employers a preview of how applicants react in an environment that tests their communication, leadership, and teamwork skills.
Group Interview Tips and Preparation Strategies
Whether it’s you in front of multiple interviewers or you against other applicants, you can’t afford to space out. You've got to stay alert throughout the whole ordeal even if you’re not the one talking because looking clueless once everyone’s attention is back on you is doubly embarrassing in any group. Use the strategies below to prepare for your next group interview so you’re not caught off guard with this new job search experience.
1. Conduct Due Diligence on Interviewer(s)
This applies to both types of group interviews, but it’s especially important in a panel setup because knowing the interviewer’s position will help you understand their point-of-view when it comes to the group interview questions they ask.
What to look for:
- Interviewer’s full name
- Position at the company
- Anything to break the ice
- Why they’re hiring
- Educational background
While you may not get a chance to research the panel members before the group interview (especially if the group interview was a surprise), if you listen closely while the panel members are being introduced you can learn a lot about each member.
2. Greet Both Interviewers and Candidates Individually
Arrive at the venue early, then introduce yourself to the interviewer and everyone else participating. Yes, this includes other applicants. This not only breaks the ice, it’s also a good way to get everyone’s name so you can use it when you address them during the interview. You might think addressing another applicant by name isn’t important, but to the interviewer this shows that you've got good people skills.
3. Be Friendly, But Be True to Your Convictions
The tendency to go along with the crowd is strong in any group setup. With friends and family, people often keep the status quo to avoid arguments and the same applies in the workplace. Only at work, employers look for people who don’t shy from arguments because that’s a necessary trait for leadership.
Don’t hesitate to rock the boat in group interviews if you believe in your answer and have a solid argument. You may not be applying for a leadership role, but this is a good way to stand out in a discussion where people tend to agree with the most popular opinion. If you’re afraid of coming on too strong, frame your counter-argument as a question. For instance, instead of claiming the group’s consensus on a sales strategy is wrong, ask “Did this sales tactic always work for you previously?” It’s easier to make the group question their opinion first than it is to tell them they’re wrong outright.
4. Listen More Than You Talk
In a typical interview, all the group interview questions are specifically for you, but in group interviews you've got to wait for your turn. Use this idle time to listen to what other candidates are saying so you can come up with a better response when it’s your turn to talk.
Don’t interrupt other candidates and the interviewer, even if you've got something good to say because that'll just make you look aggressive.
5. Involve Everyone in Your Answers
Repeating the same answer as other applicants won’t help you stand out. If you listened to other candidates, you can build off on their ideas by adding your own thoughts at the end. Say something like, “I think (Name) is right, we've got to (rephrase other applicant’s answer), but I also think we should (add your ideas here).”
You can also do this in a panel setup if you show understanding of the panelist’s hesitation before addressing their question. For example, you can say, “(Name of Panelist), I understand your hesitation about my (what they don’t agree with or like in your previous answer) because the company (why you think the panelist doesn’t agree). However, if you consider (explain your counter-argument).”
If you arrived early and spent some time talking to other candidates, you can also tie in those conversations to your answer if they’re relevant. For example, if you’re both web developers, you might’ve talked about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and how that affects the websites you build or maintain. When the interviewer asks what you do to keep current with industry changes, or about a recent or challenging project, you can casually insert your discussion about GDPR.
6. Answer First Every Now and Then
To stand out, you either have to give the best answer or be the first one to share your thoughts. Since it’s impossible to guarantee you’ll always have the best answer in a group setup, it’ll be easier to stand out if you’re the first to answer the question. Of course, you should only do this once in a while so it doesn’t look like you’re blocking out other applicants.
7. Be Confident in Your Body Language and Voice
Group interviews favor the charismatic and confident, so keep your chin up, your back relaxed, and smile when you answer. Keep your voice clear and level, don’t let it trail off in the midst of answering because that'll just give other applicants a chance to interrupt you.
Common Group Interview Questions
The questions asked in group interviews are similar to those asked in one-on-one interviews; the only difference perhaps is you won’t get clarifying questions about the information on your resume unless you’re in a panel set up. Below are some of the group interview questions you can expect:
1. How Would Co-workers Describe You?
Think of the adjectives your colleagues would use to describe your attitude at work then support those adjectives with examples drawn from experience. For instance, you can say “My co-workers would describe me as adaptable because I've got no problem working with different people. I just get along with everyone.”
2. What Motivates You?
Sarah Taylor, Talent Acquisition and Development Manager at Wall, Einhorn, and Chernitzer, says this is one of their go-to questions in group interviews. She adds, “The best way to answer this question is to be honest. If you love the sense of accomplishment, that’s great. If you’re driven by money, own it.”
This question allows her to get to know the candidates on a personal level, so there’s no sense lying about what motivates you. It'll probably be obvious if you give a cheesy or fake answer anyway and that'll just make the interviewer suspicious of you.
3. Why Did You Apply for This Job? Why This Company?
Mention specific reasons why you chose to apply for that job. Try not to focus your answers on the salary or benefits they offer though because that might make the interviewer assume that you’ll leave once you get a better offer. Talk about the company’s mission, products, or industry instead and find a way to tie that into your personal interests.
4. How Can Your Skills and Experiences Further Our Company’s Mission?
Like the question above, this tests whether or not you’ve taken the time to research the company’s background and goals.
RobinSchwartz, General HR at MFG Jobs, says “the candidate’s response is a good indicator of their confidence in furthering the company’s mission and to some extent, how engaged they would be in their jobs once hired.”
When possible, tie your answers to this question to the achievements or skills listed in your resume. If you can't clearly tie the company's background, goals, or vision to anything in your resume, now is the time to tailor it for the job you're applying for. This guide will show you how.
5. How Do Your Career Goals Fit With This Company?
The interviewer isn’t interested in your career plans here, so don’t just limit your answer to where you want to be in a few years. Connect your professional goals, instead, to the skills you want to learn, and challenges you want to overcome as part of your work.
The interviewer is only interested in what you can do for the company, and your potential job promotions isn’t exactly a benefit for them, so you've got to frame your answer in a way that clearly articulates your value as a candidate.
6. What Would You Do If You Saw Another Employee Stealing?
This is a question commonly asked in group interviews for retail jobs at Kohl’s. It’s not mentioned how interviewers prefer applicants to answer this question, but it’s safe to say that they expect applicants to say that they'll either confront the thief or report them to management.
Check out these guides for information on common job and behavioral interview questions.
- InterviewsHow to Best Answer the 20 Most Common Interview QuestionsCharley Mendoza
- InterviewsHow to Prepare the Best Answers to Any Interview QuestionsCharley Mendoza
- CareersHow to Ace Your Next Job InterviewTerri Williams
If you need to update your resume before your interview you can find lots of great templates in this article:
4 Typical Questions Asked After a Group Activity or Work Simulation
Another group interview situation involves a group activity or work simulation. These types of group interviews can help an employer see how you work with a team. Here are some common questions you may be asked after a group activity or work simulation:
1. What Made Your Team Successful?
Resist the temptation to boast about your ideas and individual contribution. The question here's what made the team successful, “team” being the keyword, so focus your answer on things your team did as a whole. For instance, despite limited resources perhaps your group communicated well and encouraged each other throughout the activity, so you can mention that.
2. What Was Your Contribution to the Team?
Okay, now you can talk about your contribution to the task. Show off your problem-solving, communicating, and organizing skills whenever possible, but don’t claim these skills unless you can describe how you used them during the activity. Otherwise, your teammates might call you out and that might get awkward.
3. How Would Your Team Members Describe You?
This is similar to the group interview question listed above; only in this case you can’t lie or exaggerate your answers because your teammates can contest your claims. Stick to the truth. You can, however, focus on the positive aspects of what they might think of you. For instance, you might be the most opinionated in the group, so instead of saying that outright you can frame it in a positive way by describing yourself as someone who likes spit balling ideas to get the juices flowing.
4. How Did You Deal With the Challenges That You Faced in the Group Activity?
Explain how you remained calm when things weren’t working well in your group. For example, what did you do when two members of your group couldn’t agree on what to do? Mention how you dealt with the fact that you had limited time and resources to complete the group activity, too.
Send a thank-you note after the interview that includes a
part of the conversation when you made a memorable
answer, or a joke even. If anyone in that room was as well-prepared as you were
during the interview, you can bet they'll send a thank-you letter as well
because they know how hard it'll be for the interviewer to remember everyone
in that interview. Sending your own thank-you note is just another way you can
help the interviewer remember your face, and hopefully, your great answers.