How to survive a group interview

You’ve never been more mentally prepared for a job interview. Just ask your cat who listened as you perfected answers to HR’s fav cliché questions. You stalked your future employer all over the internet. You’d totally kill a company trivia game. Wow them, you will.

But when you arrive at your future employer’s facility, you find a row of eager people who want your job, too.

A. group. interview. Side by side with your competition. Gulp.

Earlier this year, before I started my copywriting business, I found myself unexpectedly in a group interview situation. It was, dare I say, a fun experience. I know! Total game changer.

The whole idea of this group interview phenomenon intrigued me so I did some digging. Turns out it may be a great hiring strategy for all businesses, just not time-scrapped small business owners and overloaded HR folks in larger organizations. I suggest that the group interview, in many cases, may be best for the applicants, too.

If you haven’t experienced a group job interview yet, odds are that you will soon.

Group interviews are increasingly common as companies say they:

  • Save time. Hiring managers can get to know four or more candidates in the same amount of time as they would meeting with one.
  • Give a clearer, more effective view of the candidates’ strengths, weaknesses and ability to thrive in particular corporate cultures.

Essentially, group interviews are reliable BS detectors.

But let’s be real. Group interviews can be totally awkward, uncomfortable and terrifying by nature for the interviewees.

As first, you’re going to fear the worst. You’ll politely introduce yourself to your competition and predict the ones who’ll sabotage your performance and cost you the job.

But a group interview may actually help you get the job

You’ll get to know the company and its hiring managers on a deeper, more personal level, giving you important insight about if the company and its culture is a good fit for you. If it seems awesome, then you’ll be better armed to make your case why you’re exactly the one they should hire.

You’ll have more opportunity to demonstrate your personality, competency, leadership, communication skills and general awesome-ness. You made it to the interview so you likely beat out hundreds of other applicants. It’s likely that you and your competition are all qualified and offer something special for the role. Now’s your time to show how you’re different and why you’re the one for the job.

How to survive a group interview

1. Pretend it’s not an interview when the icebreaker questions fly.

Group interview questions often begin with icebreakers – just a notch above your college dorm welcome weekend’s goofy, RA-led opening sessions. The hiring managers may kickoff with a round of random get-to-know-you questions that have jack-squat relevance to the position but are designed to calm your nerves and make you look like a relatable human. Since you’re in interview mode, this may throw you off a bit. Remember they aren’t trick questions and the hiring managers won’t psychoanalyze your replies.

Go ahead and describe that mushroom burger from The Burger Joint and confess that you occasionally stay up way too late to catch your favorite MLB team in action. Don’t say your dream vacation is to visit museums in Paris if you’d much rather go on a cross-country brewery tour. You’ll be judged more for your obvious BS-ing than anything else.

2. Really, truly listen to everyone, even though you’re prepping your own answers.

Do your part to make the company’s awkwardness-deflating plan work with a true conversation. You may be mentally prepping your own answers, but make a conscious effort to pay attention to what your fellow candidates are saying in their responses. Wait until they’re done speaking and make an encouraging comment, ask a question of genuine interest or share your anecdotal connection to the topic.

Go out of your way to make the other people feel comfortable. Smile when people speak.

These are future watercooler convo-esque interactions. The HR folks are paying attention and visualizing how you’d behave in real life with their company.


3. Share your story humbly, but with enthusiasm.

The 60-second elevator pitch about who you are and what you offer still applies in group interviews. Be ready to offer a rambling-free presentation. While the interviewers already know about you, they want to see how you deliver your story to the others.

Like the LinkedIn profile, there’s a fine line between what’s seen as egomania and confidence. Focus on passion for your work, what you liked about your previous roles and what you do well as a result of enjoying your work. Speak from the heart, make eye contact with everyone and smile.

4. When the group project brings out the &*%holes, just be a good person.

At this point, 1.) everything falls apart or 2.) you bring home the gold.

Some group interviews include panel-style questions. Others will include more hands-on work.

The interviewers may ask you to work on assignments individually and as a group.

Listen carefully to instructions and ask for clarifications. The hiring managers will likely present real company challenges and ask you to prepare possible solutions as a group. The company reps will leave the room or relocate, providing you privacy to collaborate.

Give kudos to your competition and always credit them when you piggyback on ideas.

If there’s a jerk in the group, don’t show your distaste for him/her. Instead, channel your inner diplomat and focus on encouraging others in the group. Your leadership and communication skills will shine and the jerk will be seen for exactly what he/she is.

5. When #$@% gets weird, don’t go all competition-reality-TV-show evil.

Toward the end of the meeting, the interviewers may ask some ridiculously uncomfortable questions like, “So, during the group projects, who brought the best ideas to the table? Who was the leader?”

There are group interview horror stories about candidates turning on one another at this point. Compliment. Point out the unique skills and clear strengths that each group member brought to the discussion and project.

Make each other look good and you’ll look good, too.

If you have fun banter going with the guy across from you, great. But don’t push the other people out of the fun. Include everyone in the conversation.

Since you probably won’t be alerted that your next job interview is group style, remember that performing well in a group interview comes down to simply showing the real you.

If the position is the right fit, the group interview will make the job yours.

Had a group interview? Hired via group interviews?

Please share! How’d it go? 

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