You submitted the perfect application letter and your CV was the right fit for the role. You’ve been hoping for an interview but when it arrives, you learn it’s a group meeting. This often feels more daunting than an individual interview, but for the hiring company, there are a number of benefits.
To begin with, group interviews are a time saver. Rather than seeing one interviewee per hour, the hiring manager can see five. And, it goes further than just time-saving: group interviews are a great way to compare potential candidates and assess how a candidate performs under pressure and works in a group. So far so intimidating for the interviewee.
The good news is, a group interview may mean there’s more than one position available and, with the right preparation, it’s perfectly possible to ace it. To help, we’ve laid out what you can expect and how you can prepare.
As the name suggests, a group interview is an initial meeting that consists of one or two interviewers and a number of interviewees. This sort of interview can be encountered at many differing hiring levels, from seasonal retail work to executive roles.
As with any interview, the more prepared you are, the better you’ll feel on the day. Adequate prep helps you to feel confident and composed as you go in, and this is positive whatever the interview format. Consider the following:
• Research the company – organisations will expect candidates to have done their research, so go in with knowledge of the company. Have an idea of who their main customers and competitors are, as well as being up-to-date with any industry news and recent developments. This way, you’ll be well-equipped to respond to questions on the matter.
• Read the job description – the job description is like a handy set of clues for the interview process. If your role is to be customer-facing, then they’ll expect confidence and a personable nature. If the role is heavily tech-focussed, then you can expect questions on your expertise in the field. Go through the job description and prepare to illustrate how you tick every one of their boxes.
• Consider your previous roles – it’s always a good idea to have examples on hand of when you performed well in a previous position. It’s also wise to prepare an example of when something went wrong and how you dealt with it.
• Don’t forget the icebreaker! – In a group interview setting, there will often be an ice-breaker section at the beginning. This could be where you introduce yourself to the rest of the group and outline your previous experience, it could take the format of “three interesting facts about yourself”, or it could be to say what you had for breakfast! Candidates are sometimes thrown by this, so prepare some words about yourself just in case.
Don’t think just because it’s a group interview that you can’t show off your talents or adequately demonstrate you’re right for the position; there are lots of ways to ace group interviews, five of which we’ve touched on below.
1. Arrive early – A group interview usually begins before candidates have even entered the room. Arriving early (as well as showing that you’re punctual and considerate) gives you the chance to interact in an informal setting with your fellow candidates. A good rule of thumb is to treat your fellow candidates like potential colleagues rather than the competition. Needlessly disagreeing and belittling the other candidates certainly won’t win you any favours! Take the time to get to know the people around you before you go in.
2. Answer first from time to time – Make a point to be the first one to answer some of the interview questions that are put to the group. You don’t have to attempt to answer every question first, this could make you appear pushy and work against you, but don’t always politely wait until the rest of the room have had their say before you pipe up. By answering first occasionally, you’ll come across as confident and knowledgeable and will stand out in the interviewer’s mind.
3. Support your fellow interviewers – If one of your fellow candidates answers a question well, feel free to agree or be supportive of their answer. You’ll show that you’re a team player, something that’s very important to a hiring manager.
4. Remember your body language – Body language can make a world of difference, especially in a situation like this. Sit up straight and make eye contact when the interviewer is talking. Failure to do this could make you appear listless and uninterested and, let’s face it, that’s certainly not a quality at the top of any interviewer’s list.
5. Listen carefully – Most people go into a group interview session knowing they need to speak to make an impression; far too few realise they also need to listen. Steamrollering others’ points won’t win you any favours. Listen, actively listen, and aim to refer back to previous points when you can.
The simulation or exercise section is often the part that candidates are most apprehensive about. While daunting, this is a chance for the employers to put potential candidates in a live situation to see how they work as a team or how they would handle potential conflict. Here’s what you could expect:
Many group interviews will have exercises that aren’t necessarily related to the role. This could involve being split into teams and building a house of cards or writing a short story. The overall result isn’t important, what matters is how well you work together. You’ll want to get involved and make suggestions but try to avoid designating yourself team leader. These exercises are designed to see how you’ll fit in with the existing workforce, not how you can smash the competition.
In many group interviews, you may be given scenarios and asked to respond to how you would if you were to find yourself in that situation at work. These are particularly common in interviews for customer-facing or supervisory positions.
The first thing to note is, don’t be overwhelmed. You’re not being tested on your performance skills and you should try, as much as possible, to forget that you may have a group of people watching you.
It’s here that your listening skills will come into their own, too. If you’re roleplaying, for example, don’t think about the interviewer or interviewees who may be watching – focus on the other half of your role play. Listen to questions, problems and queries and you’re far more likely to resolve them well.
Take your time to consider your answers, and don’t feel obligated to rush answers just because you have an audience. The interviewer will be assessing your judgement and evaluating if you can resolve issues at hand.
All interview formats differ, but it’s likely that before the roleplay/simulation section you may be asked more traditional interview-style questions, such as:
1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
2. What attracted you to the company?
3. What would you bring to the role that other candidates wouldn’t?
4. Why do you want this job?
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Prepare to answer such question as you would in a traditional interview situation, but bear in mind that there may be a few more to come. After a role play or simulation, there’s often a debrief where interviewees are asked to expand on what they think they and their team did well or badly. Consider obstacles that you encountered, resources that you were given, teamwork that you were part of, and encouragement and support for one another that you witnessed.
Many will feel apprehensive before going into a group interview, but with the right preparation and a willingness to listen and co-operate, you may be through to the next round before you know it. Good luck!
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