Surviving the Group Job Interview

By Paula Santonocito

smw - surviving the group job interviewQ. Help! I’m scheduled to interview for a job and I’ll be interviewing with six people—all at once. A one-on-one interview is hard enough for me. The prospect of meeting with a group has me really worried. Any suggestions on how I should handle this meeting?

A. The group interview can be intimidating, especially if you’re not an extrovert by nature. Where a one-on-one interview provides you with an opportunity to connect with the interviewer on an individual basis, the group interview requires you to address an audience. Or so it seems.

A clue as to how you should handle a group interview can be found in your question. You refer to the interview as a meeting.

The fact that you use the term suggests you have attended meetings in the past, and possibly presented at or even led a meeting or two.

If this is indeed true, think back to those experiences and how you interacted with a group.

Undoubtedly there were times you spoke to the entire group. But questions were asked one at a time, by individual people. This is an important point. Although everyone at the meeting heard your answer, you were addressing each person who asked a question.

In these respects, a group interview is similar to a meeting. Although formats vary, generally you are asked to tell a little bit about yourself and speak to the entire group. But then a panel of interviewers asks you questions.

In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed, address your answers to the people who ask the questions.

It also helps to try and think of a group interview as a conversation with a bunch of potential coworkers. If you can look at the interviewers in this way, they seem less judgmental and more like, well, people with whom you work. There’s nothing to fear from Al in accounting, right?

Keep in mind that you don’t have to provide rapid-fire answers to questions. If a question for which you’re unprepared comes at you, it’s perfectly okay to pause. An effective way to do this is to say, “That’s an interesting question.”

Similarly, if you’re not comfortable with providing an emphatic answer to a question, it’s entirely acceptable to tread carefully. For example, if you’re asked about how you’d handle a work problem that you’ve never encountered, you might begin by saying that you’ve yet to confront that kind of situation. You should then go on to describe what you would do. You may want to temper your answer by beginning with, “I think I would…”

Group interviews are usually led by someone, whether it’s a hiring manager or a person from human resources. Sometimes both are present. Even though you want to impress the entire group, the hiring manager and/or HR person are the primary decision makers. Keep this in mind as you field questions, and as you look for nonverbal messages.

Unfortunately, a group interview occasionally devolves into a contest among the interviewers. Each person tries to best the others by asking odd questions. You’ll know soon enough if you’re a floating duck in this kind of carnival game. If so, you can totally relax. These characters are never going to agree on anything, including who should be hired. Do your best, get the heck out of there, and continue your job search. It’s not a place where you want to work.

Which raises an important point about the process that you shouldn’t forget: You are also there to meet and assess them. Remind yourself that the interview is two-sided and that you must decide if you will work with these people. This thought can be very empowering, and a good time to let it enter your mind is if you find yourself getting nervous.

Finally, recognize that no matter what comes your way, it’s just another experience in what will hopefully be a long and successful career. It’s human nature to over prepare, over analyze, and totally stress out about interviews, especially, horror of horrors, the group interview. But, in reality, as you so wisely point out, it’s only a meeting.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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