How to Reap the Benefits of a Group Interview

“I am applying for jobs and have been scheduled to participate in a group interview. What can I expect, and how can I ensure that the interviewers remember me?” Kristine from New York City

More and more companies are moving toward a group interview format to expedite the process. In some cases, this means convening a panel of interviewers from across different parts of the company—for example, the hiring manager, the human resources director and someone from another department who works closely with the position for which you are interviewing. In other cases, it may mean participating in an interview with other candidates.

Despite their differences, the same rules apply to group interviews as traditional interviews—do your research, prepare and practice your responses, know what makes you unique, be punctual, look your best and follow up.

The key thing to remember is that you are still there to showcase yourself. Just as in a traditional interview, you can demonstrate that you are the best person for the job without one-upping, or even putting down, your competition. Accentuate your strengths and back them up with anecdotal evidence to prove that you would be great in the role.

When Being Interviewed by a Panel

  • Identify their roles—Each person on the panel may have a specific goal. For example, there could be a “good cop” and a “bad cop” to see how you’ll react to different approaches, or one person could be responsible for digging deep while someone else is looking for more strategic, big-picture answers. The earlier you can identify these roles, the more comfortable you’ll feel and the better you can tailor your responses.
  • Engage all parties—When one person asks you a question, begin and end your response by making eye contact with him or her, but be sure to engage with the entire panel throughout your statement. Practice this beforehand so it comes naturally and you don’t appear to be watching a tennis match.
  • Demonstrate your value to all parties—Throughout the interview, connect what you’re saying with how it will benefit a specific panel member. While your technical expertise might benefit your immediate team, your focus on customer service and teamwork would benefit people from other departments who work with you.
  • Treat everyone equally—Despite their titles and tenure, everyone on the panel will have a say in whether or not you get the job, so you should give them all the same respect and use the same courtesy that you would with a hiring manager or even a CEO.

When Interviewing with Other Candidates

  • Pitch yourself—Prepare a 30-60 second elevator speech about who you are, what you’ve done and why you’d be a good fit for the team. This will not only come in handy if the interview panel asks you to introduce yourself, but also in conversation with other candidates, which leads me to my next point…
  • Be friendly—If others are in the waiting area with you, strike up a conversation. Get to know them and build a rapport. At the very least, you will have a head start on learning everyone’s names before the pressure is on. And if you’re lucky, you will discuss topics that can be revisited during the interview.
  • Listen—A key part of standing out in a group interview is providing a unique insight. By actively listening to the other responses, you can revise your responses or even come up with new ones that are better than what you prepared. Taking notes is ok, and you may need to so that you can focus on the continuing conversation rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. You never know, someone could provide the perfect segue to one of your experiences or anecdotes that may not have come up in an individual interview.
  • Leverage the group—Draw from what others have said, both during the interview and while you were waiting. Use your peers’ names and reference discussions you had. This will show that you place a high importance on networking and truly care about the connections you make, regardless of the situation.
  • Speak with purpose—If you are a shy or reserved person, push yourself out of your comfort zone to participate in the conversation where appropriate. Don’t apologize for the interjection or trail off halfway through. It is better to be seen as an observer who imparts a few memorable comments than to be the center of attention who doesn’t provide any substance.

Lastly, the idea of the thank-you note bears repeating, regardless of what type of interview you are in. In a group format, it is particularly important because it gives you a final opportunity to have the interviewer’s undivided attention. In your note, be sure to reference something you said in the interview that relates to that particular person. Beyond common courtesy, this follow up is your closing statement, articulating why you would be great for the job and how you will benefit the individual, the team and the company as a whole.