The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

November 11, 2013

Tackling a Group Interview

Information regarding an interview’s format is usually provided in advance, but, occasionally, candidates are unexpectedly directed into an office or conference room with a few other interviewees upon arrival.  A group interview may come as a confidence-shattering disruption to the candidate who is new to this type of employment assessment.  Following mental preparation for a one-on-one dialogue, the candidate is now not only obligated to smoothly communicate his or her qualifications to the employer, but to do so among the clutter of several other voices. Further, a bigger audience – comprised mostly of the candidate’s direct competitors – amplifies the pressure to articulate one’s responses with intelligence and absolute poise.  A fumbled answer is now observed by not one person, but multiple people, most of whom benefit from such a blunder.

While group interviews are often less than pleasant for candidates, they provide several benefits to employers. In addition to time saved by meeting with four or five candidates simultaneously, group interviews function as tests of presentation skills and ability to work well with others.  Speaking about oneself before a handful of other candidates isn’t terribly different from delivering a small client presentation. And the structure of the group interview forces conversation with one’s peers – something candidates ought to do well to succeed in almost any type of accounting, financial, technological or administrative position.

All professionals, actively job searching or not, should familiarize themselves with best practices for success in a group interview.  Here are our tips for survival and standout in this type of candidate assessment, all of which can be implemented in the event of an unexpected group format. 

1. It’s not all about you: Quite literally, it isn’t all about you in a group interview; you’re sitting before a handful of other candidates whose qualifications are probably about even with your own.  So the employer is dividing his or her attention among you and, say, four of your clones. That said, you need to prove your concern for the other candidates by listening carefully to their responses and referencing them – including their names – when making your own points. For example, begin an answer with “I agree with Matthew” to signify support for someone else’s opinions.  Don’t try to steal the conversation by talking too much, either.  The employer will pick up on and fault you for your attempt to hog his or her attention.

2. Don’t attempt to one-up someone: Like chatting away excessively, “one-upping” another candidate discredits your ability to collaborate with others – a test of which is a top motivator for employers’ use of group interviews. Refrain from claiming that you are “better” or “more experienced” than another candidate in a certain area, and speak with humble confidence, not arrogance.  Employers want to see that you are self-assured and passionate about the position, not determined to embarrass your peers.

3. This is a networking opportunity: It might seem counterintuitive to network with your competition, but, remember, the other candidates have professional backgrounds similar to yours and are, therefore, valuable people to know. Further, as the hiring manager or another employee of the firm is likely observing you from the start, whether in the lobby, or immediately preceding or following the actual interview, you’ll want to appear engaged with your peers, rather than standoffish and unfriendly.  Conversing with the other candidates before the interview is also especially helpful in breaking the ice, calming your nerves and including others by name during the meeting.

4. Differentiate yourself with unique attributes and opinions:  If the objective of any job search is differentiation, the group interview compels its most proactive execution.  One of the most important opportunities for strong self-differentiation comes in your introduction.  As a captivating elevator pitch is imperative for any type of interview, you should already have a good foundation ready for your group interview introduction, which should be more powerful and more original than the mini-speech you’d deliver in a two-way dialogue. Additionally, when the interviewer extends additional questions to the full panel of candidates, avoid bland, generic answers that coincide with the other respondents.  Applying a good bit of adaptation and thought on your feet, incorporate your own unique attributes and experiences into your answers.

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