There’s no doubt about it: job interviews are incredibly nerve-wracking – but group interviews… well, they’re worse.
Not only do you have to convince the hiring manager that you’re the perfect man (or woman) for the job and impress them with your skills, knowledge and experience, but you also have to do it in front of a group of other candidates who could be just as good or better than you.
The competition is truly on, but by reading – and reflecting on – these 10 group interview tips, you’ll be able to knock the ball right out of the park and avoid interview failure.
1. Prepare Yourself
It’s difficult to know what to expect in a job interview – after all, no two interviews are the same – but group interviews are a different kind of unpredictable. You just don’t know who your competition is or what role-playing exercises and group activities you’ll have to participate in, making the whole thing all the more terrifying.
However, a little preparation goes a long way. In addition to common tips like researching the company, practising common interview questions and preparing a few intelligent and relevant questions of your own to ask, it would be a good idea to practise different scenarios with family and friends. This will enable you to get constructive feedback from people you trust and it will also help you get into character and build your confidence (especially if you’re on the shy side)
2. Arrive Early
While arriving early is good practice for every kind of interview, it’s especially important for group interviews. Remember: you’ll be directly competing against a number of other candidates, so it’s essential that you stand out and make a lasting impression – and arriving late will help you achieve just that, but for all the wrong reasons.
A general rule of thumb is to show up around 15 minutes before the interview’s scheduled to start. Don’t forget to allow plenty of time for delays and unexpected snags. Having said that, showing up too early (30 or even 40 minutes in advance) can be just as bad as not showing up at all.
Think about the last time you threw a party and a guest turned up much earlier than expected. You probably had to stop what you were doing and felt the need to keep him entertained for the next half hour instead of setting the table or getting ready. It most likely irritated the hell out of you and messed up your entire schedule, didn’t it? Well, that’s exactly how the interviewer will probably feel.
3. Make Friends
If you’ve taken my advice above, you’ll have hopefully arrived early for your interview. You should use this time to get to know your fellow interview participants a little better. Introduce yourself, ask questions and generally make conversation – and whatever you do, resist the urge to pull out your phone for a quick game of Candy Crush Saga!
Doing so is a great way to stand out. For one, it will help you break the ice and, therefore, make group activities a little easier. Two, you’ll mark yourself as the ‘leader’ of the group. Three, you’ll impress the hiring manager with your confidence and hands-on approach when they notice you’re the one who’s facilitating the conversation. And finally, it will also help you later on during the interview (more on that later).
On a side note, if you weren’t expecting a group interview, try not to show any disappointment or shock. Don’t let anyone know you’re surprised (or annoyed) – especially the interviewers, who will most likely be evaluating your reaction to determine how you’ll interact with your future team and react to surprises on the job. In other words, start practising your poker face!
One of the many things you’ll be assessed on in a group interview is your communication skills, and this involves the ability to listen effectively. In other words, you need to maintain maximum concentration at all times to appear engaged and enthusiastic. Using non-verbal cues like nodding, making eye contact and even taking notes are all great ways to demonstrate this, while you should avoid staring into space, doodling or, worse, ‘checking in’ on Facebook.
By really paying attention to what’s being said, you can avoid providing an almost identical response to that of a fellow interviewee (effectively saving you from looking like an idiot) and you can also use their answers (and the interviewers’ reactions) to craft your own responses and to add your own ideas.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest mistakes you can make in any interview is to interrupt someone while they’re speaking – whether they’re an interviewer or a fellow candidate. It’s quite simply rude and incredibly disrespectful! Instead, wait for them to finish before you share your own thoughts. If you’re worried you’re going to forget what you want to say, simply make a note of it.
5. Include Everyone
As I mentioned earlier, getting to know your fellow interview participants before the interview, and the information you build during that time can be used to your advantage when you’re answering a tricky question or participating in a group exercise.
For example, let’s say you’re asked a situational question, and you and Tom were talking about current affairs. You could respond to the question by referring to your discussion: ‘Tom and I were just discussing a similar situation in the news. In that situation, I would…’ Doing so demonstrates your ability to get along with others and work as part of a team (a quality all employers admire in employees), while being able to address everyone by name helps you stand out as a leader (another highly sought-after quality).
Remember: group interviews are meant to involve everyone in the room (yes, including your competition), so avoid focusing on any one person and try to engage everyone in the conversation!
6. Dress for Success
While your skills, qualifications, accomplishments, experience and personality are what really matter when interviewing for a job, you’ll also be judged on what you wear to an interview – so choosing an outfit that matches the company’s image is essential.
You don’t want to risk being underdressed, so find out what the dress code is (formal, smart casual, super casual?) and find an outfit that will help you outshine the competition. Having said that, don’t show up to the interview in a dinner jacket like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly did in Step Brothers!
Here are some great pointers to get you rolling in the right direction:
- Dress appropriately (no skimpy outfits!)
- Choose neutral colours and classic styles
- Avoid too much make-up or cologne
- Match your socks (at least one person will notice if they’re not!)
- Polish your shoes
- Don’t wear flip flops (even if the company has a super casual dress code)
- Keep jewellery to a minimum
- Be conservative in your hairstyle
- Avoid scents (like bad breath and bad BO)
7. Praise Others’ Ideas
While this may sound somewhat counter-productive (considering the fact you’re here to sell yourself, not the competition), I can assure you it is not. In fact, by acknowledging valuable contributions from other candidates, whether an idea during a group exercise or an answer they provide, you’re able to stand out as both a team player and a leader.
Remember not to be patronising, though. You should always treat your competition with respect – after all, you may end up working with them, either in this position or another, and an arrogant and condescending attitude will definitely not impress the hiring manager. So, don’t laugh, snicker or grimace at their ideas and opinions, even if they are truly ridiculous!
8. Mind Your Body Language
Our body language can speak volumes of what we really think or feel – trouble is: we’re not always aware of the signals we give off, which can often be potentially damaging to our chances of getting the job we’re interviewing for. This is especially true in group interviews where it is easier to stand out like a sore thumb.
Here are some body language tricks to help you convey you’re the ideal candidate for the job:
- Shake hands with everyone (including your fellow interviewees) before and after the interview
- Make a socially acceptable amount of eye contact (don’t freak people out by staring)
- Sit up straight
- Lean in from time to time to show you’re engaged in the conversation (that said, don’t invade the other person’s space)
- Smile (but not too much)
- Mirror your interviewer
- Don’t cross your arms or legs
- Avoid wildly gesturing (it’s distracting)
- Watch your resting b*tch face
On that note, remember to speak with confidence and avoid punctuating sentences with ‘you know’. And whatever you do, don’t swear!
9. Don’t Dominate the Conversation
You’re not a tomcat and this isn’t your neighbourhood – in other words, don’t pee all over the conversation to mark your territory (both figuratively and literally!). As I mentioned previously, you want to stand out from the competition, but remember that group interviews are meant to assess your teamwork skills – and dominating the conversation is a fast-track ticket to failure.
It can be tempting to increase the volume of your voice to get your point across, but talking over others or discounting their opinions will come back to bite you in the behind. Nobody wants to work with someone who is ready to walk over everyone to make themselves look good. Be aware of how long you’re speaking for and give others a chance to speak, too.
Don’t get lost in the group, either! It is likely that one or two of the other candidates will try to take control of the discussion, but you shouldn’t feel threatened or intimidated by them. Try to be the first to speak a few times. Also, if you disagree with their points, be controversial and offer your own opinion.
10. Follow Up
Not everyone follows up after an interview, which is rather surprising – especially when you consider how it’s so frequently recommended in practically every interview tips guide ever written. This means that sending a ‘thank you’ note can potentially give you an edge over the competition who never even bothered to.
You should ideally send a tailored ‘thank you’ email – or an old-fashioned letter, if you prefer – to each person on the panel who interviewed you within 24 hours after the interview, thanking them for the opportunity and for taking the time to meet with you. Resist the temptation of sending everyone the exact same message (as they will most likely compare notes, which won’t bode well for you) and try to mention something specific you discussed in the interview to help them remember you (for example, a story or even a joke).
Remember to ask about the next steps before you leave the interview – this will let you know when it’s acceptable to follow up. If you’re not given a specific timeframe for when they expect to make a hiring decision, the general rule of thumb is to give it at least a week before following up. Any sooner than that and you might come across as pushy; any later and they might forget who you are.
Don’t forget to thank them for their time and shake their hands once the interview is over!
Have you ever participated in a group interview? Have any other tips and tricks you’d like to share with us? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
This article was originally published in March 2015.