Some interview formats are traditional and straightforward: They take place between one interviewer and one candidate, usually sitting at a table or on opposite sides of the interviewer’s desk. If you have no reason to suspect otherwise, this is the format you’ll probably face during a first round interview session.
But not all interviews follow this standard model. Some take place at restaurants or coffee shops, some are conducted via video, and some even take place in groups with other candidates.
This last interview format can seem particularly daunting, and employers often choose this approach for two reasons: 1) to save time and money by meeting with multiple candidates at once and 2) to gauge candidate readiness for jobs that involve a strong social or team element. A group interview can be very stressful, but most employers will let you know in advance if you’ll be facing this type of challenge, so you’ll have some time to prepare. Here are 20 tips that can help you come out ahead no matter how numerous or well qualified your competitors may be.
Preparing for a Group Interview
1. Dress for success, don’t dress to impress. Choose an outfit that looks professional and subdued, not flashy. Generally speaking, a simple pair of slacks and a pressed shirt or blouse will do nicely. So will a neutral-toned blazer paired with a skirt or trousers. That said, all workplaces are different, so don’t be afraid to ask about dress code prior to the interview. Above all else, you want your interviewers and your competitors to notice you, not your outfit.
2. If your employers provide you with your competitors’ contact information beforehand (which is rare, but not unheard of) be the first to reach out. Contact them with friendly overtures; don’t wait for them to reach out to you.
3. Enlist the help of a friend and run through some practice interview questions together. This will help you loosen up and get used to talking about yourself and your professional experience in front of an audience.
4. Perform some extra due diligence when you know you’ll be facing a group interview. Research the company and prepare at least three success stories from your past that bear relevance to the job. If you’re not sure of how to talk about your proudest achievements, get prepped with our eBook, How to Highlight Your Achievements and Interview to Win the Job.
5. Master your elevator pitch – that 30-second sound byte that you would use to sell yourself if potentially caught in the elevator with the employer of your dreams. In group situations, it’s more important than ever to drive home what makes you unique and the best candidate for the job, and being able to clearly articulate an elevator pitch will make this all the easier.
Proper Greetings During a Group Interview
6. When you reach your venue (at least five minutes early!) look around try to identify your competitors. They may be sitting in the reception area with you or entering the building through the same door. Again, make friendly, assertive overtures; don’t wait to be addressed. Smile, make eye contact, and introduce yourself. These kinds of non-verbal cues demonstrate self-confidence, which research has proven is linked to interview success.
7. This job may be competitive, and you may be willing to win at all costs, but if you have “killer instincts”, check them at the door. Elbow throwing won’t help you during a group interview; it will only make you look insecure and poorly adjusted. In fact, the more friends you make before the session begins, the better you’ll do. You won’t just improve your odds of landing the job; you’ll also boost your professional reputation and expand your network of contacts.
What to Do During Your Employer’s Presentation
8. Listen respectfully while your employer speaks. First, you’ll want to remember the details when they explain the rules and instructions for the session. And second, your competitors will be discreetly glancing around the room and sizing each other up. Let them. If you’re confident and composed, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
9. Take notes. This will help you stay in control of the process and keep you from missing minor details and asking your interviewer to repeat information. That said, don’t be overzealous to the point where you’re missing opportunities to engage because of your scribbling.
10. If you have questions, ask them now. Clear away your concerns from the start; don’t let them hang over you and serve as a distraction.
How to Tackle a Group Activity
11. Some group interviews simply involve standard interview questions delivered around the room, one by one. But others may involve group activities in which you’ll have to get up, move around, and accomplish a shared goal as a member of a team. For example, you may be divided into teams to build something or solve a tricky equation together. No matter what you’re asked to do with your team, be game and be cheerful. Don’t resist or drag your feet because you fear the activity won’t highlight your strengths. Rise to the challenge.
12. Take a leadership role when you can and a back seat when you should. If your special skills or specialized knowledge can help the team succeed, take the wheel. If another member of the group holds knowledge or skills that better position them for leadership, take a supporting role. “Winning” means knowing when to lead and when to follow, and demonstrating that you’re capable of both.
13. Communicate constantly. When you aren’t speaking or leading, be actively listening. Stay engaged with those around you from the first second of your group interview to the last.
How to Navigate Group Discussions
14. Most group interviews involve more talking than. So remember the most important rule of group discussions: When it’s time to speak, let your voice ring out. When it’s time to listen, be silent. Don’t assume your silence will cost you the job. Your interviewers are paying close attention; they’re not planning to simply hire the loudest person in the room.
15. Don’t just listen; remember and reference. When another person speaks, remember the details. Then refer to those details later when appropriate. It never hurts to prove that you were paying attention. Use the person’s name when you reference his or her remarks. This can demonstrate your social and teamwork skills – both of which are abilities the interviewer will be looking for.
16. Show respect for everyone in the room—especially the quiet people who aren’t getting as much airtime as their noisy counterparts.
Questions to Ask During a Group Interview
17. At the end of any interview—a group session or a one-on-one meeting—it’s a good idea to ask your interviewer some questions about the job. Ask for any information that can help you decide if this is the job for you. For example, will the position involve extensive travel? What skills can help you succeed in this role? What are the company’s top goals for the position? What kind of traits are your interviewers looking for?
18. Speak up. If you want to know something, your competitors probably do to. You may think your question sounds dumb, but chances are, everyone in the room is wondering the same thing. They’ll all be glad you’re brave enough to ask.
19. Get what you need from your group interview session. At the end of the day, your competitors serve as foils, so to speak. When you help and support them, you look good. When you undermine them, your interviewers will make note of it. When you work together with them, you shine. When you perform better or worse than they do in the face of certain challenges, that’s great (or not so great). But at the end of the day, you came here to accomplish a specific set of goals, send a clear message to your employers, and gain specific information that you need in order to move your career forward. No matter your competitors do, don’t leave without accomplishing those goals.
20. Send your employers a short thank you note by mail as soon as the session ends to keep your candidacy top of mind. If possible, reference some of the conversations that took place during the session or some of the new information you learned about the job and the company. Restate your interest in the position. And if you need help writing this, consult our thank you letter samples and writing guide.
Have more questions about the best way to ace a job interview? Download Interview Game Plan to access a comprehensive program of coaching, video instruction, and tips to help you get the job faster.