Ah good ol’ group interviews. Most of us have had to participate in at least one group job interview – whether it was multiple candidates being interviewed together or a panel of interviewers. They are becoming more and more popular, as companies look to expedite the interview process and better gauge how potential employees work in group settings.
So, how do you stand out in a group of people all competing for the same job? Finding a balance between showcasing your talents, but also highlighting your ability to work well in a group can be tricky. With that in mind, we asked our career experts to share their tips on how to stand-out in a group interview.
“To stand out in a group interview, do the one thing no one else in the world can do – do YOU!” says career coach Reginald Jackson Sr. “As your authentic, unique self, you are a one of a kind. It sounds simple enough, but too many people worry about who they should be through someone else’s eyes. This is impossible to do. If your skills are what’s needed, they will speak for themselves.”
Career coach Marla J Williams agrees, adding that you shouldn’t try to fake it.
“Interviewers can see through phoniness. If you do not have an answer to the question, just state that you do not know,”Marla says. If the question is of particular importance to the role or company, she suggests you then get the answer, call the recruiter back and let them know you have an answer for the interviewer.
If you really want to shine in your group interview, having a lot of knowledge about the company, the values and culture and if possible, the interviewers is essential.
“Do your homework about the company. Know their customers, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and how they stack up next to their competition,” Reginald says.
“The more you know (especially statistics and stock information), the better. I encourage my clients to fill out a Company Cheat Sheet (see attached). Nothing impresses a interviewer more than a interviewee who has done their homework. Also learn and know the mission, vision, and core values, be able to recite them if needed, especially if going for a higher level position,”says Marla J.
Career coach Vincent Tuckwood suggests you gain a deeper understanding the company culture beforehand in order to mentally prepare for your group interview.
“Assess as best you can what the prevailing company culture is – though this can be hard looking outside-in. If the company is known to “play hard, take no prisoners”, then in group interview be prepared to behave in a more combative style – and be prepared for others doing similar. If the company is known for being highly collaborative, then listen hard to other applicants, and seek to help them advance their ideas, strengthening them as you go; share your own ideas, but seek input from other applicants,” Vincent says.
“Basically, this all boils down to letting the assessors clearly see how you would ‘fit’ in the prevailing culture. At all times, listen to your gut as you participate in this way, if it doesn’t feel right, then you’re unlikely a good fit for the company and should take your talent elsewhere.”
Career coach Mary Kruger notes that this knowledge will also help you when answering interview questions.
“Research the company so you know something about it and can work that knowledge into your answers,” Mary advises. “Always have some questions to ask at the end of the interview if time allows, that have not been answered by a website or annual report,” she adds.
“It is easy to fall into the trap of going with the flow in a group interview,” explains career coach Tonya Echols. “One person can say something that seems to get a strong response and then everyone follows that lead. Don’t be afraid to share ideas that you feel are valid and authentic. You will have to back up what you say with action if you get the job, and you don’t want to end up making decisions that don’t agree with what you believe is an appropriate course of action, or mislead an employer into thinking you will. If you genuinely feel differently about the ideas being expressed in the group, speak up and speak your mind. It may be the thing that sets you apart to get the job, and if it works against you, that may not be the best position for you anyway.”
Besides speeding up the overall interview process, many companies conduct group interviews in order to gauge how well potential employees work in a group setting. You want to come across as confident, but not domineering.
“A group interview can easily turn into an Olympic-level competition if you allow it. You want to come in confidant and stand your ground, but not to the point of being combative,” says Tonya. “It is possible that some of these people may end up being your co-workers in other roles, so be careful of starting off on a negative note in an effort to establish dominance. Employers can pick up on the “problem child” if you have already alienated the rest of the group within 20 minutes of meeting each other. You can let your light shine without trying to sabotage others. Trust in your abilities and not in your more basic instincts. Do you really want to work in a “Lord of the Flies” environment?”
“One reason companies do group interviews is to see how you interact with the other people in the group. Be pleasant, authentic, and don’t cut anyone off when they are talking,” adds Mary Kruger.
“Pre- and post- interview can make all the difference,” explains career coach Kathleen Murray. “Let’s say everyone does well in a group interview, so how do they decide who to hire? Sometimes it’s the person that goes the extra step. I’m a big fan of the handwritten note. After the interview, send a handwritten note to each person that was part of the interview process. Don’t just do the generic thank you but make it personal and specific to the interview. If there is a relevant article that speaks to something that came up in the interview, you can send a follow up email attaching the article along with a note of thanks for being part of the process.”
“Be strategic about what you wear. Look professional but stand out,” Kathleen advises. “In the United States, the President gives a State of the Union address every January to all members of Congress. This event is broadcast on TV and every year, you’ll notice a few of the female congressmen stick out because they’re wearing a sharp red suit in a sea of black or blue suits worn by the congressmen. You just naturally are drawn to them in the crowd by the sheer fact that they’re dressed in a nice bright color and not the typical blue or black suit. The same can be true in a group interview. Stand out by wearing a nice outfit or suit that has a pop of color. Guys, have the sharpest tie in the room and ladies, wear your best color in a suit or blouse.”
In a group interview, questions are often asked to the entire group, so it is important not to shy away from sharing your thoughts. Yes, it can be a little scary being on the spot in front of your peers, but you it’s unlikely you’ll make it past this point if you stay quiet.
“Group interviews are not the time to be shy. You want to step right up and answer the questions that are put out there. Back up everything you say with concrete examples. Focus on the positive, not the negative.” Mary Kruger.
It’s also important to not just be agreeable or mimic another interviewees thoughts and opinions. It’s okay to agree with what another candidate has said, but instead of nodding and smiling, try adding another point to what they have said or drive their point home with personal examples or solutions. For example, if a person says they would handle an unhappy client a certain way, agree with them and tell a story of when you handled a similar situation in a previous role.
“Be sure and take extra copies of your resume and cover letter and any other handout you might have. Counting on HR or the hiring manager (or the busy individual panel interview participant) to assure that everyone arrives at the interview with your credentials in hand is a gamble. Just take extra. You never know who might have forgotten what, and you worked hard getting to where you are with your personal branding tools so show them off,” says career coach Lynden Kidd.
“Don’t be surprised if someone or several someones on the group panel have NOT read your resume. In a perfect world they would have hung on every word in your resume, cover letter and application, but with busy professionals sometimes they don’t get to everything on their desk with as much preparation as they intend. So – don’t be surprised. Just be prepared to back up and give some history about your background as necessary to keep all in the loop. Using a sentence stem such as: ‘As you might recall from my resume’ might help you keep everyone in synch.”
Kristen is the editor and community manager at Noomii.com and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.