Group Interviews: The ‘How-To’s and ‘Why’s

You have submitted your CV to a company and have received the long-awaited call or e-mail invite to come down for an interview. You are one step closer to bagging that dream job you have set your sights on, but you find out during the call or in the e-mail that you are not the only one. 

Any jobseeker knows that they are not the only one in the run for a job vacancy, but unlike traditional one-to-one interviews, where the jobseeker meets the employer or a panel to discuss the job and your qualifications and skillset, group interviews require you to come face-to-face with your competitors– literally. Preparing for a group interview comes with challenges of their own on top of the challenges that come with a traditional one-to-one interview, but do not fret– if you encounter a group interview, the best way to prepare for it would be to understand where these challenges will be coming from. 

The Employer’s Perspective

Group interviews take up a significant period of time, and require the presence of more than just one person from the employing company to facilitate. While it is arguable that group interviews are effective in terms of cost and time by combining multiple individual interviews into one, it is still expensive and not easy to arrange for a meeting that involves a lot of preparation and the participation of various members from relevant departments. It is thus best to acknowledge that you and the other prospective employees have already been screened and ‘filtered’ out of other applicants to be shortlisted for this special interview.

Unlike one-to-one interviews, group interviews mimic real life scenarios of work life within the company, enabling the employer to observe how the group interview candidates work with others and establish relationships with others. Through group activities and interaction, the employer can quickly spot who is the natural leader and who is more of a ‘follower’. The employer will also be able to identify how each candidate responds to stress or criticism from others, and see how your behaviour in a group setting affects or influences others. This allows the employer to assess the suitability of each candidate for the job position through practice-based modes, and in exceptional cases, identify groups of people who are able to work well together to staff entire teams.

How to overcome these challenges: Like any traditional one-to-one interview, make sure you are prepared to answer questions not just from the employer, but from your fellow group interview candidates as well. It bodes well to be familiar with the company and the job you are being interviewed for; not knowing what you signed up for would make you stand out from the crowd- and not in a good way. Be confident and do not be afraid to demonstrate your skillsets, but at the same time, do not be boastful and critical of your fellow candidates. Additionally, do not get defensive if you are criticized. Be respectful of others and accept any criticism with grace, and be proactive and supportive of your fellow candidates and their ideas. If there is a need to be critical, make sure it is constructive criticism.

The Other Group Candidates’ Perspectives

You can prepare all you can for the interview, but while it is easier to predict what your prospective employer is looking out for, it is less easy to predict the kind of people you will be working with at the group interview, and just how many. Your fellow group candidates are most likely to be on par with you qualifications-wise, but their skillsets, behaviour, and even work culture may put you off-guard and might even throw all your preparation out the window. For instance, you might see yourself as a natural leader, but this could unexpected change depending on the group dynamics and the size of the group. In anticipation for situations like this, it is important to mentally prepare yourself for such possibilities so that you can continue to perform your best despite any unexpected surprises. 

How to overcome these challenges: Remember that your fellow group candidates are as nervous as you. They are also probably wondering about you and if they stand a chance against you to get the job. Remember that it is not a competition; these candidates are not your competitors. Keep in mind that group interviews are reflective of real-life work situations you would face day-to-day on the job, so work with these people as you would if they were your prospective colleagues. Be yourself, and that means cracking one or two (appropriate) jokes during group activities could make you stand out from the rest of the candidates.

Thank the candidates after the interview and keep in touch by getting their LinkedIn or professional contact pages. Send a follow-up to thank the company for their time and also thank the group interview candidates to let them know that you enjoyed working together. It will show how you not just value your uppers but co-workers and potential clients as well. 

What to Expect: The Activities

Activities for group interviews differ depending on job position and industry type, but they all centre on teambuilding and overcoming challenges as a team to assess your suitability for the job role. You may be given a case study or scenario from a potential client and be asked to demonstrate how to solve the problem set out in the brief. You may also be asked to ‘role play’ as the job role you are applying for and be asked to lead or manage the team in a simulated meeting with the department or with a client. These activities very likely fall within the scope of the job role you are being interviewed for, so this is where your knowledge of the job and the company will be most valuable.

What to Expect: The Questions

Like a traditional one-to-one interview, questions asked at a group interview will focus on the job, the company, and your relevant skillsets and abilities. The major difference, however, is that these questions also address the group activity process and could additionally come from your fellow group interview candidates at different points of the interview, so make sure your answers are respectful and remain consistent throughout the interview process.

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What about this job/company interests you?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals, and how does this job/company help you in achieving those goals, or fit with those goals?
  • What are you strengths and weaknesses, and what can you bring to this job/company?
  • Describe a time where you had to lead a team. Why was it, or why was it not successful?
  • What challenges did you face in the group activity, and how did you address them as a team?
  • What made the team work successfully, or unsuccessfully? 
  • How did you contribute to the team?
  • How would your teammates describe you, and how would you describe your teammates?

Remember that interviews are a two-way process, so come prepared with questions to ask the company as well. The questions you ask may range from the job’s responsibilities, to prospective promotions, and to how frequently you are expected to work in groups. The more relevant your questions are to the interview experience, the better. Do not ask about the pay, working hours, or holiday leaves as this is inappropriate in any given interview. Make sure you have more than just two or three questions as your fellow candidates may ask the same questions. You can also build on your fellow candidates’ questions if you feel that the employer or panel did not answer it satisfactorily.

The Dealbreaker

On top of coming unprepared for the interview, being disrespectful or overconfident in activity sessions may not cast a good light on you as it is reflective of how you would respond to similar tasks day-to-day. In addition, not taking enough initiative and letting your fellow candidates walk over you would also not make you look good as it suggests you lack leadership qualities. Be conscious of how you interact with and respond to others during the interview, and always keep in mind that you are engaging in teamwork and not taking part in a competition. Treating the group interview like it is a contest could be a major dealbreaker for you.

Social anxiety could also be a major dealbreaker should you be required to go for a group interview. If the thought of working with people makes you anxious, an invite to a group interview might indicate that this is not the right job for you. It is of course recommended that you go through with it – after all, you did get shortlisted, and who knows, you might surprisingly take a liking to the kind of group discussions and activities the company has to offer – but if you still feel queasy at the thought of interacting with others after the interview, step back and use the experience and feedback to re-evaluate whether this is the kind of job you want, or industry you want to work in. After all, you would not want to be stuck in a job that makes you feel anxious each time there is a meeting. Conversely, an employer would not be comfortable with an employee who has trouble with doing day-to-day tasks in the company efficiently. All is not lost, of course. A step away from the wrong direction could take you ten steps closer in the right one. 

Post by Faezah Zulkifli 

Faezah is a theatre artist and writer born in Singapore. She graduated with a BA in English and is currently based in London as an MA student at the Central School of Speech and Drama.