What exactly happens in a group interview?

Group interviews are one of the more difficult styles of assessment used by companies today. The nature of them dictate a different selection of questions, as the interviewer/interviewee relationship is skewed.

Different to a panel interview, this is where the applicants outnumber the interviewers. It allows companies to get through a large number of prospects in a short space of time, as well as exploring some of your inter-personal skills. The interviewer, or possibly interviewers, can ask the group questions, or possibly split everyone up for quick one-on-one interviews, but often it will include a group task of some sort. These are fantastic for you, a candidate, as it is the perfect opportunity to show how well you work as a team member and a leader – precisely because this is exactly what they are looking for. 

They’ll be looking for someone who will fit into their work environment, and if the role is particularly stressful or demanding, the task might also be a way to show how you can cope with it. During the exercise, if you remember what the interviewers are looking for, it will be easy to grab the opportunities to show how suited you are to the role. For instance, if your group is required to give a a final presentation, there are lots of ways to demonstrate your leadership and teamwork. Suggesting how to divide up your findings, offering to start or wrap it up, and talking directly and comfortably to your interviewers can all help show that you are a sensitive worker with excellent communication skills.

Group interviews of this style are focused on finding candidates that can not only handle the actual role, but also adapt and work well with people that they’ve never even met before. The theory is that if you can do that on the day of the interview, you’ll do it just as well – if not better – in their work environment. Approach it with cool confidence, don’t overdo anything. Show you can lead the situation, but don’t overpower anyone. Include and listen to everyone, but don’t let yourself get drowned out. It’s all about the balance. 

You need to act like a good and respectable leader as soon as you enter the room. That is to say, you need to use your manners, get to know your peers, speak loudly and clearly, bring the group together and focus on the objective. You want to get noticed, but for those right reasons. Leave them thinking: ‘I would love to work with them’. 

However, the structure of group interviews varies greatly from company to company and from position to position.You’ll almost certainly have to answer some questions, just as in a regular interview. There will be standard interview questions, along the lines of: ‘What makes you suited to this role?, ‘What is your greatest strength/weakness?’, ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?’, etc. They might ask the group at large, they might wander through and ask you personally, or else in a small individual interview. But as with the general theme of a group interview, you’ll most probably have to talk about teamwork.

If there’s a task, they may well focus the questions on that. This means you need to pay very close attention to all aspects of the assignment – you’ll have to show you understood and learned from what happened. Questions such as: ‘How well did the group work as a team?’, ‘How successful were you?’, or ‘What did you bring to the team?’. Don’t make anything up or pretend it went better than it did – tell it like it was, be truthful. They were there, and they know what happened, so show them what you thought of it. If it was a total trainwreck, tell them about how you would have done it differently or where you thought the problem was. If it went really well, prove you know why you succeeded, show them how you can give their company those same successful habits.

When you’re surrounded by a group of people directly competing with you for the same role, it can be hard to detach yourself from the desire to one-up your fellows. However, its imperative that you focus upon yourself. Don’t, under any circumstance, fall into the trap of trying to throw the other candidates under the bus. Working with them efficiently and easily will make the best impression. Any attempt to dominate – or equally, fade away in – the group is a sure-fire way to write off your chances completely. 

Despite all this, the best thing you can do for yourself is to enter the room with a calm confidence. All you have to do is show the interviewers your teamwork and communication skills, your leadership qualities and adaptability. Enjoy the task if there is one, and pay attention to everything that happens during the proceedings. The people interviewing you may well be your coworkers and superiors, so treat them as such. The modern work environment is increasingly based on teams, so demonstrate why they should choose you over the rest. You won’t have long, but building positive and friendly relationships as quickly as possible will do wonders for your chances. Good luck, and as ever, don’t forget to smile!  

Post by Matt Boland

Matt is a student at Sheffield University, with a passion for writing, science, technology and the environment