How To Succeed In A Group Interview

Posted October 13, 2011, by Davide Crisante

Did you know that you could take a cocktail shaker to a group interview and walk away with a job offer? That’s right – it’s all about standing out from the crowd when it comes to group interviews (don't worry, I'll explain). But when everyone else has the same goal, standing out is not such an easy task.

Answers to some of the key questions about group interviews can help. Finding the answers to questions such as How do group interviews work? How am I assessed in group interviews? What is involved in role-playing, group activities and speeches? and What about general knowledge tests? will help you to find ways to succeed.

Who uses group interviews?

Companies that recruit large numbers of staff (like retail and supermarket chains) love group interviews. They are also used to recruit graduates into highly prized cadetships at organisations such as accounting firms, banks and other corporates.

My story

But back to the cocktail shaker and my experience in a group interview. At the end of a gruelling seven-hour group interview that started with 50 people, I was one of five candidates offered a job. We each had to give a three-minute speech so I decided to ‘drink to my success’ using my personal attributes as ingredients for the job success cocktail; hence the cocktail shaker!

Why did it work? Because I think the speech was memorable (more for the cocktail shaker perhaps but memorable nevertheless). If you don't stand out during a group interview, you'll get lost in the crowd. While you don't have to bring a cocktail shaker with you, you should think about how you can impress the interviewers. No matter how qualified or experienced you are, it's easy to get spooked at a group interview. I was completely unprepared for a make-or-break question in a group interview with an iconic Australian department store: 'If you were a colour, what colour would you be and why?'

My nerves took hold of me. Trying to think quickly on my feet, I blurted out like an idiot 'silver – because I really really like shiny things!' Instead I should have explained that I had experience selling electronics and this made me fond of all things metallic and chrome.

Try to discuss your experience and education whenever possible. Remain calm, take your time, and express yourself clearly. Don't try to impress the group interviewer by pretending to be something you're not. Interviewers are trained to see through any deception so stay genuine.

How do group interviews work?

Group interviews usually take a couple of hours. But sometimes they can stretch over several days. Yes, they can be gruelling. Unlike regular interviews that can be relaxed and intimate by comparison, group interviews have strict guidelines simply because there are so many people to manage in the process. You will have barely any one-on-one time with the interviewer yet the interviewer is continuously observing the way you interact with the other candidates and your performance in the activities.

How am I assessed in group interviews?

Like all interviews, you are assessed from the moment you enter the reception area, even before you sit down. The interviewer will pay attention to everything from your manner to your outfit choice. You can create a great impression during the introductory stage of the interview. Your first opportunity to create a great impression is when you tell the group about yourself.

Be confident, maintain eye contact, and speak in a clear voice –  your body language speaks volumes. And highlight your individuality. If you need to list your greatest achievement, don't say something that most of the other candidates have achieved as well – like finishing high school. Instead, you might want to say something about an issue that has significance for you, for example, climate change and how you joined the local tree-planting club as your way of making a difference.

By the time the group interviews and role-playing starts, interviewers often have a list of candidates that they are most interested in.

What is involved in role-playing, group activities and speeches?

Group activities are used to test your teamwork and problem-solving skills. Usually, the games demand cooperation within the team and this should lead to some heated debating.

Get involved and be genuine by saying what you think. If the group is heading towards a decision you don't agree with, state your opposition. Give a reason rather than just objecting. Overall, however, remember to support the group by not being overly pushy.

Role-playing is an impromptu test to see how well you can perform under pressure. It is used to test your natural ability and flair. In retail and sales positions, it's very common to be asked to sell an item to the interviewer or to one of your fellow applicants.

To prepare for role-playing, you can do some exercises, or practise with a friend. If you don't think you can manage role-playing, you might need to reconsider whether you want to apply for the job. You might need to give a short speech explaining why you are the best applicant for the job. Don't just regurgitate your resume. This is your opportunity to say more about yourself and cover anything you haven't discussed so far.

You can make sure you stand out by connecting with the interviewer, whether it's with humour or something else like your winning smile. You don't need to be the best public speaker in the room but standing tall, having a relaxed facial expression and keeping the tone of your voice even will all help.

What about general knowledge tests?

Each interview process is different and there will be things that throw you off course. There might be a psychometric, mathematical, or English test. It is difficult to prepare for these although there are psychometric tests on the Internet you can use to practise. It can also be useful to ask about the tests before you go to the interview.

You might be asked to answer some industry-specific questions so make sure you research key aspects of the industry or the latest market enterprise by the company. Don't rely on simply browsing the company's website or doing a quick Internet search. Remember, if you are having difficulty or if there is conflicting information, don't hesitate to call a representative of the company to get an answer.

Find ways to succeed

Succeeding in a group interview is a fine balance between showing creative individuality, and looking like a bossy, aggressive nutter. You need to find the balance between vocally steering the ideas of your group and cooperating with and listening to others. If you come across as a loudmouth, bossy boots, or worse, an annoying know-it-all, in all probability you'll be one of the first to be sidelined.

While making sure that you are remembered is the first step, you can go further. The simplest way to develop rapport is through your confidence. When you are in a room full of nervous people, a firm handshake, a smile and eye contact can often make the most lasting impression. 

See our full list of interview questions and answers to help you in your next interview!

Davide Crisante

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