by Lisa McGrimmon
Group interviews occur any time that you are interviewed at the same time as one or more other candidates for the job. They should not be confused with panel interviews, which involve a single interviewee, but more than one interviewer.
These types of interviews are actually not very common. When I ran job search workshops I asked clients each week if they had ever experienced this type of interview, and only about 1-2 percent of people said they had experienced a group job interview.
Employers use this job interview technique in order to observe how you work as a part of a team or, sometimes they use the technique to observe how you work in a competitive group environment. Group interviews may be conducted with two interviewees at a time, or they may involve many candidates for the job all being interviewed at the same time.
This type of job interview occurs most commonly in interviews for retail sales jobs. In retail sales, you are often working on a commission basis, which means, if you're hired, you'll be competing with your co-workers for commissions, but you'll also need to cooperate with your co-workers to provide a good experience for customers in the store. A group job interview forces you into a similar competitive group situation in that you'll want to make yourself look better than the other candidate without being too aggressive or disrespectful to that other candidate.
In this situation, sometimes the employer will ask each candidate different group interview questions, but, more often, the employer will ask each candidate the same interview questions. If you are given a choice, always try to be the first person to answer a question. While you may be inclined to wait to hear the other candidate's answer before you give your own, if he or she answers first, you may struggle to come up with your own, unique answer.
If you allow the other candidate to answer first, most likely you will spend your time worrying about how good your competitor's answer sounds and wondering how you're going to top them instead of focusing on coming up with your own best answer to the question. Also, if you merely repeat what the other candidate said, you won't make a good impression on the employer, so it's best to answer group interview questions first if you are given that option.
Employers may interview large groups of candidates in the form of simple information sessions, particularly when they are hiring a large number of people at one time. Don't minimize these sessions. Dress to make a good impression, and be prepared with some intelligent questions to ask the interviewer. Asking the employer a couple of smart questions can be a good way to stand out in this situation.
A large group job interview may also involve some problem solving sessions. For example, if there were 20 candidates for the job in the room, the employer may divide the candidates into five groups of four people. Next, the employer would give the groups a problem to solve and observe while the groups solve the problems and present their solutions.
Keep in mind, when employers use this job interview technique, they are not only looking for good solutions to the problem, more importantly, they are also observing how candidates interact within the group while working together on the problem. Do you take a leadership role? Are you the one who comes up with innovative ideas? Do you support the other members of the group? Employers who go to the effort to set up this type of interview are keenly interested in each candidate's roles in a group situation.
Group interviews can feel quite stressful, but do keep in mind; very few job seekers actually encounter this type of job interview. Remember that employers are assessing your interactions with the other candidates as well as your answers to questions and solutions to problems in order to make a great impression at this type of job interview.