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Group Interviews: How to Impress Everyone

 By Margaret Steen

Even under the best circumstances, job interviews can be intimidating. But the group interview — where you are grilled by a team of potential new colleagues — ratchets up the tension.

Sometimes companies round up all the interviewers at once for the sake of efficiency. But the company may also want to assess how you perform in a group.

It’s About Teamwork

“It’s sort of to see if you would play well with others on this team,” said Libby Pannwitt, a career counselor and principal of Work Life Design Group in San Carlos, California.

A group interview may be very formal, with a scripted set of questions. Or it could be simply a conversation between the candidate and the others in the room. Many interviews are in between these extremes, with both structured interview questions and casual conversation.

Before any interview, of course, you should research the company and the job description and consider how your experience could help the company. But a group interview calls for some extra interview skills in order to make the best impression.

Skills for Your Success

  • Prepare If Possible: If you’re given a list beforehand of who will be there, do as much homework as you can. Find out the names and titles of your interviewers. “That may give you a clue about specific areas of expertise and how they fit in the hierarchy,” Pannwitt says.

  • Make Connections: Address your questioners by name and make eye contact with all of them. “Pay attention to what their interest is in the interview, what kind of things would they be likely to be most concerned about,” says David Friedland, president of Friedland & Associates, a personnel assessment firm in Culver City, California.

  • Don’t Play Favorites: It’s dangerous to make assumptions about which person’s opinion matters most in the hiring decision. “I’ve seen a junior player on a team derail a good candidate,” Pannwitt says. Try to make sure you satisfy everyone’s concerns.

  • Be a Facilitator: If you notice that one person seems hesitant to participate, try to draw him in. Ask if you can clarify your remarks or if the person has any additional questions. You “can take a little bit of control” of the interview this way, says Marianne Adoradio, a Silicon Valley career coach.

  • Be Diplomatic: If your interviewers clearly have a disagreement and they’re asking how you would resolve it, show that you understand all of their points of view. “Just the fact that you’re aware of multiple perspectives will bode well for you,” says Patrick F. McKay, assistant professor of organizations and strategic management at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

  • Don’t Relax Too Much: In informal interviews, don’t let the casual atmosphere keep you from making a good impression. “They may seem informal, but people are voting afterward,” Adoradio says.

Finally, remember the good news. If you’re being interviewed by lots of people at a company, it probably means you’re a finalist for the job. And since interviews are a two-way street, a group interview also offers you insight into what it would be like working in this group. “You have a window looking in at how they’ll work together,” Pannwitt says.

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