At this point in my career, I’ve had nearly every type of interview experience a job seeker can dream of.
From image-delayed Skype meetings with HR reps in Sweden, to half-day “try-outs” where I served food in a clubhouse kitchen, to sitting in the middle of a circle of nine interviewers and trying desperately to maintain eye contact with each face, to sample teaching lessons with the employer posing as a “bad” student, I’ve seen (and survived!) it all.
But the interviews my clients want to know most about — the ones they find the trickiest, most nerve-wracking, and most intimidating — are group interviews. This is the type of interview involving anywhere from one to a handful of interviewers, not to mention up to a roomful of other job candidates all vying for the same position as you are. It’s normal to feel intimidated; after all, not only do you have to focus on impressing the interviewer(s) while in a group interview, but you also have to navigate group dynamics and try your hardest to get noticed, somehow, in a room of highly qualified folks.
To some people (read: the introverts among us) this probably sounds like hell. But it doesn’t have to be! Check out the tips below for some ideas on how to stand out in a group interview (and maybe even enjoy the experience)!
1. Get excited, and focus on the opportunity.
First off, job seeker — quit complaining. While a group interview may not be your favorite thing on the planet, you do have an interview scheduled for a position you’re interested in, and that, in and of itself, is something to celebrate! So smile and start thinking positively about this opportunity, and all of the other opportunities that arise from getting to participate in a group interview.
Not only will you get a chance to learn more about a potential employer and the role they’re offering, but you also get a chance to network and meet a team of other professionals with backgrounds similar to yours. You never know where that could lead! I once sat down next to a former volunteer of mine in a group interview, and we were able to catch up while we waited for the interviewers to start. I ended up reaching out to her not long after that about an opportunity within her company, which is something I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing if we hadn’t re-connected at the group interview. You never know who you’ll meet in the pool of applicants!
You may also learn something from a group interview. I remember I was in a panel interview once where the prospective employers had us engage in timed group discussions regarding different topics related to our work. There was an older gentleman who was very established in the field, and I remember he had a few things to say about the achievement gap and the best way to work with youth that I was really impressed by. I learned something that day from my team member that I could use in my professional life, as well as incorporate into my own interviewing and branded persona. I also learned a new group interview technique that could also serve as an adult-learning activity, and I’ve incorporated it into some of my training sessions.
Are you on the shy side? The group interview process is also an amazing opportunity to practice your public speaking skills, far more so than one-on-one interview.
2, Remember, you're on display from all angles.
I like to tell my clients that you’re on display, or on the interview, the moment you leave your house that morning. Be professional and polite on the train or on the road, don’t fight over elevators or parking spaces, etc. Be your best self. And that goes for stepping into the interview, too. You never know who’s who; the quiet woman in the corner may actually be part of the employer’s team, or the employer may notice your negative body language or disparaging comments about how late the interview is starting from afar. Make small talk and be friendly with the other job candidates, even if you’re stressed by the idea that they’re competition. It’ll make you look comfortable, confident, and at ease with the situation, which in turn simply makes you look good. Also be sure that you’re positive, professional, and polished from all angles — especially during a group interview process, you never know who’s watching.
3. Think like a leader.
Think of your role model or professional mentor; how would they act in this situation? How would the director or manager of this program/department you’re interviewing for act? Would they be accommodating, providing answers and information? Would they take charge, help direct people to their seats, and get them organized? Would they support and build others up? Chances are, it’s all of the above. Try to exhibit these leadership skills and traits while you’re in the group interview. Don’t interrupt the other candidates or disagree with them, but rather agree with praise and add to their comments, building them up while ultimately also showing off your expertise. Be gracious, kind, and supportive, while also showing off your stuff, and show the organization that you’re the kind of leader they want.
4. Show them what they want.
Now is a great time to use your research of your prospective employers as you engage in group discussion or activities with the other applicants. What did they say they wanted in regards to soft skills or knowledge? Show those traits. Mention those topics. Give examples of what you know or how you’ve done that thing before. Personality and energy never hurt, nor does being positively memorable.
5. Loosen up.
Don’t forget to be yourself! Smile, laugh, and use your sense of humor — appropriately, of course.
6. Speak up! Be seen and be heard.
Make sure that you are contributing to the conversation. You don’t need to be the first to speak, but be sure to raise your hand and/or speak up, even if it’s just adding ideas or an example onto other candidates’ points. Speak clearly and confidently, and make sure you project. In a job interview I once was a part of, the interviewers circled small, focus groups of candidates as we engaged in discussions. I kept an eye on where they were and made sure that whenever they came near, my body language was engaged and on-point, and that I was clearly making a valid point or speaking passionately about the topic at hand.
7. Ask questions.
Have a list of relevant questions ready you can ask at the end (or during the job interview, if applicable) so you can be seen and heard even more. If the questions open up a new dialogue, even better!
8. Personalize it.
If possible, approach the interviewers afterwards and introduce yourself. Comment on the interview itself, the company mission, any impressions you had of the day (all positive, of course), and restate your qualifications and interest. Try to form that personal connection with each interviewer; if you can, grab each person’s business card before you go so you can personally follow up with a thank-you letter.
With the right attitude and prep, this type of interview can be your answer to networking, learning, and ultimately shining. So, suck it up — and good luck!
Chelsea Fonden is a career coach and resume writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Over the past 5 years, she has worked with countless jobseekers across industries and professional levels, and holds a passion for women's advancement in the workplace. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maryland and has worked for several NYC non-profits, as well as in freelance roles.