CAREER MONDAYS: How to stand out in a group interview
You have been invited for an interview, you’re feeling prepared, you walk into the office for your interview. You introduce yourself and are promptly led to the conference room—only to find five other candidates waiting.
Job seekers are given a group assignment which measures a variety of skills including teamwork, leadership, communication, interpersonal relationships, and project management. The interviewers want to see how well you work with each other and observe you in action — something that can’t be done in a passive, one-on-one interview.
How to stand out
Your objective isn’t just to show what a great employee you could be — you need to beat the competition face-to-face, too. The competition is in the room with you. Don’t worry — you can use this to your advantage.
The challenge is to find the right balance between getting your opinion across and dominating the conversation. You don’t want to be so close-mouthed that you’re perceived as being passive or shy either. Be confident and don’t let yourself be bullied by others into staying quiet. At the same time, encourage your fellow interviewees to speak up and let their ideas be heard. You’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Let your knowledge and confidence speak for themselves. Keep yourself focused and calm and you’ll blow away the competition.
- Make Friends
I’ve led a few group interviews, and I’ve noticed that candidates waiting for an interview tend to be silent and ignore each other. Resist the urge to pull out your phone or review your notes, and instead introduce yourself and ask questions of the others, even if the employer isn’t in the room yet.
For one, when the interviewers do get there, they’ll notice who’s facilitating conversation (if they’re not doing some observing already, without you even realizing it). Your interaction will show the interviewers that you don’t shy away from networking (always a plus) and will make you seem confident (even if you really are feeling nervous). Second, this may come in handy during the interview. On that note:
- Involve Everyone
While the other candidates may be your competition, they can also assist you on your path to the one-on-one. Throughout the activity, having the ability to address others by name will make you stand out and appear like a leader. Use the knowledge you built waiting for the interview to begin by addressing other candidates by name or referencing a conversation you were having. For example, if you and another candidate were talking about current events and in the interview, you’re asked a situational question, respond with something like, “Kim and I were just discussing a situation in the news that was very similar. In that situation, I would…”
You’ll also want to build off of other candidates’ ideas. If someone answers a question, follow it up by addressing his or her response and adding your own thoughts (this will also help you to not commit one of the worst offenses in a group interview—repeating the same answer as someone else).
Remember, the interview is supposed to involve everyone in the room. And that goes for the interviewers, too—make sure to address all of them when you’re speaking, even if one of them is silent the entire time.
- Be Yourself
That said, don’t go overboard. Many candidates, in an effort to force themselves into the role of a leader and show that they’re trying, can come across as overly aggressive. Although it’s good to show you care about the position, speaking over others or discounting their opinions will backfire. I can think of several times where this has happened, and everyone in my office refused to work with someone who was willing to walk all over others in an effort to look good.
Plus, if you’re not typically that bold leader type, it can be damaging to force yourself into a role that isn’t natural for you. Yes, you should speak up and make sure you’re being noticed, but remember that interviewers aren’t looking for the loudest voice in the room.
In a fast-moving group interview when you’re just trying to get a word in, it can be difficult to resist only thinking about what you’re going to say next. (This is often why people forget names—they’re too busy thinking about they’re going to say and don’t really listen to the person’s name.)
But in order to speak purposely, you have to listen to the interviewers and interviewees and stay engaged in where the conversation is headed. Really pay attention and use body language to show you’re engaged with the group, even when you’re not talking. Instead of interrupting, if a thought pops into your head that you want to come back to, very quickly jot a note. Then when it comes time to speak, you’ll have so much more to say.
Regardless of how you feel about group interviews, there’s no reason you should treat them any different, in most respects, than a standard, one-on-one interview. The same basic principles apply: Research the company, arrive on time, dress appropriately, practice answering common interview questions, and remember to follow up after the interview.
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