Group Interviews: A Brief What, How & Why

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Oh, the group interview. So many candidates jammed into one room for an hour of carefully scrutinized team activities.  They can be a great way to save some time, but group interviews can not only seem daunting to candidates, but to employers as well.  Sometimes it’s hard enough to get a good read on someone during a one-on-one interview…and you want me to do this for five people at once?!

There is no denying the benefits of an individual interview, but often group interviews can help employers evaluate soft skills such as teamwork, interpersonal communication, and emotional intelligence that are harder to judge one-on-one.  Group interviewing can be a good first or second step in the hiring process, where only the best candidates are invited back for one-on-one interviews. Also, the time and money savings cannot be ignored.  It’s like fitting 10-15 interviews into 1 or 2.

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone needs to do group interviews (or should).   And group interviews can be disastrous if they are badly planned.   They are most useful when you’re doing high-volume hiring for similar positions, looking to fill a position that heavily relies on teamwork, or one that requires excellent people skills.

The first step is to decide what you’re looking to gain from a group interview.  What qualities are you looking to bring out in these candidates?  If you’ve written a great job description (link to last post) you can usually pull your objectives straight from that.

For example, in college I participated on both sides of Resident Assistant (RA) group interviews.  They were designed to quickly narrow down an overwhelming applicant pool by evaluating communication, leadership, and teamwork skills as well as genuine interest and understanding of the position.  The group interviews, of about 8-12 candidates at a time, were broken up into two parts:  a discussion based activity revolving around an aspect of the position (such as prioritization or organization) and a hands-on activity that required us to build something or make a decision as a group.  As an evaluator, we were looking for candidates that understood the priorities of the position, had a genuine desire to help residents, and knew when it was their time to speak up and step back in equal measure.

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In one of the scenarios during the RA group interviews, candidates were given a list of fictional characters with brief descriptions.  They were then told that half of these people could fit on a spaceship that would save them from a crumbling Earth.  The group had ten minutes to decide who would go on the spaceship before they would present their list and reasons to the evaluators.  Though silly (and oddly dark), the scenario forced the group to make decisions under pressure, demonstrate the role they typically adopted as part of a team, and show what qualities in others they most valued … all of which were necessary components for the RA position.

The key is to design a task or activity that can be accomplished in a short amount of time that will demonstrate some of the skills that are most important for your new hire to possess.  Strong communicators will be able to communicate their ideas effectively to the group and good leaders will initiate action and consider everyone’s contributions.  It’s also important to identify the difference between a disengaged candidate – who is not actively participating – and just an introverted candidate – who might be contributing by listening and supporting others on the team.  Remember, you can also ask individual questions during group interviews or encourage candidates to have a discussion about a difficult question.  And make sure you’re not doing this alone, especially for larger groups.  A second or third evaluator can help you pick up on things you might miss, just as in one-on-one interviews.

What successes or failures have you had with group interviews? Do you find them to be an effective part of the hiring process?

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