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November 18, 2012

Group Interview: Cattle Call or Opportunity?

job interviewFinding yourself lined up with other applicants vying for the same job can make you feel … not so special!

There you are, crowded into a space with 10 or 20 others. Your glance moves around the room as a company representative gives a presentation and then leads a discussion. Who will make the cut and go on to the next round? Who will get the job?

Later you’re grouped with four other participants and asked to build a tower out of paper and tape. What’s the point?

Group job interviews have become more common in recent years as companies strive to reduce costs in the hiring process. Interviewing a dozen people in one hour instead of 12 saves time. It also provides an opportunity to assess candidates’ communication and teamwork skills.

If you hate this type of interview, you’re not alone. Even the person conducting the process may feel stressed. And some HR professionals question the validity of assessing teamwork skills in such an artificial “team” situation.

But every challenge is an opportunity. How can you use this situation to your advantage?

  • Psych up in advance and mentally let go of the things you can’t control – the behavior of your competitors, the reactions of the interviewers, or unexpected questions or activities you don’t feel prepared for.
  • Show up. Some of those invited to group interviews turn them down, so the moment you arrive you’ve already passed up some of your competitors and proven a willingness to take risks and work outside your comfort zone.
  • Know your key selling points – your Unique Selling Proposition – and look for opportunities to demonstrate these key points.
  • Maintain your humanity and your integrity. Greet the other candidates, set a positive tone by being friendly. Don’t let the situation make you feel small or think small.
  • Pay attention and listen: to the interviewers’ instructions, questions and body language; and to other candidates’ comments during discussions. Employers like to hire good listeners.
  • Demonstrate leadership skills, speaking up about your ideas but also asking good questions, persuading others through reason and negotiation, and encouraging discussion and teamwork.
  • Avoid mentally comparing yourself to the others or worrying about who is “winning.” Someone else may seem to become the “star,” but unless you are a mind-reader you can’t be sure what an interviewer really thinks.
  • Remember that all the usual interviewing tips and rules apply, such as arriving slightly but not extremely early, dressing for success, and of course sending a well-written thank-you note immediately after.

Group interviews are not easy. If you prepare thoroughly and give it your best shot, you can feel a strong sense of accomplishment afterward – and make it to the next round!

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