Does the thought a one-on-one interview set your nerves on fire? Now picture a whole panel of your prospective employers. The group interview, in which multiple people ask questions of a job candidate, is becoming more common.
The prospect of trying to eke out eloquent answers during rapid-fire questioning can seem like a daunting one. But there are ways to manage this interview setting and come out on top.
Molly M. Roberts, MD, MS, co-director of LightHearted Medicine in Tucson, AZ, said there are several reasons employers may set up a group interview. One is so the maximum number of decision-makers can meet the candidate in the shortest amount of time.
"People are often busy at work, and this may be a decision made for the sake of convenience more than a test of the candidate," she explained.
Another reason includes wanting to see if the candidate fits in with the group dynamic of the organization. The group interview may also test a candidate's skills.
"They may want to see how the person handles pressure and stimuli that are coming from several different sources at the same time," Roberts said. "There is also an extra level of social sophistication needed by the candidate for a group interview, and they may want to test that ability."
People in group interview settings need to pay attention to their body language and demeanor. Even when they're not answering questions, candidates can assume interviewers are watching their attitude, interest and poise.
"I believe they are looking at how the interviewee pays attention, engages and participates," said Laurie Kontney, DPT, MS, director of clinical education at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. "Actions speak louder than words, so body language is critical."
Kontney suggests researching the company and learning as much as you can. Armed with prior information, candidates can feel less stressed and more able to ask relevant questions.
"Preparation will allow you to already know what you like about the facility and what you want to know more about," she explained. "Take time to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses so you are prepared to talk about how this employer can augment and/or enhance your skill set."
Roberts suggests relaxing with meditation or deep breathing and staying positive about the situation. Candidates can also consider doing a role playing session to prepare for the real thing.
"Your friends are likely to make it more difficult than the interviewers will, and you'll be able to do your stumbling for answers beforehand," she said. "Ask some to be friendly and some to be challenging so that you can get a feel for each type of interviewer. This role playing will also help you to get feedback about how you come across to the others. Ask your friends to be honest so you can improve as much as possible."
During a group interview, employers ask questions similar to a one-on-one setting. Résumé-specific questions, hypothetical situations and open-ended inquiries, such as, "Tell us about yourself," may come up.
"You have to keep in mind that the interviewers are asking standardized questions to get similar information," Kontney said. "While they may be asking the same questions, you can learn from each previous question and discussion and add to it. The interviewers are simply looking for the content and body language behind the response and how consistent you are with your responses."
Answering multiple questions from multiple people can make many nervous. Roberts suggests shaking hands at the start of the meeting and taking your time and answering each question sequentially. Also, don't assume the interviewers are setting you up to fail.
"Group interviews are trickier because it is harder to read the body language and facial expressions of everyone at the same time, so there is a fear that someone may be disapproving without your noticing it," Roberts said. "Simply focus on one interviewer at a time, and work your way around the room until you have a better sense of each of them."
In addition to doing your best to answer a question, it's important to keep in mind several people will be watching your facial expressions and body language. Look everyone in the eye, smile and stay focused.
"When one person asks a question, direct most of your attention to that person, but take a moment to catch the eye of everyone else in the room as well," Roberts said. "If this is distracting for you or throws off your answer, then just go back to focusing on the person who asked the question. Ask if anyone needs clarification on your answer, but don't do this with every question or it will get old."
Other tips include:
- Maintain eye contact.
- Nod your head appropriately throughout to show you are listening.
- Keep your posture open and neutral ( i.e., don't sit back with arms and/or legs crossed).
- Appear open and engaging.
- Ask thoughtful questions.
- Pay attention.
- Sit with good posture.
- Don't look around or down.
- Don't yawn or look disinterested.
- Don't fidget.
- Smile when appropriate.
- Dress professionally.
Group interviews can seem grueling, but keeping these tips in mind can help you complete them with success. Even if you stumble the first time, you'll get better with more experience.
Lauren Fritsky is a former assistant editor at ADVANCE. She now lives in Australia and works as a Web journalist and blogger.