Many job candidates preparing for an interview expect to sit down with a human resources person and talk one on one, since that’s the traditional model. But many companies are adopting a group interview format to save time and see how applicants interact with prospective coworkers.
“Instead of having four people spend an hour each and typically ask the same or similar questions, it can be a lot more efficient having the same group engage the interviewee at the same time,” explains Steven Kosakow, a senior recruiter for Communispace. “This saves time for both the candidate and the interview team.”
Recent graduate Ben Overmyer interviewed for a web developer position at Science Applications International Corporation last year and got a bit of shock when he found a group waiting for him in the meeting room.
“Though this didn’t make me visibly falter, it definitely affected my initial confidence,” he says. “In my experience with panel interviews, they have a setup that’s very polarized: on one side of the room is the army of interviewers, and on the other is the lone interviewee. It’s more difficult to get a feel for the personalities and expectations of each interviewer when they trade off asking questions.”
Though Overmyer prefers interviewing one on one, he made a strong enough impression on his interviewers to land the job. “I have a feeling that my public speaking classes in university played a big part in my success with group interviews,” he explains.
Amy Cole, a public relations associate at ReThink Rewards, also landed her job through a group interview. In the first round, she interviewed alongside several other candidates for the same position. Then in the second round, she had to create a presentation for her interview panel. “I did know it was a presentation,” she says, “but it was a little unnerving… responding to questions from more than one person.” Still, she got the job and now she sometimes sits on the other side of the table to evaluate new job candidates.
Here’s how you can impress a group of interviewers.
Do Your Research
You should always research the company before an interview, but if human resources gives you the names of people on your panel before the interview, then you can take your research a step further and find out a little bit about each person. Check if they have job titles or bios listed on the company website. Google them to see if you can find any interesting hobbies or alumni connections. “Due your due diligence,” recommends Kosakow. “And once you’re there, always try to remember people’s name.”
The larger the panel, the more challenging this becomes, so Kosakow recommends that interviewees “write down each name as people introduce themselves.” Kosakow says he hates it when interviewees address him as “Steve” instead of “Steven.” Small details like that can make a big difference, so pay attention during introductions.
Take the Team Approach
Many companies use group interviews because they’re focused on group collaboration. Your job is to demonstrate that you can work well in groups and include everyone in the conversation. “I always want to see if the interviewee makes everyone feel special during the interview,” says Kosakow. “Do they make eye contact with every interviewer? Do they include everyone in their response? Do they get nervous? Do they know how to manage the conversation?” Smile, even if you’re nervous.
In addition to showing a team attitude, group interviews are also an opportunity to get a broader sense of the company culture. Cole says that her group interview gave her a good feel for the company. “I got a lot of feedback,” she observes. “It prepared me for being hired, because I got to know a lot of people and got a sense of what’s expected.” Try to direct at least one question to each person to get their insights.
Thank Everyone on Your Interview Panel
Be sure to ask for everyone’s business cards at the end of the interview. Sending a thank you note or email can help reinforce the positive impression you made in person. But Kosakow cautions that sending the same cookie cutter message (“it was great meeting you, thanks for the opportunity”) to everyone on your panel can actually work against you. “Thank you notes get forwarded around [the office],” he explains, “and if you wrote the exact same thing, it shows a lack of creativity.”
Instead, you should send a personalized message to each person, highlighting some way that you connected. Maybe you both liked the same book or grew up in the same area. Referencing something interesting that happened during the interview will help you stand out and show that you were listening.
As Kosakow points out, most entry-level candidates get hired because of their personality fit, not their experience. Though panel interviews can be intimidating, they also give you the chance to connect with more people in the organization and show some personality.