Survival of the Fittest: Mastering the Group Interview

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Posted by Liz Seasholtz on June 13, 2011
Survival of the Fittest: Mastering the Group Interview

Group interviews are intimidating for the obvious reasons-you're stuck in a room with a group of people who are all vying for the same job. It's a high-stakes, high-pressure situation, and if you stumble, there's a crowd to watch you fall. No matter if it's your first group interview or tenth, it will likely be a tense experience.

So why do companies put you through this torture? One, because it's more economical and efficient: they can disperse information about the position and company to multiple candidates at once, which saves time. Two, your interviewers can observe how you perform in the clutch-indicating whether you'll sink or swim during big client presentations. And three, interviewers can see how well you work with others: if you can't treat your colleagues with respect, no one will want to be stuck in an office with you for 40 hours a week.

Below are a few tips to help you not only survive a group interview, but also stand out.

1. Look Lively
In the days leading up to any interview, you should ask your contact how many people you can expect to meet with and how long you should plan to be there. Asking these questions especially pays off if the answer reveals you'll be part of a group interview, so you can mentally prepare for the task. "Its fair to ask those questions up front," says Arnold Smith, author of No Nonsense Job Interview.  "You need to understand what you're walking into."

2. Say Hello
You should, of course, introduce yourself to your interviewers upon meeting them. However, if you arrive early and you're in the lobby with other interview candidates (hint: they'll be the ones sitting quietly, in suits, reading company literature) you should introduce yourself to them as well. Even though they are your competition, it doesn't hurt to get to know them, and when your interviewers arrive they will most likely take note of your friendly and professional tête-à-tête.

3. Speak Up

Your interviewers will most likely open topics to discussion or debate during the interview, and you need to be an active participant. "Now is not the time to be a wallflower," says Smith. "Interviewers are assessing how you are influencing and persuading people in the group, the questions that you ask, your communication style, whether you reach decisions rationally, and if you're you listening to others in the group."

4. Involve Others
Smith says interviewers will be impressed if you can make your own points and simultaneously draw in and involve other candidates in the room. "Pay attention to people that are on the fringe," says Smith. "It could be as simple as turning to someone who hasn't spoken and asking for their thoughts. This shows you are aware of everyone in the room, and you like to gather multiple opinions-a trait the interviewer will respect."

5. Be a Leader
A common way of testing your teamwork skills is by breaking up into groups, and assigning each group with a task. For example: When interviewing for a marketing position, your team is assigned with marketing a new alcoholic beverage company. The team is required to discuss the launch of a new product, covering issues such as advertising, ethical concerns, packaging, and pricing. Again, make sure your voice is being heard in the group-those that take the lead in these exercises are usually the ones to stand out.

6. Keep Your Cool

If a difference of opinion arises, Smith says to keep professional: Maintain a low voice, don't get too emotional, and if you can't reach a common ground, take a step back. Interviewers want to see someone whom they can work with day-to-day and by losing your cool, you'll be out of the running.

7. Form Alliances

Even though the other candidates are your competition, they still share your career interests and probably have valuable industry contacts. Group interviews should not be a networking event, but if you hit it off with another candidate, follow-up with them after the interview (whether by getting their contact information or looking them up on LinkedIn). "More sophisticated job candidates understand you need to work together and network to get ahead when job searching," says Smith.

8. Send Thank You Notes
Just because it's a group interview, don't forget to end the day with your normal follow-up protocol. Ask for each interviewer's business card, and then send him or her a thank you note or email the next day.

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