Race to the Top: Winning in a Group Interview

Q: I am applying for a corporate job in Houston and the HR representative said I may be interviewed by more than one person at the same time. How do I prepare and impress?

A: You have already taken the first step – you are anticipating that this set up may require a different approach, so good for you. For fear of stating the obvious, the trick with group interviews is that you are outnumbered, which can create extra stress. However, I’d suggest that if you are prepared, you can leave the interview with three supporters, versus only one. Here’s what I would suggest to tilt things your way. First, once you find out who you will be meeting with, pay special attention to everyone’s title because each person will have a different “checklist” in his or her mind, based on their own position. For example, expect the HR representative to pay close attention to your education and work experience. Expect the operating manager, who might be your next boss, to focus on your proven skills and how they will help his or her team deliver on goals. And, if the company includes a peer, keep in mind that he or she is probably thinking about how you will fit in with the other members of the team.

It’s very important to connect with everyone during the group interview and answer the questions directly. Once it’s over, they will get together to share thoughts about you and each person should believe you are authentic and capable of bringing something special to the organization. Here’s a word of caution; I have heard from several people that they get more nervous during group interviews and they feel like they have to “work harder” to impress the group. That’s probably true, but don’t let the angst tempt you to stretch the truth about your background. You got the interview, so you have already passed a big hurdle. And just like stretching the truth can lead to trouble during a one-on-one interview, with three people in the room, it can take a conversation downhill – and fast.

One last thing, be sure to send each person his or her own note, thanking them for their time and noting that something you two discussed was helpful or interesting; reiterate that you think you can make a big contribution to the organization. And do not – under any circumstance – tell anyone you look forward to “learning” in the new job. While it’s true, you will learn, most prospective employers want you to tell them what they will gain from you – not vice versa.