The dreaded group interview – what to expect and how to prepare

Although group interviews are not common, there are a number of companies that like using this method of selecting the right candidate and it’s worth knowing how to approach them. Frankly, as a candidate I think it is the worst case interview scenario, as you have no control over who your fellow interviewees are.

One over-bearing nutcase can ruin your experience and your chances…

As a company, however, it is a very interesting way to observe and see who is confident, who interacts well with others, who shies away from the lime light, who is overbearing, who listens well, who is the natural leader, etc…

Now be careful, as there are a few different formats:

Group activities

Group discussion

Group exercise followed by one-to-one

Essentially, the group is presented with a hypothetical problem or situation and is either tasked to engage in a number of activities to solve or address this, or is asked to come to a solution through group discussion.

Your mission is to make sure you stand out from the crowd without alienating or overshadowing other candidates.

So how do you prepare for this particular type of torture?

  • First and foremost, do your research on the company, their competition, their employees (and ex-employees), the sector that they operate in, just as you would for any other interview. You will need to come across as knowledgeable or at least as someone who has taken the time to put some legwork in.
  • Then think (read: second guess) what the company is looking for, based on the job content. Is this a role that would deal with conflict? Is customer interaction important? Or is this a role that requires strategic thinking and persuasion or influencing skills?
  • Dependent on your conclusion, think of what behaviours the company will be looking for that match the role. How can you best demonstrate these?
  • No doubt you will be asked to introduce yourself to the group, so rather than making it up as you go along, prepare your introduction thoroughly. What have you done, what are you good at, quantify your achievements, why are you interested in this opportunity and why would you be suitable for it. Make sure that you stand out, this most likely takes place in the first 30 minutes when everyone is still nervous, so (without being a comedian) can you make your intro slightly light hearted? Can you bring a smile on the faces of the interviewers and other candidates? It is a great way of being remembered and it will portray you as a confident individual.

And then some Dos and Don’ts:

DO – offer yourself up for a function in the group early on. Often these tasks or discussions are time based. Offer to be a time keeper, generally people will accept that. This gives you a reason to speak and control progress, so you will come across as a leader.

DO – speak up, make sure to include others, invite others’ opinions and thoughts. Use their names! This will set you apart from those who want to dominate the conversation and will portray your collaborative style.

DO – listen to others. “When you talk, you are repeating what you already know. If you listen, you may learn something new”. Do not speak for the sake of saying something. A poorly thought through contribution will reflect badly on you and this is magnified in a group situation. To prove that you are listening to others, build on responses that other participants give.

DO – remain polite, no matter what. It is likely that you will hit it off with some of the others in the group and then it is easy to slip into informality – don’t. Make sure to be polite, mindful of the formal nature of the situation and be attentive to other’s ideas. Never undermine others or ridicule their ideas.

DON’T – be a shrinking violet, think about what you want to say and wait for the right opportunity.

DON’T  – speak over people. It is easily done in an environment where you are judged and don’t seem to be able to get a word in edge-ways because others are domineering the conversation. However, refrain!

DON’T – criticise anyone during the discussion or exercise. It reflects poorly on you and you do not want to come across as a moaner…

DON’T – change who you are. People who fake it are easily spotted, be yourself! Ultimately, if your personality is not right for the position or the business, then they are not right for you either. You win some, you lose some.


It is likely that after the discussion or exercise you are asked a number of questions and you’d definitely be at an advantage if you have pre-empted that. Typical questions are:

  • Do you think the team was successful in completing the task?
  • What do you think led to the group’s success in completing the task?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What was your personal contribution?
  • How do you think other participants would describe you?

Finally, some ideas on positive and negative behaviours associated with the common competencies generally assessed in these situations:

Team work

+ Brings others into the discussion and encourages their contribution

+ Develops and adapts others’ ideas.

+ Influences and challenges other people’s views

+ Volunteers to take on a role (time keeper anyone?)

– Talks too much, doesn’t demonstrate much thinking

– Insensitive to others


+ Takes charge and actively helps to shape the discussion and keeps it on track

+ Ensures everyone is on and stays on the same page

– Their arguments are talked over or ignored


+ Listens before contributing and contributes throughout the discussion

+ Is clear and concise and ensures everyone understands

– Is very dominant, interrupts others or ignores them

– Does no talking at all

Problem solving

+ Uses all the information provided effectively

+ Provides creative solutions

– Strays from subject or engages in unnecessary tasks

Commercial awareness

+ Understands the nature of the business, its competitors and sector

+ Ensures that suggestions and recommendations are appropriate for the business

+ Understands the brief and sticks with it


Plenty food for thought I hope … The only other advice I have is to relax and try to enjoy the experience, as you’ll come across as so much more confident than the nervous, twitchy person next to you 🙂 Good luck!