Group interviews are a special brand of terrible. There is no great way to distinguish yourself without sounding like a complete asshole. Everyone is clearly in competition with each other and it’s all the worst parts of any reality competition. Forget empty collegial chatter, no one is here to make friends.
First, there’s the awkward waiting period. Sure, we’ve all managed to make it here at the appropriate “interview early” time, so we look prepared and punctual, but now we have to size up the competition quietly and/or sit in tense silence. Thank God for smartphones, because you can just panic and glance over the company website for those last minute stand out questions, or you can just update your LinkedIn because you didn’t realize that people even really used it. If you’re a low-tech type, this is the time you’re shuffling through your printed resume and cover letter and trying to remember what was on the job description. You might be aimlessly doodling trying not to make eye contact with the better dressed person in front of you. Seriously, why don’t you own a perfectly tailored blazer yet? How did you miss that step in adulthood? Whatever you do, you’re trying to strike a careful balance of thoughtful and busy, without looking frantic or desperate. You’re probably failing.
If you’ve ever interviewed in a school environment, you might be aware that everything is 10x more frantic. There might be students also sizing you up, students you might never even interact with if you get the job. There’s also those weird school smells: ketchup, art supplies, and school milk in elementary schools, body odor and mildew in high school, and the unholy combination of all of those in a middle school. You can hope that somehow your nervous sweating throws that smell off.
Group interviews (and arguably, all interviews) bring out certain types of interview personalities:
- Silent & Nervous – This person won’t speak unless coaxed by the interviewer. They also don’t answer beyond the minimal expectation. Upside, they’re short and concise. Downside, no one has a feel for them.
- Inappropriately Dressed – Did they wear artfully repurposed clubwear? Are they wearing a t-shirt and jeans in a corporate setting? The mean streak in you will take comfort in the fact that you might be doing better than they are, but how much better?
- Over-prepared and Organized – The Type-A Tracy Flick style interviewee. While you might be internally rolling your eyes, this person probably will walk out of that room on the shortlist of follow-up interviews, so either let Tracy own the room or become her.
- Unsure How They Got Here – Have you ever thrown your resume into a job application you didn’t really expect anything from because you were not interested or wildly unqualified and then got a request for an interview? You will probably spend the whole interview wondering what the company wanted from you, afraid that their desperation might trump yours. You might want to treat this interview as a growing and learning experience or a weird social experiment. You might also want to run away from that job offer, if possible.
- Awkward Small Talkers – That person who treats it like a test audience for a improv show and is trying to make the room comfortable with bad jokes. It often backfires. This person is me. This might work in one-on-one situations (it might even lead to a job), but it absolutely does not lighten the mood and everyone hates you.
I don’t have good advice for surviving these interviews, as I’ve never successfully advanced beyond the group interview, and because places that had group interviews weren’t really places I wanted to be anyway. I’ve always had some sort of written exam or hour long skills test that followed an hour or two of competing for speaking time. I’ve always eaten my feelings with copious amounts of burgers immediately after said group interviews. Maybe I should’ve googled how to sparkle in a group interview before I ever accepted a time slot.