Group interviews: how to stand out from the crowd

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With every job attracting more and more applicants these days, companies looking to fill multiple vacancies often use group interviews to screen the maximum number of candidates in the shortest possible time.

But while they're very useful to employers, group interviews are a lot less popular with job seekers. Having to make yourself noticed without looking pushy and, often, cooperate on tasks with your competitors isn't an easy thing to do.


But all this can work in your favour. After all, the other candidates are just as likely to be nervous themselves - and the best-prepared one is likely to win.

The crucial thing to remember is that the interviewers aren't just assessing you on how you interact with them, but on how you interact with your peers. And that doesn't mean trying to take over. "Everyone makes the mistake of thinking that they have to demonstrate leadership skills," says HR consultant Tara Daynes. "But what they're really looking for is team working skills - people that can build on other people's ideas, actively listen to what others are saying and really be more of a team player."

It's important to show off your capabilities, but equally important to demonstrate that you can work effectively and easily with others - which can make for a tricky balancing act. Here are some tips to help you stand out from the crowd.

Before it starts
The chances are that you'll find yourself waiting in reception with the other candidates. Do introduce yourself in a friendly way: you'll probably be working together on some sort of group test, and you might as well make yourself popular. (Plus, to be a bit more cynical, there's a good chance you are being observed.) If you're given a name badge, make sure it's as visible as possible - you want your name to be noted and remembered. And, says Daynes, "Completely scour any information they give you as a candidate to see what particular skills they are looking for - and make sure they are the ones you are demonstrating, whether that's communication, problem solving or whatever."

Have a spiel about yourself prepared
Group interviews nearly always begin with a request for the candidates to introduce themselves. Staring blankly isn't going to do you any favours. Practice a little speech - a couple of minutes should be about right - covering your education, experience and career aims. It's a good idea to include a sentence about your hobbies; a very, very bad one to portray yourself as some sort of party animal.

Listen carefully
Group interviews tend to involve carrying out a group task, and it's vital to listen carefully to the brief. You may be asked to follow a certain procedure, for example; deviation, however inspired, won't win any points. Tasks can fall into several different types. Sometimes, the group is just asked to discuss a topic; sometimes, it's something far-out like building a bridge out of eggboxes. More often, there's a role-playing scenario based on a real-life business situation. But keep on your toes: "I've seen assessment centres for graduates where they had a business task where they are role-playing a meeting, and part-way through they throw something into the mix to change the parameters," says Daynes.

Contribute confidently...
Group interviews are no time to be a wallflower. Many people find it difficult to speak up with their ideas without apologising first. Don't. In fact, to be successful you're going to need to look like a leader, guiding discussions. Be prepared to be the first to speak, especially if the other candidates are flummoxed.

...but involve the other candidates
A good leader doesn't ride rough-shod over the rest of the team. Listen to what others are saying, and make it clear that you're doing so through your body language. Never talk over others; wait until they've finished and then make your point. And be complimentary. Graciously congratulating other candidates on their ideas looks a great deal more leader-like than picking holes in them resentfully. If one of the other candidates is particularly quiet, draw them in: the interviewers will notice and be impressed.

Don't lose your cool
The chances are that there will be at least one person within the group who is desperate to dominate. Don't compete: you'll only look just as bad. Neither should you take things personally and get upset. Instead, stay calm, keep your voice low and try and defuse the situation; if one person is digging their heels in, invite others to contribute, or suggest that the group takes a vote. Remember, the interviewers aren't looking for a dictator; they want someone who can work easily with others.

Follow up
Group interviews are all about being memorable; it's easy to disappear into the crowd. Make a point of saying goodbye properly to the interviewers, and follow up with an email or call thanking them for their time.

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The UK's top ten dream jobs