The term “group interview” can be used to describe two kinds of interview formats. The first is the actual group interview and is the style we’re discussing today. This is the format where one interviewer (or a small team) interviews a group of candidates at the same time. The second type is where several interviewers interview a single candidate at once. People call this a group interview because it involves a group of interviewers, but it is more formally called a Panel Interview.
Group interviews have pros and cons, so are they the right choice for your business? It’s not an easy answer, so read on to learn how to decide on an interview format for yourself.
The Benefits of a Group Interview Format
A group interview typically involves one or a small handful of interviewers in a situation where they interview numerous candidates all at once. This has a few notable benefits over other interview styles, though the benefits might not be beneficial to your company depending on your business.
Group interviews are efficient. Per SmartRecruiters:
“Group interviews are efficient, allowing organizations to interview multiple candidates at the same time thereby saving numerous hours of labor.”
If you have 10 candidates to interview for a position, a panel of two interviewers, and 30-minute interviews, the math is clear. Interviewing each candidate one on one is an investment of ten man-hours (30 minutes times two interviewers times ten interviews). Interviewing them in groups of five is an investment of two man-hours (30 minutes times two interviewers times two interviews). This allows you to prune through large candidate pools much more quickly and efficiently than if you had to interview them one by one.
Group interviews can showcase how candidates work with one another. Everyone will say they play well with others and work well in groups, but until you put them in a group scenario, you won’t be able to judge them accurately.
With a group interview, you can see some beginning characteristics emerge. Which candidates treat each other as competition? Which ones pay attention, and which ones stay isolated? You can judge the character of your candidates in a situation you can’t normally look for in a standard interview.
Group interviews can show how a candidate reacts under stress. A group interview is a high-stress event, where each candidate not only has a shorter amount of time to leave a lasting impression, but they can see some of their competition in front of them. Which ones rise to the challenge, and which ones fold under pressure?
Certain kinds of candidates thrive in a group competition setting. The most motivated, outgoing, and charismatic individuals will typically make a lasting impression and thrive in a group interview situation. This is good if that’s the kind of person you’re looking to hire, but might not be valuable if you’re not looking for those personality traits. If you’re building a high-performance team for leadership, it can be great. If you’re looking for someone who can buckle down and get a job done but doesn’t need charisma to do it, you might not find them in a group setting.
You can test impromptu teamwork. A new employee will be challenged to get up to speed and work with people they’ve never met, and you can test that ability by setting team challenges for your group to solve, working as a group. You can see which candidates thrive in that situation, and which ones don’t. Again, this can help you find specific candidates for specific kinds of roles, but might not be useful for others.
Overall, group interviews are most often used for situations where you need to hire numerous candidates, often for low-level, entry-level, or “unskilled” positions, like food service, hospitality, and retail. Positions that require specific character traits, specific skills, or a more detailed look at individual candidates will not benefit from group interviews.
The Drawbacks of Group Interviews
You may already be able to see some of the drawbacks of group interviews, and perhaps have experienced them yourself, either as a candidate or as an interviewer. There are some obvious drawbacks and some that aren’t so obvious.
Group interviews require multiple interviewers. While one person may be able to run a small group interview, they can’t watch everyone at once. A good group interview is also a panel interview, with 2-4 interviewers watching the group. Each panel member may have specific characteristics they’re watching for, or everyone might have the same interview scorecard.
An added benefit of using a panel of interviewers is helping to remove bias from the interview process. One person might be more susceptible to a loud and charismatic candidate than another or might miss a critical detail that another will catch.
Group interviews are very public. In some situations, a candidate might not want their current employer to know they’re seeking a new job, for fear of repercussions. These candidates might not want to attend a group interview, because other people in the group might catch their name and post about it, or recognize them and talk about it, and news can filter back. This isn’t always a concern, but it can be a concern in some situations and for some candidates.
Group interviews are very impersonal. Per BrightHR:
“The downside to the group interview’s time-efficient process is that you have less time to talk to each candidate. If you have a strong shortlist of candidates and enough time to meet them all, traditional interviews might still be the best option.”
Even if you schedule a 30 or 60-minute session for a group interview, if you have 5+ members of the candidate pool, you still only have a handful of minutes to get to know each candidate. You often have to make snap judgments about these candidates when you don’t have time to get nuance, details, or even a sense of who they are as people. You may miss excellent candidates simply because a louder and more outspoken candidate dominates the conversation.
Certain kinds of candidates won’t shine. Group interviews are poor for assessing certain qualities in a candidate, such as focus, independence, and skill. Since you only get a superficial sense of who your candidates are, you can only test for surface-level skills and personality traits, and you can’t ask too detailed a set of questions.
A group environment will suppress certain kinds of candidates. Some people despise group interviews and, even though they may be perfectly suited to the job, will refuse to even apply or attend a group interview. Other people may excel in both an individual interview and in an actual job but might choke when placed in the competitive environment of a group interview. Group interviews also have a generally bad reputation, and they might reflect poorly on your company.
Group interviews can be tricky to perform and might require unique skills. Much like how one-on-one tutoring or mentoring is different from teaching a class of 20-30 people, interviewing a single candidate is very different from interviewing a group. HR managers who are skilled at interviewing in individual sessions might not have the skills necessary to wrangle a group.
You will likely need to focus on planning the structure of a group interview carefully. You may also need to make special considerations for the dynamics of a group.
How to Conduct a Group Interview Successfully
If you think a group interview might be right for your business, it’s worth the effort to learn how to conduct them properly. A poorly-run group interview reflects badly on your company and can make you look disorganized, disrespectful, or both. Here are our tips for running one successfully.
Consider observing a group interview first. You may be able to network with other companies or experienced HR managers to sit in on a group interview, or you might find a recorded video of successful group interviews to learn from. Watching one in action and talking to the people who ran it can be very insightful.
Put together your interview panel in advance. You always want to have more than one interviewer present for a group interview. This panel should meet in advance, discuss what you’re all looking for in the interview, and make sure everyone has scorecards on hand. This allows everyone to be on the same page, able to divide and conquer with observing the group, and can help manage a group if it gets out of control.
Additionally, your panel should rotate duties throughout the interview. Have each member ask questions in rotation, so there’s no clear “leader” who candidates will focus on impressing.
Make sure your candidates know. The worst thing for a candidate is to show up to an interview, only to learn that it’s a group interview. Candidates will prepare for their interviews in advance, and preparations for different kinds of interviews take different courses. Some candidates will give up on your company after this kind of surprise.
Don’t rely solely on the group interview. A group interview is meant to cut a large candidate pool down into a smaller candidate pool. It’s not meant to be everything you need to make a final hiring decision unless you’re hiring in bulk and plan to hire almost everyone who passes the interview. Generally, you will want to use a group interview as an initial filter and then set up individual interviews with the most promising candidates afterward.
Remember how group interviews are perceived. Group interviews often have a bad rap as little more than a cattle call for low-quality jobs provided by employers who don’t particularly care. As Terri Lee Ryan writes for Chicago Now:
“Group interviewing can be one of the most humiliating tasks you do when you are seeking a job. It’s tough enough out there in our economy without having to subject yourself to the pain of a group interview. My advice is to never go to one of these interviews. If the company doesn’t respect you and your time enough to set up an appointment, take a pass.”
This isn’t a unique opinion, and in fact, many high-quality candidates will share it. Group interview formats can suppress applications from some of the best candidates, so use them with caution.
Make sure to debrief. A group interview format, for the interviewer panel, should involve several meetings. In advance of the group interviews, the panel should meet to discuss the format and the division of labor. Immediately before the interview, the group should meet and refresh everyone on their roles, the scorecards, and anything new that may have come up. After the interview, the panel should debrief and discuss the candidates, their impressions, and any thoughts about both the candidates and the format itself.
Are Group Interviews Right for Your Business?
Group interviews wouldn’t exist if they didn’t have some benefits. The truth, however, is that they can often be overused, poorly managed, and inefficient. They can save time but at the cost of only checking for surface-level details about candidates.
This means that group interviews are acceptable for hiring numerous candidates in volume, such as when staffing a new retail store from the ground up, or when hiring for low skill cap positions. Conversely, if you only have one role to fill or you need a more technical or skilled individual to fill a role, you should avoid group interviews.
Additionally, modern technology tends to serve some of the purposes of a group interview. In the past, group interviews were often used as a “first stage” filter to take a large candidate pool and turn it into a smaller candidate pool, from which you can draw the best individuals for one-on-one or panel interviews, before proceeding to skills tests and hiring decisions.
With modern technology, a large amount of this filtering can be done through algorithms, machine learning, HR-AI systems, and impartial judgments before the candidates reach an interview stage. The filtering can be done in advance, so you don’t need to spend the man-hours or the management necessary to organize a group interview.
While the final determination is up to you, it often depends on the purpose of the interview, whether or not you should use a group interview. We’ve also compared phone and in-person interviews as well as video interviews, if group interviewing doesn’t sound like a good option for your company. The choice is yours.
Are you considering a group interview? What has your experience with them been? Have any questions for me? Let me know in the comments section below! I reply to every comment and would love to hear from you.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.