How to Conduct a Group Interview

Diverse group of professionals sitting around a desk during an interview

Group interviews are an effective way to make multiple hires quickly and see candidates’ collaborative skills in action. For the first-time interviewer, though, conducting a group interview can be a bit of a juggling act. We’ll explain how to conduct a group interview smoothly and review some situations that might make this format the right choice. 

What is a Group Interview?

A group interview is one in which multiple candidates are interviewed simultaneously. It consists of one or more candidates and usually one interviewer, though sometimes multiple interviewers take part. A group interview differs from a panel interview in that a panel interview involves multiple interviewers assessing just one candidate. 

How Does a Group Interview Work?

Group interviews can take several different forms. They may follow a simple question-and-answer format much like a regular interview, except with questions being directed at different candidates or posed to the group. They may take the form of a group discussion where the interviewer suggests a topic and invites everyone to weigh in. Or, they may consist of a group activity where the candidates have to work amongst themselves to solve a problem or accomplish a task. Oftentimes, a group interview involves a little bit of all of these formats. 

Are Group Interviews Effective?

Absolutely! Group interviews can be highly effective for:

Accelerating the hiring process

Instead of conducting one-on-one interviews–which are usually 30 minutes to an hour long–with every candidate you’re considering, you can speak with three, four, or even more candidates in one go. This saves an incredible amount of time, which is a major benefit when finding the right person or people fast. 

Related: How to Accelerate the Hiring Process

Assessing how candidates work

Specific roles require heavy collaboration with teammates. Others require top-notch communication skills or the ability to stand out as a leader in a chaotic environment. If any of these describe the position you’re looking to fill, a group interview will allow you to see these characteristics (or the lack thereof) in action. 

Comparing similar candidates

Even the most skilled interviewer can find it tough to assess how candidates stack up against one another, especially when they have similar skills or backgrounds. It becomes a lot easier when you can assess those candidates literally side by side. 

Related: How to Decide Between Two Great Candidates

The Disadvantages of Group Interviews

Group interviews aren’t for every hiring situation or every interviewer. Here are some of their downsides. 

They take skill 

It’s challenging to assess one person accurately in a one-on-one interview. When you add another candidate or two to the mix, keeping the conversation productive and focused becomes even more challenging. Leading a group interview requires an assertive interviewer who can manage time effectively and redirect the conversation if it starts to veer off track. 

One candidate can dominate it

Ever found yourself at a dinner party where one person at the table won’t stop talking? It’s not fun for anyone. The same situation can happen in a group interview setting if one candidate dominates the conversation. Whether out of excitement or just plain rudeness, this not only makes it hard for you to assess all the candidates fairly but can leave the rest of the participants feeling exasperated and discouraged. 

Certain candidates may not perform their best

Only some candidates will thrive in a group interview setting. Those who are more introverted may not feel comfortable “selling themself” in front of a crowd. Others may not spend enough time talking about their strengths because they fear being the rude chatterbox we just mentioned above. At best, you’ll have trouble judging candidates accurately, and at worst candidates will drop out of consideration because they’re so put off by the experience. 

To mitigate these limitations, consider both the interviewer and the role you’re hiring for. Ensure the person leading the conversation is a seasoned interviewer, providing additional training and practice if necessary. Choose a group interview format that makes sense for the role. Public-facing jobs like customer service, for example, require the type of extroverted, confident candidate who will do well in a group setting, so it’s a natural fit. Roles that require more independent work, like accounting or research, may not be suited to a group format. 

When to Use Group Interviews

A group interview might be the right format for you if you:

Need to find a large number of candidates quickly

When time is of the essence, group interviews are the best way to meet with as many candidates as you can as fast as possible. They’re frequently used in industries with big swings in activity, like retail stores hiring ahead of the busy end-of-year holidays. 

Related: A Quick Guide to Mass Hiring

Need to hire several candidates for similar roles

If you have a few similar roles open up simultaneously, it might be optional to interview for all of them individually. This is especially true because candidates who are job searching often apply to multiple roles with the same company at once, which can complicate the hiring process. A group interview can help illuminate that one candidate is a better fit for role A, while another would be great in role B, and so on.

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Need people who will mesh well together

Group interviews are helpful in fields that require successful teamwork, like human resources or information technology. By giving candidates an assignment that’s similar to what they’d be working on during an actual day on the job, you’ll have a chance to not only get a feel for their skills but also see whether they harmonize well together. 

Related: Interview Formats to Use When Hiring

Questions to Ask in a Group Interview

1. Why do you want this job?

Understand the candidate’s motivation for applying and determine whether their goals align with the position. 

2. Describe how you work in a team.

If you’re conducting a group interview, the ability to work well on a team is probably one of your top considerations. The right candidate should be able to answer this question quickly and confidently.  

3. Sell me [product]. 

Group interviews are common in retail and sales jobs, and this is a great question to see the candidates’ varying sales styles and strategies. 

4. How would you deal with a difficult customer?

The ability to manage challenging or high-stress conversations tactfully is a key trait for public-facing roles. 

5. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker. How did you handle it?

A strong candidate will have the interpersonal skills to resolve conflict proactively, which is an inevitable part of working in a team setting. 

6. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Get a feel for whether the candidate’s long-term goals make them likely to stick around and whether you can offer the advancement opportunities they’re looking for. 

7. Tell me about your experience with [skill].

Learn more about the candidate’s background, proficiency level, and the most important skills for the job. 

8. What makes you the best candidate for this role?

This can put some candidates on the spot when facing one another, but it’s a good indicator of their preparedness. 

9. What role do you prefer to take when working on a group-oriented project?

Every well-functioning team needs a range of skill sets–leaders, executors, idea people, detail people, etc. Use this question to identify where your candidates will fit in and flag whether you might be hiring too many of the same type of player. 

10. Let’s say you’re facing [common job-related challenge]. Decide as a group how you would tackle it.

This requires the candidates to work together, which allows you to see their teamwork capabilities in real time. It can also illuminate their critical thinking and decision-making skills. 

11. What are [other candidate’s] biggest strengths?

Ask it after you’ve already given each candidate a chance to talk about themself. It will illuminate whether candidates were listening to one another and also give you clues about cultural fit. 

12. Collectively, what are this group’s strengths and weaknesses as it pertains to this role?

This is a great question for gauging self-awareness and the candidates’ understanding of the job.  

Tips for Conducting Group Interviews

Inform candidates ahead of time

Group interviews can be extra nerve-wracking for candidates since they have to worry about impressing the hiring manager and how they’re interacting with the other candidates (who they’re competing against for the job!). You want a candidate who’s ready to give you their best, not one who’s blindsided by an unexpected interview format. So, be sure to let the candidates know ahead of time if this is the format you’ll be using. 

Set a structure

With a clear plan, group interviews can stay within their ultimate purpose of helping you assess candidates. While mixing up your group interview format between question and answer, group discussion, and activity is okay, you definitely want to plan how you’ll do this and how much time you’ll spend on each portion. 

Here’s one example of how that might look:

10 minutes: Introductions

30 minutes: Traditional interview questions

20 minutes: Group discussion

20 minutes: Group activity

20 minutes: Activity debrief, wrap up

It’s also a good idea to have a “plan B” in mind if things don’t go exactly as planned and you veer off the schedule. 

Help candidates get comfortable

As the interviewer, you are responsible for setting the tone for the conversation and creating a space where the interview flows well. Consider introducing two acquaintances to one another for the first time; you don’t just throw them together and walk away. You spend a few minutes introducing each person and helping them find common ground so they feel comfortable chatting. 

Do the same at the start of your group interview. Ice-breaker questions can be useful for this. Here are a few good ones:

  • How did you hear about this job?
  • Give us your 60-second biography.
  • Tell us your three biggest strengths.
  • Describe yourself in three words.
  • What’s one interesting thing that happened to you this week?

Give yourself space to observe

When conducting a group interview, you’re not just the question asker. You’re also an active viewer monitoring how the candidates behave and interact. Be sure to build some time into your structure where you’ll be doing less interviewing and more observing. 

Take notes

If you’ve ever spent an evening chatting with multiple people at a party, you’ve probably experienced how conversations tend to blur together. What was that book the investment banker recommended? And what did the guy with the glasses do for a living? The same thing can happen when you’re interviewing multiple candidates at once, and the stakes are much higher than at a social soiree. So, be sure to take notes to help keep the candidates’ details from running together in your mind. 

Use scorecards 

Another good strategy for keeping the different candidates straight is to use scorecards. This will also help you compare them using objective criteria. Since multiple hires are often made from a group interview, scorecards can help clearly delineate between the winning candidates and those who aren’t the right fit. 

With the right preparation and a bit of practice, group interviews can be an effective tool for hiring faster, reducing costs, and helping top candidates stand out.

Allow time for questions

As with any interview, it’s a best practice to set aside time for candidates to ask their own questions. This allows you to address any concerns or areas of ambiguity that may prevent a candidate from moving forward in the hiring process. Plus, it can facilitate free-form discussion in a group setting, which is also beneficial in assessing group dynamics. 

Follow up individually

After the interview, follow up with each candidate one-on-one to thank them for their time and ask if they have any further questions. For convenience, this can be done via email. This closes the loop and helps leave a positive impression, but it also gives candidates a chance to raise any topics they didn’t feel comfortable bringing up in a group setting or didn’t get the chance to discuss because of time. 

Group Interview FAQs

How long should group interviews last?

Group interviews run longer than individual ones. You’ll want to allocate at least an hour. Two or three hours might be preferable, especially if you plan on having the candidate break into smaller groups or work on sample assignments.

Where should you hold a group interview?

A group interview should occur in a large enough space for all participants to sit comfortably and be heard well. A conference room works well, or a shared space in your facility, such as an atrium or auditorium. Be sure to reserve the space beforehand so you’re not distracted by interruptions. 

How many candidates should be in a group interview?

Three to five candidates is a common number for a group interview. At this size, it’s feasible for each person to have a chance to speak and the interviewer to be able to keep track of everyone. If you need to consider more than five candidates at a time, consider breaking them into smaller groups (i.e., three groups of three) and moving between them as they work on an activity.

How many people should you hire from a group interview?

This is entirely up to you and dependent on your needs. If you’re looking to bulk up your retail team for the busy holiday season, you might interview four great candidates and hire them all. You might also use the group interview to narrow the field to two top candidates and hold another round of individual interviews to decide between them. 

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn