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 go over some situations that might make this format the right choice for you. 

What Is A Group Interview?

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

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 to:

Accelerate 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 you need to find the right person or people fast. 

Assess how candidates work

Certain roles require heavy collaboration with teammates. Others require top-notch communications 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. 

Compare 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

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 at the same time, it might not be necessary 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.

Need people who will mesh well together

Group interviews are useful 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 a real day on the job, you’ll have a chance to not only get a feel for their skills, but 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 get a feel for whether their goals are aligned with the position. 

2. Describe how you work in a team.

If you’re using 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 easily and with confidence.  

3. Sell me [product]. 

Group interviews are very 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 proactively resolve conflict, 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 and proficiency level with 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 they’re face to face with one another, but it’s a good indicator of their preparedness. 

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

Without a clear plan, group interviews can stray from their ultimate purpose of helping you assess candidates. While it’s fine to mix up your group interview format between question and answer, group discussion, and activity, you definitely want to have a plan for 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 in case things don’t go exactly as planned and you veer off the schedule. 

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 to keep the different candidates straight is to use scorecards. This will also help you compare them using objective criteria. Since there are often multiple hires being made from a group interview, scorecards can help make a clear delineation 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 to hire faster, reduce costs and help top candidates stand out. 

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