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March Madness: How to Stand Out Against Your Competition in Group Interviews

The month of March Madness college basketball is finally upon us! Whether you’re rooting for your alma mater to make it to the big game, anticipating a “Cinderella Story,” or a “David and Goliath” matchup, you watch with great excitement and anticipation all the way to the end. As a jobseeker, you share one common bond with every basketball team competing, which is the desire to separate yourself from competitors—winning the championship or that well-deserved job offer.

As a potential candidate, you will play this game every time you participate in a group interview. Luckily, group interviews are rare, but since some companies may choose this type of interview process, there are two types of group interviews that you should have knowledge of.

  • Candidate Group Interview – Candidates interview for the same position at the same time, this may include group exercises
  • Panel Group Interview – Candidates interview individually with a panel of two or more members of the company.

The competition is always fierce, but it’s the applicant that works collaboratively with their peers, while finding the right moment(s) to “take the big shot” and stand out from the crowd, that will usually be the person who succeeds in the end. The following are some skills and strategies to put into play when you are faced with your next group interview:

Know your Audience. Doing research about the company before you interview is standard procedure, but actually looking into which members of the organization will be conducting your group interview is a sure way to get a leg up on your competition. Whether you’re interviewing for a position at a consulting firm or a medical facility, there could be a unique makeup of the partners involved (e.g., Human Resources, Accounting, Marketing, Compliance, etc.). Although their positions may seem unrelated, your position may require working with all of them, so it’s important to appeal to everyone involved in the process. Therefore, a candidate that researches this will be better positioned to tailor responses specifically to the individual asking. For example, if you’re asked, “How would you manage an employee who struggles in their current role,” your answer may differ depending on the person asking. As a result, the candidate that plans accordingly and knows who will be in attendance will stand out from the crowd.

Be Engaging. The purpose of a group interview is not only to measure your ability to solve and answer questions under stressful conditions, but to also assess how your personality fits in with a team. Effective teamwork skills are critical in workplace scenarios; therefore, maintaining a strong point of view without undermining your teammates is the best way to get noticed. For instance, if your group must create a solution to a complex issue, there are two ways to stand out in discussions:

  1. Engage everyone individually by name. Why? When you use names as opposed to “team” this shows that you are personable and engaged with members of your team.
  2. Make it known at some point that you are playing the “devil’s advocate.” Though you may have contesting ideas, it’s important to show your intent to respectfully provide an alternative point of view and to examine all angles of the problem. In addition, this shows you are creative when you reach roadblocks and your input and willingness to disagree with others contributed to a solution.

These two points will not only show off your collaborative skills, but also your leadership skills and ability to rethink a strategy under pressure.

Listen to Your Teammates. The overall objective of the group interview is to anticipate how a candidate is able to interact competitively and think strategically, while being inclusive of your teammates. The biggest mistake you can make as a teammate is interrupting anyone that is speaking. This is not only detrimental to your team’s performance, but this shows your interviewers you are unable or unwilling to listen to others’ opinions. A strong recommendation to avoid giving off such impressions is to acknowledge a teammate’s comments by waiting until they’re finished speaking, then shortly summarize their key point(s) and give your response that builds from those points whether positively or negatively. This not only shows that you are a good listener, but it shows your interviewers that you have the abilities to think on your feet and constructively use team input to meet objectives.

Navigating through all aspects of your job search can feel like working through a bracket where you have to choose the right techniques to put you in a position to win and move on to the next round. Therefore, with preparation, patience, strategy, and research you can come out on top in your next group interview.

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