So you’ve done everything you need to do to prepare for your interview, and you’ve studied the most common interview questions.
You go into the company lobby — but wait! There are other people there, and they’re all waiting for the same interview as you.
If that happens, what do you do?
Here’s how to stand out in a group interview, as discussed by experts.
Ron Auerbach, MBA
ducator | Career Coach | Job Search Expert | Author, Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success
Group interviews scare a lot of candidates! It’s hard enough to interview with just one person, but when you add in others, it increases the pressure.
So when you’re interviewing with multiple interviewers, it’s perfectly normal to feel more “under the gun” in terms of the amount of pressure you’re feeling.
And that’s one reason why employers use group interviews. They want to see how well you handle pressure by putting you in that situation.
Avoid ignoring other interviewers
Now one very important thing you want to avoid is ignoring any of the interviewers! That’s a very common mistake job candidates will make. You see, it’s very common for one interviewer to be asking you questions while the others remain silent.
The tendency is to focus your attention on the one who is doing all the speaking and ignoring the others. Huge mistake! So if you want to stand out, make sure you acknowledge and speak to every one of the interviewers.
And if one or more of the other interviewers does happen to speak, you still want to be focusing on everybody. Thus, your level of eye contact must move around so each of the people there gets some.
But don’t be constantly swinging your head or eyes because that’s unnatural and scary! You want it to be a natural giving each of them some attention.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you find out who those people are
If the interviewer doesn’t introduce them, ask! This way, you can find out more about what kind of things each of them will be focusing on or have contributed towards the interview. For example, maybe one of them is the HR Manager while another is a Department Manager. Perhaps one is the VP and another is just an assistant.
So knowing who’s in the room with you is extremely helpful to your being able to hit the kinds of things each of them will be most focused or interested in hearing. It will also help you tailor answers to their individual levels to help further impress and demonstrate your ability to relate well to them.
And whenever possible, refer to them by name. That way, you’ll demonstrate your ability to recall people’s names and personalize things more.
Be observant on how your fellow candidates are behaving and handling questions
But what if your group interview is a single interviewer and several candidates?
In this case, you’re still in the hot seat because there are others in the room with you. So the pressure is still higher than a lone face-to-face interview. In order for you to stand out here, you need to be extremely observant of how your fellow candidates are behaving and handling questions.
This way, you’ll be able to seize upon any mistakes they’ve made to avoid it yourself. And will be in a position to separate yourself out when it comes to how you’d handle something vs what another or others in the room have said they’d do.
So feed upon your fellow candidates to tailor your answers and be very quick on your feet.
For example, one time when I was being interviewed, it was myself and other candidates being interviewed together. During the interview, one of the candidates had responded with an answer that I disagreed with.
So when it was my turn to respond, I referenced that individual and explained why I felt different than that person. So not only did I refer to the candidate by name, which is a good thing to show you remember people’s names, I also separated myself out by showing how my thinking differed.
President, Job Search Master Class® for Veterans and non-Veterans
Group interviews, meaning that there are multiple candidates at the same time, can be nerve-wracking and challenging. They are rare, but companies find them efficient, especially for the first-round interview series (following a phone screen).
Whether the group interview is virtual (via a web-conference) or face-to-face, imagine yourself in a semi-circle of candidates facing a table of multiple hiring managers.
Your mission is to stand out (in the right way) on all levels of the interview, including
- the quality of your answers,
- the quality of your questions,
- the way you present yourself.
The interviewers are looking for “fit” within their team, as well as your skill level and ability to think on your feet.
I have coached many candidates through these, and all were called back to the next round of interviews. Here are the main tips:
Connect with the recruiter and interviewers on LinkedIn before the interview
If you don’t know the interviewers, ask the recruiter, and they may (or may not) tell you. Be sure to write a personal connection request such as, “I look forward to interviewing with you on…, and thank you for connecting with me here.”
Practice your answers to the most commonly-asked questions
Script yourself and rehearse them.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your areas for improvement?
- Why should we hire you for this job?
Dissect their job description and be prepared to talk about your skills against every major requirement
Your strengths should come from items from their job description; the reason they should hire you should be based on items in the job description. Here is an example:
“There are three reasons you should hire me. One, you are seeking someone who is analytical and pays close attention to detail. I have been demonstrating those skills for four years.”
Prepare great questions to ask them
Bring the questions in on a piece of paper (or on the video) and write down the answers they provide. You will stand out since most candidates have weak questions and don’t take notes.
Dress on the formal side
It doesn’t matter what the interviewers are wearing or what the typical attire is for the job. You are interviewing, and you want this job. Be better than the person to your left or right.
As a CEO of our firm, applicants who want to stand out in this critical period of “new normal” are those who have cross-over skills, or those skills that one has gathered throughout his life and can be applied in a variety of situations, especially when switching careers.
Those who know how to tap into their other skills to allow them to survive in this challenging economy are ahead of the crop. They know how to adapt and can prove that whatever challenge there is, they are willing to sweat it out.
Mention and highlight cross over skills
During a group interview, it is important that aside from highlighting your top skills, mention a thing or two about your cross-over skills (such as speaking a third foreign language, bookkeeping, project management, etc.) so that the interviewer can get to know more about what you can offer beyond what the role requires.
Take note of these tips too:
- Remote-ready employees are on an advantage during this season because of the social distancing measures imposed upon by authorities. Thus, those with skills that can easily be applied to online client management are a priority.
- Those who can manage their personal brands well and how well it translates into their resume as evidenced by their adaptability to critical situations can expound on this during the interview.
- Those who have taken recent training to upskill can impress interviewers more because it shows how they have used their “lockdown” time wisely. This is also very important to reflect on how eager they are to pursue lifelong learning.
Managing Partner, Summit Search Group
A group interview gives hiring managers the opportunity to see how candidates interact in a team environment, and you want to use that to your advantage.
Be friendly and engaged with the other candidates
If you have downtime as a group, chat with the other interviewees instead of hiding in your smartphone. When other interviewees are answering questions, stay engaged, and listen to what they’re saying.
If there’s a chance for conversation, respond thoughtfully, acknowledging what you’ve heard from others in the room. This shows the interviewers you’re a team player with good interpersonal skills.
It’s especially important to have unique answers to questions in a group interview
Think about what skills or experience you offer that other people in the room don’t. This can be another benefit of chatting with the other candidates since you’ll be better able to tell where your skillsets differ.
Sr. Vice President, Talascend
Interviews are typically designed to see how you interact with others as well as how you handle social situations and whether you can think on your feet.
- Dress appropriately and add a little something to stand out, nothing too over the top but maybe a bright colored shirt or tie, a stylish purse or a statement necklace, you want to be remembered.
- Be friendly and respectful of all other candidates attending the group interview.
- When there is an opportunity to share input, make sure you have a unique perspective or your answer adds value.
- Now is your time to shine, so make sure that when you have an opportunity to participate or add a comment that you do, it would be great if you engaged other candidates as well.
- Make sure you are listening and taking notes.
- Don’t try to over-talk others.
- Smile and be engaged in the process.
- Come prepared with good questions to ask during the interview and ask one at the appropriate time.
- Thank the interviewers when you leave and follow up with a thank you note or email.
HR Partner, My Perfect Resume
If there was ever a time to stand out, it would be during the group interview. Don’t let the tactic intimidate you, and play it cool taking comfort in having researched the company, as well as having prepared robust answers to most common questions.
You’ll be looking to walk the fine line between professional and memorable. The last thing you want is to come off bland and personality-less. Thus:
Infuse a little more humor than others
This will show your courage to take risks and not be afraid of stepping off the beaten path. A calculated risk, as after all most want to work with a human and not a robot
Involve others in your responses
Dare to be different. Yes, they’re your competition, but if you show class, willingness to collaborate and not take the process too seriously that will speak volumes about the type of person you are.
Don’t be tempted to talk too much
It’s all about balance. Trying too hard, wanting to ensure your voice is heard (just for the sake of it), and attempting to take control will all come off insecure and desperate. So don’t. Lean back, take a deep breath and focus on quality vs. quantity of your responses. It will pay off in spades.
Finish off with a killer thank you letter
Go the extra mile and definitely don’t use a template. Reference something fun, or memorable in the conversation. This is the icing on the cake so use it to make a strong last impression.
Alan A. Golik
Executive Legal Recruiter, Shelton & Steele, LLC
Standing out in a group interview requires the Three P’s that should be used in any sales situation: Planning, Preparation and Practice.
Part 1: Planning
All interviews may sound different but when it comes down to it, they’re meant to answer just a few basic questions.
For sales and marketing positions, the most important question will be “Will you make me more profitable?” This is where you want to have very specific examples of how you have done exactly that for previous employers.
For example, instead of saying, “I was recognized for my sales performance,” you would do better by saying, “I was in the top 7% of our sales force and exceeded my quotas every quarter, by an average of 142%. This resulted in an additional $1.6M in sales revenue.”
The psychological impact of specificity, is significant.
If the position is entry level, you’ll want to focus on soft skills, such as experience in public speaking, volunteering and other sales-related activities.
Part 2: Preparation
Other questions you can plan for in the same way, and which must be prepared for include:
- Will you do the job well?
- Will you stay?
- Will I like working with you?
- Will you be a problem?
Again, all of these questions can be planned and prepared for in advance. Use the Power of Specificity to prepare your answers for each.
Another key to success is figuring out what others in the group are likely to say and coming up with something different and more importantly, better.
For example, some variation of “Why do you want to work here?” is inevitable. The answer should offer specifics that demonstrate that you have thoroughly researched both the company and the position.
Be ready to discuss specifics, especially “Corporate Soft Skills” such as the company have been recognized for its Diversity & Inclusion or philanthropic efforts.
Part 3: Practice
Finally, you want to practice saying what you’re going to say until it comes out naturally and with confidence. Also practice with three people or even three stuffed animals so that you get used to making eye contact with more than one person.
Plan. Prepare. Practice. Do these three things and you will stand out in a group interview.
Michael Mercer, Ph.D.
You stand out more when you wear nice attire. In comparing attire of applicants, interviewers will compare your good attire to other applicants who did not dress as nicely as you.
Compliment other applicants
After another applicant says something good, give a compliment, such as “That’s a good idea!” or “Good point!” Giving compliments shows you are a nice person who takes actions to make people feel good being in your presence.
When an interviewer asks a question, start your answer by saying something like “Wow. Good question” or “I was hoping that topic would be brought up.”
Your compliments make the interviewer feel special – and you may well be the only applicant who makes the interviewers feel special.
Offer to help other applicants
If an applicant is having a hard time with their chair or coat or something, step out and help that applicant in a kind, caring manner. That brightly shows you can work well with others plus take initiative.
Director of Operations, MyCorporation.com
We do not conduct group interviews. Rather, we prefer to conduct interviews on a one-on-one basis with the candidate and a member of HR.
A member of the department that may be working or managing the potential hire may also be present for the interview. That being said, candidates have shared their experiences with me about being in a group interview.
There are a few ways candidates may stand out during these interviews:
- During a group interview, it’s important to be respectful of others. Do not interrupt another candidate that is talking or speak over them when asked a question.
- Answer each question you are asked thoughtfully, whether it is a question you are personally asked or asked as part of the group.
- It is is also important that your answer is not exactly the same as other candidates. If there is a group interview in progress and the interviewer asks a question, consider the answers that other candidates give. Do not copy their responses.
A good example of this would be the question ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ If a group interview is asked this question and all respondents reply ‘I’m a perfectionist.’ it could raise red flags for the interviewer. Be honest, be thoughtful in how you answer questions and be yourself.
Founder, Search Pros
Group interviews can be challenging, you are already competing with the others to stand out, being in the same room as them can make it more difficult. However, this can become an opportunity to make yourself stand out when approached properly.
- Arrive early. You must first arrive early and greet everybody in the room, including the other interviewees.
- Be confident and speak up. The most basic thing to remember is to be confident and speak up, being outspoken, and being prepared to answer questions can make the interviewer see potential in you.
- Listen attentively. This is a time to take the lead, but also be inclusive by being attentive to whatever the interviewer is asking, it is important to listen as much as you are talking.
- Remember to always be polite and also speak to the other interviewees. By setting yourself up as different from the rest, the interviewer will see that you have the potential to be an asset to the company.
Head of HR | Co-Founder, Zety
Be respectful of your competition
Show the recruiters you’re all about fair play and portray yourself as a team player. Respect others in the room. While you should stand out and own the recruiters’ tasks, let others speak when it’s their turn.
You’d be surprised how many candidates come to interviews unprepared. Know the names of recruiters and research what the company does. Prepare a few personalized statements and questions showing your real interest in the company.
Speak loud and with confidence. Respect answers from your competition but have your own opinion and hold your ground. Actively participate in discussions. When you give valuable insights, you show how you would contribute to work at this given company.
In order to stand out in a group interview, make sure to observe the following tips:
How you dress is how you represent yourself. Wear clothing that will show the interviewer that you mean business and that you are someone who takes his or her job seriously.
Observe your posture and your manners
Don’t slouch, don’t put your elbows on the table, don’t sit with your arms crossed, and make sure to give the interviewer a smile from time to time. Avoiding these typical mistakes will surely give you an edge over your competition.
Confidence with humility
Speak slowly in order to be able to process your thoughts more carefully, and don’t be too overly self-promotional. Interviewers don’t like those who are oozing with self-confidence. Promote yourself, but don’t forget to keep your feet on the ground.
Manager, PEO Companies
People tend to mistakenly think that just being the loudest person in the room or talking the most is what is going to make them stand out. Well, it will, but in the worst way. It’s not the impression you want to make on your interviewers.
Give importance to your choice of clothing
In an environment like this, you want to come prepared. That starts at home, through your choice of clothing. The boring suit won’t do in this instance, and you’re better served by picking out something that is still conservative and respectful, but that has a bit of color and personality.
I always recommend adding an accessory that shows your personality and is memorable, without being inappropriate. That way, you will stand out in a sea of grey suits.
Be thoughtful and thorough with your answers
Your answers should always be thoughtful and thorough, in any interview, but perhaps even more so in this instance.
Really consider the questions and how you can make them your own – answer them in your style and reflecting your beliefs, experience, and personality. They will hear a million bland, perfunctory answers, so anything that strays from the norm will be memorable.
Asking questions is incredibly important for a few different reasons
First, people usually don’t ask questions. That already puts you in the lead by differentiating yourself and taking the initiative to seek more information or ask for details.
Second, you are showing that you are actually genuinely interested in this position. You want to know more, you care about their answers.
Third, this is an opportunity to raise their interest and attract their attention to you specifically through intelligent, well-asked questions that can reveal a lot of experience, skill and knowledge.
Especially if you feel like there’s something you haven’t had the chance to talk about yet but that will impress them, try to include it subtly in a related question you are asking them.
Founder and CEO, Invisible Culture
In a competitive hiring environment, standing out among other candidates requires more than similar skill sets. Skills are necessary, but not sufficient to what the experienced hiring manager will be looking for. Being able to do something well is no longer enough.
Most HR professionals know that those who demonstrate the potential for competency development for continued expansion of knowledge, skills, and attitudes are ideal.
The areas in which a candidate can shine during an interview process include showing the capacity of:
Multi-cultural competence which shows you have the flexibility to style switch, problems solve, survive under ambiguous circumstances, and still hang onto your unique identity and value systems.
Comfort with ambiguity
This is important because employees will be looking for people who can navigate the current uncertainties of the business landscape.
This is essential because those who can see the world through multiple-perspectives are better able to communicate intent more accurately, interpret the “office” environment from a perspective that allows for more solutions.
People who speak multiple languages will also most likely have had to problem-solve across multiple perspectives and accept that people are all different. This is a good clue to someone who will come to the table automatically with more than just their technical skills.
Recruitment Solutions Specialist, Adria Solutions
These are three of his top tips for group job interviews:
It’s important to look professional and give a good first impression, even if the dress code of your job does not involve dressing up. Office dressing codes have changed a lot in the last years, but some people pay loads of attention to this.
Speak concisely and clearly so that everyone can understand you
Consistency and clarity are vital when you have to communicate and interact with other people.
As I mentioned, first impressions matter. If you come across as a happy person, people are more likely to remember you. However, if you look grumpy and miserable, others may not like the idea of working with you.
I once read that, when you cause a bad first impression, it can take someone five meetings to get over that negative first impression. If you don’t want that to happen to you, do your best to seem nice, happy, and professional.
Remain calm and keep being pleasant
I’ve given and have participated in group interviews. I try not to surprise prospective hires with them, but many interviewers do. If this is the case for you, do your best to remain calm and keep being pleasant. That’s one of the things the interviewer is looking for.
This kind of interview is usually given when the candidates are applying for a front-facing job. The interviewer needs to know they can handle unexpected stress and pressure with a smile on their face, all while having to interact with other people.
The “trick” is to not ignore the other candidates
Don’t just zone out and only pay attention when you’re asked a direct question. Understand why each candidate is being asked something and why they’ve answered the way they have, then give a unique answer when pressed.
Digital Marketing Executive, Platform 81
Ask unexpected questions
One way to stand out is to make an impression on the interviewers by asking questions that position you as very invested and interested in working for that company. Questions that sort of project you in that role already, such as:
- “What would the successful candidate look like?
- “What would my typical day at work look like?
- “What advice could you give me in order to fit in well with the team?”
- “If I was working at this company, what sort of career progression could I expect?”
Engage with the other candidates
Showing an ability to adapt to your surroundings (group interview) may show the interviewer that you are flexible and happy to come out of your comfort zone when necessary.
Appearing confident in groups and interacting well with other people that you never met, yet competing against will definitely show some leadership qualities and a great ability to be part of a team.
Tom De Spiegelaere
Founder, Tom Spicky
Know what you came for
Don’t come unprepared and forced when applying for a position. Be sure that you have done your research about the company, the work and position you’re vying for, and the type of candidate they would want to hire.
Being presentable and knowledgeable for a first impression might be a little thing, but it will be a big thumbs up for them.
Embody your principles
As some new in the eyes of the authorities, you have to present an identity. Set your agenda for the company and stick with it.
Be direct to the point and fight for the position with courtesy and determination, believing you aren’t just any other candidate.
The company should need you
While you may be applying for a job as you need it, be there because they need you more. For instance, mention your advantages and skills that you think your competitors won’t be able to say.
Provide feasible ways to evoke engagement and camaraderie if ever you are hired. This way, you are allowing yourself with a great edge among the others who also compete for the same spot.