You Don’t Have to Dominate A Group Interview To Stand Out

I always find group interviews interesting because it’s obvious that the employer is testing our strengths and weaknesses in a real-life work setting. As someone who does better one-on-one, I’ve taken notes on what employers really look for when interviewing you in a group setting.

From my experiences, I’ve found that the goals of a group interview are:

  • To see how you work in a team
  • To see if you’re a leader
  • To see how you present / speak in front of an audience

As long as you’re meeting these expectations, I’d say don’t get nerve-wracked about everything else. The point isn’t to stand out — the point is, ironically, to see how you flow with others, while still having unique qualities about yourself. In your effort to collaborate with other people, that in itself will make you stand out.

How you work in a team

It is so easy in group situations — when you feel like you have competition— to try and dominate the conversation or situation.

It’s rare that an employer is attracted to those who dominate and don’t allow for others to take a turn. Dominating — such as always answering the questions, speaking over others, and not listening to others when they speak — is not a sign of leadership. It’s a sign of self-centeredness and power-hungriness — two things an employer often isn’t pleased to see. Not only are you showing them you can’t work in a team, you’re showing them you can’t work under a superior. People in power do not like to feel like their orders will be ignored!

To make space for others while still looking good, you speak when it’s your turn. You allow for others to share their ideas. You actively listen to others. You respond to other candidates appropriately.

During a recent group interview, I learned something new from the way another candidate responded to the rest of us. One thing she did was compliment other people’s ideas. Specifically, she used the word “I appreciate” like: “I appreciated that Nardine shared her experiences about kids because it helped make our product better.”

When she complimented me, it not only made me feel good, it demonstrated to the employer that she’s able to step back and allow other people to shine. Hell, she was shining the light on them herself! That shows that she’s confident and can encourage others’ work, which is good for a team setting.

Be a leader

That candidate who complimented others reminded me of what it means to be a leader.

In a group setting, a leader isn’t the person who speaks the most. A leader is one who facilitates good work and illuminates others’ strengths by creating a welcoming environment.

During the same recent group interview, I was put in a team with other candidates to solve a scenario. It was pleasant to find that we were all very good at working together and listening to each other’s ideas. No answer was wrong or judged. Further, nobody tried to take control of the situation. Instead, each of us gently guided the groups’ efforts. For example, instead of turning someone’s idea down, I would say, “I like that idea a lot! Piggybacking off of that, what do you guys think of…”

In other words, gently guide, don’t force yourself on the steering wheel.

A leader is one who facilitates good work and illuminates others’ strengths by creating a welcoming environment.

Practice your presentation skills ahead of time

To ease the nerves of speaking in front of a group, especially during an interview, I usually practice some common interview questions ahead of time. I slip some work examples, situations, and experiences in my back pocket. This is to prevent myself from being unprepared to answer a question, which further leads me to ramble unnecessarily. I’ve learned that saying less but meaning more makes a difference. It’s not how much you say, but what you say that makes you memorable.

Some common questions I’ve encountered in all interviews are:

  1. Why do you want to work for this company?
  2. When was a time you came across conflict in the workplace and how did you handle it? (This could be conflict with a co-worker or client).
  3. How do you handle a stressful, fast-pace work environment? What do you do to cope?
  4. Give me one example where you initiated something that benefited others.
  5. Give me one of your weaknesses (you should also prepare how you’ve OVERCOME this weakness and what you’ve done to improve).

Sometimes, having an outline in my head of how any answer should look helps me. An answer should have: a background (what, who, where, when), a specific example, and a reflection on that example. If I talk about my work with kids, I should have a specific example of a certain kid that I’ve worked with, and what I’ve learned from that interaction that has improved my work now.

MINI TIP: If an employer asks you if you have any questions for them at the end of the interview, ALWAYS ask a question. This shows them that you’re invested enough to care. You can ask what a typical day will look like for your position, whether you will have a close mentor to work with, what team you might be assigned to, etc.

It’s not how much you say, but what you say that makes you memorable.

I could go on and on about interviews, what I’ve seen and what I wish I hadn’t seen (such as when an interviewee answered a question whilst staring at their shoes the whole time).

What I’ve recognized the most though, which has helped alleviate the anxiety going into an interview, is that I must be myself.

This is not a Dr. Seuss quotable or a new idea, and is pretty contradictory when I’ve just been tossing advice left and right. I get that oftentimes we are trying to do or be anything if it means we’ll get the job. But if you’re genuinely looking for a good fit for yourself, I’d say be yourself when you can.

This means it’s okay to engage in casual conversation with an employer when appropriate. When you first meet them and shake their hands, for example, a simple “How is your day going?” can go a long way. Not only do they see that you’re confident and friendly, you might get a sense of what the employer is like and how they might treat you on a typical day.

And just remember: we’re all just seeking human connection. The person interviewing you is also human.


- Dr. Seuss

stories from my cluttered closet.

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