The pros and cons of group interviews
In any time-poor business, it makes sense to be as efficient as possible. Group interviews can be seen as a way to do just that, but there are factors that require careful consideration. SEEK Insights & Resources explores the pros and cons.

IT company Extreme Networks has conducted group interviews for over eight years. Managing Director, James Eling, says the small business, which now employs 19 people, initially moved to group interviews to decrease costs associated with the hiring process. “We are big fans of group interviews,” he says. “We usually have four of our team and up to 10 candidates. The group interview follows a phone interview and is followed by a technical interview and those shortlisted will then have a final interview.

“Hiring is one of the most important things we do to build our business and group interviews are a big part of that.”

Yvonne Walker, Managing Director of bespoke consultancy HR with Ease, says group interviews can be very useful but employers should apply caution before they jump into running an interview with multiple candidates at the same time.

The PROS of group interviews

1. Seeing teamwork in action

“The major advantage of a group interview over an individual interview is that you can observe behaviour, instead of taking what the candidate tells you on face value,” says Walker.

While most candidates will say they are good team players, a group interview can highlight those who may lack collaborative skills. Walker suggests that group interviews involve an activity where candidates need to work together to solve a problem as they would in a business situation.

2. Gain valuable insights into the candidate

Depending on the type of personality you want to employ, group interviews can be a great way to assess each candidate quickly. “Group interviews can give you insight into how individuals respond to and treat others, how aware they are of their impact on others, how confident they are speaking up in unfamiliar (and perhaps stressful) situations, and their willingness and capacity to take the lead,” says Walker.

It’s important to be attentive to dynamics between candidates – are there any competitive individuals whose aim is to win at all costs, or an individual who interrupts or talks over others?

While Eling largely moved to group interviews to decrease the cost of running the interviews, he says an unforeseen benefit is seeing the interaction between candidates in a competitive situation. “Some candidates make it very clear that although they answer their questions really well, their reaction to other candidates indicates that they would be a poor cultural fit in our company and unlikely to be good team players,” he says.

3. Spotting potential leaders

Depending on the activities chosen, group interviews can help uncover budding leaders. “People with a consultative leadership style can come to the fore,” says Walker. “Not only in sharing their views but seeking those of others, listening respectfully and using all information to come to a workable solution.”

The CONS of group interviews

1. Extroverts can steal the show

Group interviews tend to favour extroverts and dominant personalities can override situations where two or more candidates are vying for one position. “Be careful not to overlook people with excellent team or problem solving skills who just don't feel as confident to speak up in an artificial group environment,” says Walker.

Sam Nutbean, a senior consultant with Kingfisher Recruitment agrees, saying the group interview process can daunt some job-seekers. “This can affect the calibre of candidates that agree to attend a group interview,” he says.

2. Only useful for certain positions

Nutbean says while group interviews work well for customer service positions, time-poor businesses need to be wary of conducting group interviews for every vacancy they have. “Small business employers need to be mindful of not using group interviews for all positions,” he says. “There are some which require minimal contact with the general public, for example back of house administration support, such as data entry and finance positions. I’m sure interviewing accountants in a group situation would be interesting, but not very successful.”

3. The selection panel needs high-level skills

Although the actual interview time may be quicker than if you were individually interviewing candidates, the planning and preparation time needed for a group interview can be extensive. Conducting an interview with multiple personalities can be tricky and your panel of interviewers needs strong skills in managing a group of competing applicants.

Hints and tips for successful group interviews

  1. Use group interviews only in roles where teamwork and team problem-solving are critical to success.
  2. Use a group interview as one of the steps – not the only one – in your hiring strategy.
  3. Ensure your panel has the skills to manage multiple and competing personalities.
  4. Plan the structure of the interview carefully, so that candidates have equal opportunity to share their skills and experience.