Group Interviews: A Good Way to Weed Out the Weak or a Cheap Way to Make Candidates Sweat?

When I applied for my first job during college, I stopped by the retail store I was hoping to gain a position at to pick up a paper application (dating myself a bit there), filled it out in the mall food court, and, to my delight, got a call back within a day of dropping it off. At the end of the phone screen I was asked to come in later that week for a group interview, and reluctantly agreed.

Despite wanting the job, I had never truly done a job interview at that point (my first and only job so far in high school as a lifeguard, they hired on the spot if you could pass the class), nonetheless a group interview. The next week found me sitting in a small stockroom of a retail store, in a folding chair next to four other women, and across from two of the store managers. Though I ended up getting the job, I remember nothing positive from the group interview experience‚Äîin fact, it felt impersonal and purposefully uncomfortable.

As I think back on my various job interviews since that point, this one continues to stick out in my mind like a sore thumb. I‚Äôve never had another group interview, so I give them the benefit of the doubt that perhaps this one was just particularly terrible and they‚Äôre not terrible things as a whole. But, even stepping outside my own experience, I‚Äôm not sure if group interviews truly accomplish what an interview should accomplish.

The purpose of an interview.

Interviews are meant to allow the hiring manager and the candidate some time to get to know each other. The hiring manager can pick the candidate’s brain and hear all about their experience and why they want the job, and the candidate can show themselves off and get answers to any questions about the company/position they need.

Of course, as a hiring manager you can “bat” the candidate around a bit. Your job at that point isn’t to make them as comfortable as possible, but you also shouldn’t go out of your way to make them more nervous than they already are. That’s a surefire way to turn candidates running and screaming away from your organization.

With all that considered, let’s look at the top three pros and cons of group interviews in the context of the purpose of an interview.

Pros of group interviews.

  • They‚Äôre efficient. You‚Äôre getting to talk with more interviewees at once, letting hiring managers cut down on time to hire.
  • You can compare candidates in real time. Rather than doing multiple interviews and trying to remember what you liked about each interviewee, you can leave one interview and have them all top of mind.
  • You can get a good feel for how candidates handle pressure. With a candidate‚Äôs need to really stand up and make sure they‚Äôre heard in a group interview, you‚Äôll see how well they live up to the pressure of it.

Cons of group interviews.

  • You don‚Äôt get a chance to go in-depth with anyone. Unless you‚Äôre planning on doing a multi-hour interview with the group (which, if saving time is your goal, I‚Äôm going to assume you‚Äôre not) there‚Äôs no chance to ask those really nitty gritty questions and get to know the candidate deeply.
  • You may not be getting the best gauge of a candidate‚Äôs personality. When literally stacked up against the competition, a candidate may be overly flustered and you never get to see them relax and act as they normally would.
  • Candidates may opt out of the hiring process because of it. And then there‚Äôs always the fact that a candidate may be turned off completely by the idea. Even if they decide to come in for the interview, if it goes poorly, that may be the last time you see what could have been a great candidate.

Verdict? In my opinion, cons outweigh the pros here. It seems to me that what you’re losing out on in group interviews as a hiring manager isn’t worth the gains you’re making (which really just amounts to time saving). Unless you are just trying to make your candidates sweat, give the courtesy of an individual interview.

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