Group interview technique becoming popular at more hiring levels

Job candidates accustomed to preparing for one-on-one interviews with staff and managers may soon find themselves confronted with the "panel interview," especially when the hiring firm is looking for people who work well in a group setting. The group interview is the ultimate stress test and some prospects get no warning before they have to interview with several individuals at the same time, The Wall Street Journal reports, so job seekers should get ready for this type of interview as part of their search preparation. Many of the steps candidates should take to prepare for the panel interview can also help them to be successful in the one-on-one interview.

Long popular in the academic world and government, the group interview is being used increasingly by larger firms today because it is efficient, generally fair, and easily identifies people who can work well in a group setting. Interview panel members are accountable to each other, job-emplyment-guide.com says, and can make their decisions based on the same context. For the job seeker, the interview takes less time and gives the applicant an opportunity to see how the individuals in the group actually work together.

When the candidate is told that he or she will be interviewed by a panel, the candidate should find out as much as possible about the names, titles, and levels of authority of the panel members, the Journal says. Try to find out how long the interview is likely to last and what questions and key issues might be raised.

It is essential to break through the formality of the interview as soon as possible says Ruth Haag, a management consultant and CEO of Haag Environmental, a hazardous waste cleanup business in Sandusky, Ohio, according to the Journal. "Show how friendly and important you are . . . Shake everybody's hand. Look everybody in the eye. And sell yourself really hard."

Be prepared to offer anecdotes about your experience because this "puts you on conversational terms with your interviewers, and gives you a much-needed breather between the questions thrown your way," says Sanjay Sathe, head of RiseSmart, an online job-search service.

Observe the group dynamic, and take note of how the interviewers introduce themselves and the seating arrangements, as a way of knowing who is the most influential person in the room. These kinds of observations helped Kara Dyer, a candidate for an internship at a Chicago management consulting firm in 2006. One manager never smiled and "sat with his arms crossed," she told the Journal. "I took extra care answering his questions and looked at him a little more."

The stress level of the group interview is very high, particularly when there may be disagreement among the interviewers themselves about a possible approach to a hypothetical problem. But from the potential employer's point of view, the panel interview is valuable because it shows how the candidate handles stress and interacts with different people holding different ideas, best-job-interview.com says.

"You're not always going to be on the same page with everyone in the room," says Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways, a New York nonprofit organization, according to the Journal, but "you can disagree without being offensive."

Nothing is more important, however, experts agree, than maintaining eye contact with each interviewer as much as possible. The candidate should sit where he or she can see each interviewer and avoid facing a bright window that might force the candidate to frown, says Marilyn Machlowitz a New York recruiter.

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