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How to Conduct Effective Group Interviews

How to Conduct Effective Group Interviews

A regular one-on-one job interview can be nerve-wracking for both participants, but things can get even more stressful once you add more people to the mix. Plus they take longer because more people want to talk.

Maybe that one guy from marketing has a scowl on his face cause he doesn’t think he even needs to be here. The HR chief and the CFO keep stumbling over each other to ask questions. The poor candidate, who may be a perfect fit, now feels uncomfortable and may not accept an offer. It can be a hot mess, but it doesn’t have to be.

To find out how you can conduct effective group interviews, we reached out to Heather Kinzie, director of consulting services and a partner at The Strive Group, a management and HR consulting firm in Anchorage, Alaska. Kinzie facilitates and leads many group interviews as part of her consulting work. Here’s her advice to make them as smooth and effective as possible.

Pick the Right People

Think about the position you’re trying to fill and decide who needs to be in the room for your group interview. Kinzie says she likes to mix it up while making sure everyone will be a great representative of your organization. She recommends having a few key stakeholders: someone above the incoming candidate, someone the candidate would supervise and someone from a separate department, if feasible. “Most positions now aren’t siloed, and a mix of internal and external customers can add additional perspective,” she says. She also recommends a mix of male and female participants and having an odd number of people in the room.

Make Sure Everyone Knows Their Part

Kinzie says she likes to begin this with some role identification among those who’ll be participating in the interview. She recommends always including these four roles:

  • Facilitator: This is the role Kinzie says she takes when working with clients. “My role is to keep it on time, ensure no one goes off on a tangent and that no one asks any questions about (or that the candidate doesn’t reveal too much about) race, religion, age or similar information. If any questions or answers go down this rabbit hole, I’ll stop the flow of information and bring us back on track,” she says.
  • Observer: Kinzie says this role is ideal for someone new to interviewing or for a bashful person. This person does not speak beyond introducing themselves. They don’t take notes. They simply sit back and observe. They note body language, poise and level of comfort. The facilitator can give them pointers beforehand on what to look for.
  • Note-taker: The sole job here is to take notes. This person doesn’t engage with the candidate; they only save the information for use later. The notes don’t need to be verbatim, but as close to it as is reasonable, Kinzie says.
  • The Talkers: This is everyone else in the room, who will engage and ask questions of the candidate. They can take notes, but should mostly be focused on talking with the candidate. These people should include someone from leadership, a direct report and maybe one other person. “There should be someone asking questions who has enough expertise to call a bluff from the candidate,” Kinzie says. Behavioral or competency questions should be split up so that the candidate has to speak to everyone rather than just one person.

Set the Right Scene

Next, consider the setup of the room. Try to use a round or oval table to avoid anyone being at the head. And whatever you do, avoid what Kinzie calls the “firing squad” setup with everyone from your company on one side of the table, facing the candidate. “This kind of power trip is intimidating and rude,” Kinzie says. “There’s no reason for it.”

Another tip: Provide water and a copy of the candidate’s résumé for all participants.

Get to Know Each Other

Kinzie suggests round-robin introductions for everyone to say hi. Then the facilitator takes over for a moment to explain the roles of everyone in the room — letting the candidate know that someone will be observing, taking notes and so forth.

Ask all the questions and ensure the candidate shares the information they need to share. “If the candidate has questions at the end, let someone from the appropriate department answer them,” Kinzie says. For example, if the question is about benefits, let the HR representative answer; if it’s about scheduling, the direct supervisor can handle it.

Share Your Thoughts

After the applicant has left, have a quick debrief with everyone in the room. Make sure the note-taker has the information he needs. Help him clear up anything he didn’t quite get. When that’s handled, Kinzie says, go around the room and ask if anyone wants to add anything to the notes. Someone may respond that they loved or hated a particular answer and why.

Lastly, Kinzie recommends asking whether people want to change anything in the process before the next interview. You may all agree as a group that question No. 5 isn’t giving you any good information. You can drop this one before the next interview takes place.

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