Group interviews should be illegal. Okay, maybe that’s extreme, but they certainly are cruel and unusual. The application process sucks, no matter what it is you’re applying for, but group interviews are on a whole other level. I’ve luckily only been on a few, but those have been enough for a lifetime.
My first experiences with group interviews were while I was still in college. My freshman year, I applied to become part of the on-campus EMS at my university. In my second round group interview, my group and I had two minutes to choose four out of seven people to survive a hypothetical plane crash. We then stood in a line facing the panel of interviewers. My question: Who was the weakest link? I refused to answer– I found it cruel and not at all constructive. The interviewer said that I had to, so I said that I was the weakest. After the interview, several people in my group, still shaken from the experience thanked me for not throwing them under the bus. Some of those who thanked me were selected, while I was not.
The whole experience felt like some strange mix of a 1960’s psychology experiment and an early 2000s reality tv show. Interviews are already challenging for having to constantly monitor how you’re communicating with people you don’t know but want to impress. Fighting for talking time while controlling your tone and interacting with a whole group of people was substantially harder. I managed to stay true to myself and keep some perspective about the situation even when I was in it, which is definitely what I’d advise anyone going into that situation to do. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t get accepted and I don’t regret how I acted.
About six months after graduating from college, I had my first group interview in the real world. It was the first round interview for a junior editing position. I went in feeling good– the position was entry-level and I felt that my experience lined up pretty well with the job description. However, as my fellow interviewees showed up in the waiting room, I was one of the youngest in the group. The other applicants seemed over-qualified, with years of professional experience, much of it directly related to the open position. Their being in the same room as me seemed like a bad sign for the job market in my city, and I imagined how they must have felt to be in the same interview with someone as young and inexperienced as me.
I did well in the interview, which I know because I got a second interview and because I watched as other interviewees floundered. They didn’t look at others when they were speaking, or they spoke for far too long. I had prepared for the interview and wanted to do well, but seeing the others vying for the same position made me aware of how we could not all get what we wanted. In a competitive setting, like a group interview, it’s easy to see people as more or less than they are, holding all of the power or none at all, but regardless of power in that specific situation, they’re still only human.
The key to surviving a group interview is recognizing everyone’s humanity. Your fellow interviewees are not lions about to rip you to shreds– they’re nervous and earnest and just doing their best. You are not just an applicant or a curriculum vitae, you are a whole person and will continue to be regardless of the outcome of any interview.