By Mark Feffer
Team interviews are tough, but they can be decisive.
In IT, where so much work gets done in a team environment, they’re an effective way for employers to make sure a candidate will fit into their overall dynamic and culture.
Team interviews allow a number of people to weigh in, instead of relying on HR and the hiring manager alone. And, they give a good idea of how a person performs under pressure, because it’s not easy to face the challenge of questioning by a number of people at once.
Of course, it’s a different thing if you’re the one who’s under the microscope. “Pressured” and “intimidating” are two words that come to mind. Rather than focus your attention on one person, you have to focus on several. Questions can come fast and furious, allowing little time for you to gather your thoughts. Your approach may resonate with some people, but not others.
The team interview is a test of your ability to stay focused, calm, and on-message.
Although your success with any interview depends in large part on your preparation, planning ahead is especially important when you’re facing a group. Here’s a survival guide.
Whether the interview is being set up by HR or a hiring manager, find out who’ll be participating and try to get a sense of the role they play at the company. Then research each individual by looking them up on the corporate website, on LinkedIn, or by conducting a Google search.
As you gather information, consider the dynamics of everyone’s job and what their concerns might be. For instance, a project manager may want to know about how you organize your work while a senior developer is more interested in whether you’ve kept up with technology.
As you do your research, be on the lookout for organizations each interviewer might belong to. You may discover you have common interests, or even shared contacts who can give you some additional background on the person.
You can prepare for the unique pressures of a team interview by rehearsing. Ask several of your friends or family members to sit down with you at the same time and to alternate asking questions so you can get used to shifting your focus from one person to another. Be sure they mix up topics so you have to switch mental gears.
Practice engaging with several participants at once. While you can’t predict exactly what the dynamics will be during the actual interview, you can at least get yourself ready to maintain several threads of conversation and meet the demands of multiple people.
One of your challenges during a group discussion is to connect with everyone in the room. So be sure to give each interviewer equal attention, and resist the temptation to focus on any one person.
Begin your answers by addressing the person who asked the question, but then make eye contact with others as you continue. When possible, make points of interest to several people by including examples tailored to their different concerns. You may not be able to “touch” each person during each answer, but over the course of the interview you should make everyone feel like they’ve been an equal part of the mix.
Try to understand who are the influencers in the room. A hiring manager is bound to rely on some people more than others, and, if you can identify those people, you can take care to address their hot-button interests.
As in any interview, pay close attention to the questions people ask and the points they make. Doing so will give you a sense of their interests. Here’s where you have to be careful, though. Don’t focus on influencers at the expense of other participants. One thing you never want to do is make someone feel slighted.
Whether it’s a group or individual discussion, no interview is supposed to be an interrogation. It should always be a conversation, with each side learning about the other’s strengths, weaknesses and skills.
Besides helping you get a sense of the interviewers’ knowledge, asking questions shows them that you’re engaged and curious. Plus, a group interview provides you with an opportunity to get a sense of the company's culture and dynamics. So be sure to ask questions about the workplace as well as technical subjects and the company's business. You can often get a feel for how the group works together by observing their reactions to each other and how they interact.
Though it’s hard not to feel intimidated when you’re facing several people, remember that you’ve already impressed managers with your credentials and experience. Do your research up front and be ready for the challenges of group dynamics, and a team interview becomes a straightforward discussion among peers that you can navigate with confidence.
Mark Feffer has written, edited, and produced hundreds of articles on careers, personal finance and technology for leading business and career sites. He is currently writing for JobsinME.com, JobsinRI.com, JobsinVT.com and JobsinNH.com, the top local resources for job seekers, employers, and recruiters in New England.