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How to Handle Panel or Group Interviews

By Laura DeCarlo

Tapping the Hidden Job Market (PULL)The concept of group interviews -- or "cattle calls" as I like to call them -- is not new and seems to be used frequently by airlines, chiropractic practices, and of course, reality TV show casting.

These interviews are typically save time for the employer. The hiring manager, potential co-workers, and other managers may participate at the same time.

When all candidates are in the same session they are all asked the same questions, which offers some consistency when evaluating which job candidate "performed" better than the others.

These interviews also offer insight into how the job candidates handle group interactions, meeting multiple strangers, and the stress of this kind of situation -- thus the term "audition" is often applied.

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What Is an Audition/Panel/Group Job Interview?

Audition / Group interviews typically occur in 3 different ways.

The smartest approach is to ask questions when the interview is scheduled to learn what kind of interivew they are planning and the names and job titles of the employer staff members who will be attending.

If you don't know for sure what will happen, be mentally prepared for any of these 3 scenarios:

  1. Multiple interviewers interviewing multiple candidates - relatively rare, except for customer service jobs, sales jobs, and other jobs requiring the ability to interact confidently with many strangers.
  2. One job seeker interviewed by several interviewers (sometimes called a "panel" interview).
  3. Several job candidates being interviewed by one interviewer.

Fortunately, the last 2 are the most common.

If you succeed in this interview, you will typically be invited to participate in an interview where you are the only candidate.

In this case, the interview is referred to as an audition, which seems common enough, but employers like Cold Stone Creamery and Southwest Airlines have elevated it to an art by evaluating issues that most job seekers would otherwise ignore.

Quite simply, everything a candidate does and says, from the minute they apply or are contacted to the end of the group interview, is being scrutinized.

How to Handle Panel/Group Job Interviews

Paying attention, operating with courtesy and professionalism at all communication points, and recognizing that everything you do or say will make an impression about you, are the critical elements of success in this type of interview.

  • Be your best self -- friendly and confident.
    An ideal start is usually with a firm handshake, a smile, and a "Nice to meet you, [their name]" statement when you are introduced. If introductions are not made, try to make your own as gracefully as possible.
  • If you and the other candidates are sitting together before the interview starts, introduce yourself, and be cordial to them, too.
    More than one job may be filled, and you aren't necessarily competing with all of the candidates there.
  • Make a note of everyone's name, including the other job candidates, and address each by name throughout the interview.
  • Be polite and professional, answering questions (and asking your own).
    If another candidates interrupts you, respond appropriately, and then complete your answer without being rude. Be cautious about disagreeing with another candidate's response to a question. Know-it-alls aren't usually appreciated, unless they are absolutely correct.
  • Answer confidently.
    Don't be too cautious about answering quesetions offered to the group, but don't be rude to other candidates if they are present.
  • Focus most of your attention on the members of the employers staff.
    Pay attention to all of the interviewers, if there are more than one.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer when answering their question with quick glances at the other interviewers if more than one interviewer is present.
  • If other candidates are present, pay attention to their answers, demonstrating your interest in them and the whole process.
  • Take advantage of any one-on-one time to make a contact that may allow you a point of reference for follow up and next steps.

Be courteous and professional with everyone (this can even include other drivers or other users of public transportion on your way to the interview). You never know who is reporting on your behavior, from the receptionist to the parking attendant to VP of recruiting. And, of course, always follow up with your thank you notes/emails.

So, how common are group interviews when interviewing for a job? In a recent poll conducted by Career Directors International as a part of their annual Career Industry Expert Trends, a whopping 34% of surveyed human resource professionals worldwide stated that they had used or planned to use this type of interview.

Bottom Line

It’s important to realize that the companies in the Career Directors International survey who had used or were planning to use group interviews were not limited to transportation industries. The industries using this method can be as broad as medicine and counseling, so everyone should be prepared to compete in live groups for their next job.


About the author...

Laura DeCarlo is recognized as the career industry’s ‘career hero’ making a difference to both job seekers and career professionals as the founder of Career Directors International. She possesses 11 top-level certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and career management; 7 first place resume and job placement awards; and has written three books on interviewing and job search including Interview Pocket RX, Interviewing: The Gold Standard, Resumes for Dummies,and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Twitter at @careerhero.


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Guide to Successful Interviews

Essential Job Interviewing Requirements:

Questions for YOU to Ask Them (or Not)

Navigating the Interview Process:

Succeeding at Different Kinds of Interviews:

Steps to Prepare for Your Interview:

More Information About Successful Interviews:


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