4 Hazards of Group Interviews

Because I’ve written a book on hiring best practices (Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer), I receive emails out of the blue from executives considering a shift in their recruiting strategy. This one is from a hiring manager in Kalamazoo, Michigan followed by my thoughts on his strategy:

One of the ideas I’m thinking about trying is the concept of a ‘group first interview.’ I got the idea from a couple of business owner friends, and they reported great success with it.

The process begins with an invite to all respondents to a local hotel for a two-hour group interview with the first hour being a presentation by our team on our company values, culture, job description, expectations, salary range, etc. Then there’s a short break with an opportunity for anybody who feels that the job is not a fit to leave with no questions asked. I’m told that typically as many as 50% of the candidates leave.

The second hour is for those still interested to be asked behavioral questions by our staff and to take a personality profile test. After that meeting, our staff gets together and identifies those candidates that impressed enough to warrant a second interview, and at that point the interview process takes a more conventional one-on-one approach.

I think the pros to this approach is that there’s much less time spent on the first interview process. Another plus is that you may get to see character traits and personalities that you may not have otherwise seen just by reading resumes. Have you heard of this approach and what are your thoughts?

On the surface, I certainly see the pros in this — being more efficient, focusing less on resumes, and focusing more on if the candidate is the right fit. Those are all solid hiring principles.

But I have four major concerns about this interview format:

Article Continues Below
  1. Don’t have the group interview be the only entry point to your interview process. You need to accommodate candidates who can’t attend your group interview. For example, a sales rep who recently accepted my company’s job offer was required by his previous employer to work six days a week including evenings, and he didn’t want to take vacation time during his interview process with us because his wife was eight months pregnant. We conducted all his interviews on Thursdays only. We’d have missed out on this outstanding candidate if we weren’t flexible with his first interview.
  2. This format will turn off candidates who are conducting a discreet job search. My company doesn’t hold employment open houses anymore because several candidates told us they were interested in our company but didn’t want to be seen by a co-worker (or their boss!) which could jeopardize their current employment. A couple years ago, a well-known local TV newscaster applied for one of our jobs and for her sake we held all her interviews when nobody else was in our office. If we would have forced her to attend a group job interview, the other candidates might have been asking for her autograph.
  3. I’m concerned about presenting company culture and values at the start of your hiring process. My company doesn’t overtly state those attributes until near the end of our hiring process for a couple reasons. First, we don’t want candidates trying to tailor their answers to fit our culture. Second, by not telling them about our culture up front, we’re testing their intellectual curiosity, their initiative to ask questions about culture and values, and their ability to perceive a situation. We care a lot about culture, and we want to hire folks who care about culture as well. By not describing our culture, we see when the candidate has a chance to ask questions if they care about culture or do they not bother to ask.
  4. Group job interviews might achieve the business outcomes of your hiring process, but you’ll strike out on achieving appropriate emotional outcomes. No matter how strong certain candidates are or how obvious their lack of qualifications, you want every candidate to feel certain emotional outcomes. The No. 1 emotional outcome is each candidate feeling your company is professional. At my company, we tell our receptionist the name of each candidate and when they’re scheduled for an interview. Each candidate is greeted by name, offered a bottle of cold water or a cup of hot coffee, and waits (not for long) on a comfortable chair in our lobby. Candidates voluntarily report to me how impressed they are that every employee who walks by smiles, says hello, and asks if they’re being taken care of. Compare that emotion with the “cattle call” group interview where you sit with a dozen or so other candidates for a one-size-fits-all presentation. Which company would you feel is more professional?

Please don’t view my concerns as me trying to nicely say “avoid group first interviews.” I don’t know the position, your company, and your local job market well enough to know if this could work for your organization. But beware of the pitfalls of group job interviews.

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to http://www.HireLikeYouJustBeatCancer.com.


12 Comments on “4 Hazards of Group Interviews

  1. Jim,

    Excellent article. The points are spot on, and I want to commend you on your directness and brevity. Some writers on this site would have turned this into a 10-pager.

    I would add to your excellent points that this interview format is intended solely for sales candidates, primarily commission-sales candidates. Given that there would likely be 5 or more interviewers, and likely 10 or more candidates, there is not sufficient time to ask nultiple quality questions, especially behavioral questions, of all candidates. In all cases, there will be limited info gained in this interview. The reason it works for sales candidates is because interviewers are generally looking for people who are engaging, assertive, and can easily display genuine interest. Those attributes shine brightly in a group setting where they can easily be displayed. Trying to use this interview format for other positions will (not “can”, but “will”) result in losing out on potential winners. In general, group interviews of any type are full of pitfalls many interviewers don’t consider, or ignore. But, that is the subject of another conversation…

    Great article, Jim Roddy!

  2. Jim C: Thanks for adding your comments and thanks for the kind words. I wish I would always embrace brevity when I communicate. 🙂

    Carol: Thank you!

  3. I would also add that group interviewing can add biases that need not exist. In my career, I have seen several companies miss out on excellent candidates, ones that the hiring manager wanted to bring on, because one person in the group “didn’t like” the candidate. In one case, the manager was forced to fire the candidate that DID get the job, and came back to use to see if the initial candidate was still interested. She had moved on and wasn’t interested. Group interviews can be beneficial, but going for a 100% consensus can make the hiring process unnecessarily difficult and lengthy.

  4. Elias: You make a good point about someone not liking a candidate; however, if a company has thoroughly aligned talent and business strategies and put together a solid, objective method to assess candidates the problem you describe will be minimized greatly or even removed.

  5. The company may think it is a great way to interview but this method almost guarantees that they will not get A+ candidates. A+ candidates are unlikely to sit in on a public ‘weedout session’ (which is what that really is). Many candidates view a public interview as a demeaning process for desperate people – not a courting process for A level candidates. Lots of candidates have refused to attend these types of interviews at the few clients I have that tried them. I am sure they will get some hires that way, but they are likely costing themselves the best people.

  6. @ Brian W: well-said, With thed possible exception of the sales candidattes mentioned above, this type of group interview aka “cattle call”, is IMHO the WORST possible interview format you can do.


    Keith “Not a Cowboy” Halperin

  7. Great points about the downsides of using group interviews in the hiring process. The point you made about making an emotional connection with potential employees was definitely key. You want to make sure you have a one-on-one with a candidate to start building a relationship, even before they become an everyday employee. Whether this solo interview is in person or using online video interviewing, make sure you give the candidate your undivided attention.

  8. I found this page really interesting. I just had a job interview for sales/marketing and it was really hard to tell who stood out and if I did well. It wasn’t very in depth and I feel like I didn’t get the chance to make myself appeal to them. I was very involved in the interview process and I noticed a lot of eye contact was given to me when I walked in and throughout the interview. I made the interviewer laugh and we had a small conversation but so did the other three applicants. I am so nervous thinking about it how can I tell if I was successful with such little interaction with the interviewer?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *