Careers advice

How to prepare for a group job interview

How to stand out from the crowd.

Last updated: 20 June 2023

What you'll learn:

  • What to expect in a group job interview
  • How to prepare for a group job interview
  • How to interact with other candidates in a group interview

In New Zealand, you’re most likely to encounter a job interview where you’re the only candidate in the room. However, group job interviews still happen, and they’re often quite a different dynamic. After all, you’re in the same room as the very people you’re competing with to get hired.a job interview

So, why do employers conduct group job interviews, what sectors are you more likely to encounter them in, and how should you prepare for these scenarios? Read on for answers to all of these questions and more.

What is a group interview?

In a group interview, you should expect there to be multiple candidates present at the same time, facing the same questions from an interviewer, or a panel of interviewers. You’re much more likely to come across this set up in sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism than you are in professions like accounting, law or business, where 1:1 interviews are used pretty much exclusively. You might also encounter group interviews for call centre or customer service jobs.

In particular, if you’re applying for a short-term seasonal role, it’s not uncommon for employers to opt for group interviews. These businesses are typically looking to sign up multiple staff for similar roles quickly, and so a group interview is an efficient way to find hires simultaneously.

It’s important not to confuse a group interview with a panel interview. Panel interviews involve multiple staff from the organisation, rather than multiple candidates (although you can have group interviews that involve a panel of hiring managers as well).

How do group interviews typically work?

Depending on how the hiring manager prefers to run things, group interviews typically involve one of two overall approaches. Either, they’ll ask one question and go around the group and get everyone to answer it individually, or they’ll target specific questions at specific candidates.

It’s also common for the interviewer to ask the candidates to divide into groups and ask them to work on a task or a problem together. For example, in a call centre interview, you might be asked to divide into groups and discuss how you’d deal with a very unhappy customer who’s received the wrong product and is threatening to discontinue patronising your business. These types of behavioural interview questions are very common in group interviews, and serve a double purpose. Firstly, shockingly, they want you to come up with a good answer that shows that you would know how to deal with this situation. However, just as important, the interviewer is interested in how you interact with the others in your group. This will give them a good idea of the strength of your soft skills, which are important both to how you’ll work with your colleagues, but also to your customer service skills in roles where this is important.

Group interviews can be daunting, but your preparation will be much the same as for a 1:1.

How to ace a group interview

1. Research and prepare

The good news is that a lot of the preparation you should do for a group interview is very similar to what you’d do for a normal 1:1 interview. You absolutely need to:

  • Read up on the company: check out their website, social media pages and any information they might have sent you.
  • Prepare answers to common interview questions: as well as the behavioural type questions we’ve already discussed, you should prepare answers to common NZ job interview questions.
  • Consider what you’ll wear: based on what you know about the company, choose a job interview outfit that you think will suit the company’s vibe.

2. Arrive early

We always recommend arriving at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, no matter if it’s a group or more standard job interview. However, we think this is particularly important when you’re going to be in an interview with other candidates.

Running late is never a good look, but imagine you burst into the interview waiting room and everyone else is already there, looking calm, collected and ready to go. This is only going to make you feel more nervous, and put you on the mental backfoot from the start. So research your commute carefully, build in some time for you to get lost and arrive with a few minutes to spare.

3. Prepare a self introduction

One of the things you can bet you’ll have to do during a group interview is to introduce yourself to everyone in the room. We highly recommend you give some thought to this beforehand, rather than trying to wing it on the spot.

In this self-introduction you should provide:

  • Your name
  • Where you from (if you want to share this)
  • Which role you’re applying for (if there are multiple on offer)
  • A very brief history of where you’ve worked before.

It could also be the case that the hiring manager might ask you to add in extra details, such as where you saw the role advertised, and why you want to work for them, so it’s a good idea to prepare a couple of sentences on these topics as well.

The trick with these self intros is to get the timing right. You don’t want to mumble a couple of words and then clam up, but equally you don’t want to go on forever and put the whole room to sleep. While it will depend somewhat on the situation, we'd aim to speak for around 30 seconds to one minute.

You need to contribute well, without over talking.

4. Strike a balance between contributing and listening

You neither want to be the person who says nothing nor the person who answers every question and doesn't allow anyone else to speak.

There’s a real art to this, and don’t get sucked into playing by other peoples’ rules. If there’s one person who feels the need to always have an input, we don’t recommend getting into a competition with them. Chances are this person might be getting up the interviewer’s nose. And, if you start doing the same, you’ll be drowning out everyone else, which isn’t a good look.

When it comes to group interviews, it’s the quality, rather than the quantity of what you say that matters. If you can chime in relatively consistently with well thought out points, this is going to serve you far better than talking for the sake of talking. That said, it’s good to be the first person to answer a couple of questions, if the interviewer just throws them out for anyone to answer. The last thing you want is for the interviewer to feel they need to coax answers out of you because you aren’t contributing voluntarily.

You also want to show that you’re a good listener, as this is a core soft skill. So, when other people are talking, don’t only concentrate on what your next contribution will be, or even worse drift off into space, but listen to what they’re saying. You can show you’re doing this by nodding along where you agree (although, make sure to keep this natural) and looking at the person who’s speaking, rather than staring out of the window.

5. Don’t put other people down

As you’re in direct competition with the others in the room, you might be tempted to jump in and knock statements they make that you disagree with.

Generally speaking, this is a bad idea. If someone says something that’s genuinely poorly informed or wrong, the best thing to do is let that hang there for the interviewer to pick up on. If you use this moment to laud your knowledge over them, this is firstly uncool and makes you look bad, but also distracts the interviewer from the mistake your competitor has made.

By contrast, if someone says something that you really agree with, and if you have something worthwhile to add, don’t be afraid to jump in on the back of their statement. We don’t mean find the most intelligent person in the room and just continually say “I agree with Kev” whenever they speak, but being supportive of the others shows that you’re listening, and that you value other peoples’ opinions.

6. Ask great questions

One of the ways to stand out in a group interview is to ask intelligent questions yourself. There will typically be an opportunity to do this at the end of the interview, but the interviewer may say they’re happy to take questions throughout.

If the interviewer asks if anyone has any questions, we’d advise trying to get yours in early. In a group interview, there’s always the chance that someone else will ask the ones you’ve prepared before you do, so make sure you beat them to it.


Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.