Group Interviews, Part 1 

The estimated reading time for this post is 2 minutes

I’ve turned to using group interviews when filling a position in my department, and I would recommend the approach to anyone else.  In comparison to individual interviews, group interviews are so much richer, and yield deeper insight into how a person will actually function as part of a team.  I also get to learn how candidates may act under a type of pressure that is more common than the individual interview type of pressure: the demands of teamwork and collaboration.

The depth and complexity of a group interview can be seen a simple visual representation of the number of interpersonal connections in a group. If you have a panel of three people (A, B, & C)  and one candidate (Z), you have the possible following interactions:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.08 PM

You potentially have interactions between A-B, and A-C and B-C, but as interview panels, we are not supposed to engage with each other, and generally endeavor to attend to the interviewee rather than to each other.

There is also the factor of time. If you have five candidates with 30 minute interview slots, you see 3 interactions each thirty minutes, or fifteen sets or types of interactions over a two and a half hour time span.

The group interview approach presumes quite a bit, so let me be clearly presumptious: content in an interview is not as important as the delivery.  In Santa Ana Unified, we have a saying that the application and interview process is about “Skill, Will, & Fit” with the understanding that the “Skill” of applicants is largely determined by the paperwork that candidates submit.  In other words, if skill is not apparent in the application paperwork (meaning relevant experiences, coursework, or accomplishments), then it’s unlikely that a candidate will make it past the paper screening. The in-person interview phase serves to determine “Will” and “Fit.” “Will” is addressed by the question of “how bad does this person want this job?” and “Fit” is addressed by the question “to what degree is this person a match for the site/department/team in question?” To reiterate, questions of will and fit may not be simply or only be determined by matters of skill; will and fit come through loud and clear in a host of signals that we take in through nonverbal communication, such as timing, tone of voice, eye contact, responsiveness, etc.

Let’s diagram out the relationships and potential interactions in a group interview. If the five candidates are V, W, X, Y, and Z, we see (in my homemade chart below), the same fifteen interaction sets between the panel and candidates (on the left) plus ten additional interaction sets between candidates (on the right):

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.56.57 PM

That equals 25 possible interactions (one way interactions, with the understanding that a word, phrase, question, look or other interaction between A and Z, and Z and A count only once), in one hour, rather than 15 interactions over two and a half hours.

This is what I mean by the richness, depth and complexity – the number of possible interaction sets or types is more than double and in less than half the time. What do you end up seeing?  Simply put: A lot more in less time.

Check out Part 2, where I explore group interviews further.


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Coordinating 21st Century Learning in Santa Ana & beyond. I practice art through photography. I raise funds for clean water with Team World Vision.

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Coordinating 21st Century Learning in Santa Ana & beyond. I practice art through photography. I raise funds for clean water with Team World Vision.

One thought on “Group Interviews, Part 1 

  • September 8, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Interesting concept to use for interviews. This is exactly why counselors choose to do small group counseling versus one on one for some issues. The possible interactions and topics that arise are far from the planned group curriculum and goals that the counselors can prepare. Making the discussion and time spent in group so much richer and complex that one on one counseling. I’m going to remember your group interview idea next time we seek to fill a counseling spot, perhaps I can share it with the site administrator.


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