When I was President of the Virginia Education Association (2008-2012), I often sat on the side of the table with individuals who were responsible for bringing new people into our organization. We took that responsibility very seriously. Making the wrong choice is expensive not to mention heart-wrenching for all parties concerned. We couldn’t always avoid making mistakes, but there were certain attributes and characteristics that made some candidates stand out and shine compared to their counterparts convincing us to take a chance on them.
Here are 5 ways that you can make the right impression and stand out in a group interview.
Related: 4 A’s For Acing The Group Interview
1. Demonstrate that you have done your homework on the job and the organization/company.
More often than not, if a candidate failed to show that he or she had done their due diligence and knew more than the passing person on the street about who we were, what our values were, and what our mission was, they were eliminated early. I can clearly recall one individual who was the perfect candidate for the open position on paper—but he blew the interview because he had failed to research us so that he could speak plainly to the challenges we were facing. Failing to do your homework on the company or organization and the position for which you are applying is unacceptable.
Want to make the right impression? Know the names of the decision makers in the company. Understand the job beyond the job description. Demonstrate that you have taken more than the 30-minutes before the interview to learn about the company or organization, and you know what it does along with what it values. That extra effort will make the right impression on the members of the group who are sitting before you.
2. Dress the part.
I am an admitted a bit of a fuddy-duddy about appearance, so it will come as no surprise that I think we live in a day of casual attire that has run amok completely. Don’t fall into the false trap of feeling that you should show up for your interview the way you might be expected to dress for the job. Gentlemen, please wear a clean suit or nice dress trousers with a conservative blue blazer. Your tie should be understated, and your shirt should be clean, crisp, and either white or light blue. You can dress with flair after you get the job, not before.
As for ladies, wear a suit or nice dress that isn’t too short and doesn’t have a low neckline. Pumps are optional, but shoes should be well polished and not overly worn. Open toes and sandals are not recommended. Stockings may be optional depending on the time of year, but I would recommend that you err on the side of caution and wear them. Makeup and hair should be done but not over-done, and the same goes for jewelry. Got a nose ring? Leave it off for the interview unless you are applying for a job where such an accessory would be an asset…and you know what that might be, I suspect. Understated and professional, however, is the look I would recommend for most junior executive positions or even entry level business openings in a more traditional company.
3. Arrive on time with the right materials in hand.
Being late is not acceptable. Don’t know where you are going? Then go early and find the building. If you get there an hour early, then go to a Starbucks or local eatery to hang out and prepare a little more. Don’t arrive for the interview itself any earlier than 10-15 minutes. Be prepared to wait. There may be others ahead of you, and the panel may be running behind. The materials you should bring with you include extra hard copies of your resume on nice paper, business cards, and a portfolio carrying a legal pad upon which to write notes as you need to.
Bring your questions written out, as well, for later in the interview. Otherwise, you run the risk of forgetting the questions and wishing you had written them down. If you are asked to prepare a presentation, make sure ahead of time that all of the equipment you might need for it will be available. Don’t assume anything. Ask to make sure that you will have what you need to make your presentation shine.
4. Demonstrate good manners and excellent interpersonal and social skills throughout the interview from the moment you walk in the door until you leave.
Social grace is something you may need to practice, but you cannot afford to underestimate its value when you are in an interview, especially when it is a group interview. In a group or panel interview, you are trying to impress anywhere from 4 to 10 or 12 different people who will have different expectations and will be looking for various things. You need to handle the pressure with as much poise and grace as possible. Look everyone in the eye but use eye contact appropriately. Being too intense can be off-putting as much as letting your eyes flit all over the room and above the heads of the members of the panel.
The same goes for an appropriately firm handshake. Practice if you aren’t sure about the quality of your handshake. Use the pressure you would use on a doorknob of a closed door. Grip slightly, but not too hard. Release and move on. Shake the hand of every person—man and woman—in the room. Make eye contact while shaking their hand. If you are good with names, try to remember them as they are introduced to you. If not, don’t fret. They really won’t expect you to remember all of them, especially if it is a large group. You do want to remember the names of the most prominent leaders in the group, however. While answering individual questions, don’t just look at the person who asked the question (although you want to look at them while they are asking it), but look at each member of the group around the table while you answer the question.
5. Be prepared to ask quality questions at the end.
Believe it or not, it isn’t just the questions that you answer that are important in your job interview, but it is also the quality of the questions that you ask that can separate you from the pack. Demonstrate that you have done your research, and you understand exactly what the job entails…or ask about parts of the job description that you aren’t quite sure about…to show that you are a cut above the average candidate. From back in my days as a member of the interview panel, we were always most impressed with the candidates who asked us excellent questions, and that does not include when are vacations and what is the salary range. Questions about the more challenging aspects of the job or what qualities or characteristics a successful candidate would need to demonstrate to be successful in the job are the types of questions that will make you different. Those questions demonstrated that we were talking with someone who had done their homework.
Group interviews are hard on you because they can be nerve racking. You will feel that you are juggling many balls in the air at once, and the truth is, you are. Some jobs require them, however, so you need to learn how to manage your nerves—and your social skills—during a group interview. You want to leave a lasting impression, after all, and you want to make sure that it is a good one.
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a former educator turned Career Transition and Job Strategy Coach specializing in working with teachers who are experiencing the painful symptoms of job burnout. She also works with mid-career professionals from all walks of life who find themselves at a career crossroads either by chance or by choice. Learn more about Kitty at TeachersinTransition.com or at Boitnott Coaching.com.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.
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