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Questions to Ask in a Group Interview Beyond the Initial Interview

This is a situation when you are paraded into a room with four or five people in a conference room. The idea here is to save time and have a bunch of people interview at once. This situation can be treacherous. Suffice it to say that this situation may be more than an interview. It can be a political game and you might be the pawn in a one-upmanship game.

There is not much you can do about this scenario except to do your best. You will normally give a presentation about yourself, be asked a few questions, and then, maybe, be given the opportunity to ask questions yourself.

This is a bit tricky, but experience has taught me that you don't have to be compelled to ask questions here. If you don't ask questions in the one-on-one interviews, you probably won't get hired. But the group interview setting is different. Asked if you have any questions, you might say, "Most of the questions I have had have been answered by (hiring authority). The others I have would be best in a one-on-one conversation."

If you think it is smart to ask questions in this situation, and it will make you look better as a candidate, ask nonthreatening questions that are not personal. Asking five people, "Why do you like working here?" won't be good. Generic questions that show you have done your homework are good. Some examples:

I learned that your competitor is coming out with a new product to take away market share from you. Are there plans to counter that effort?

You all have a high customer satisfaction rating. What has been the key to that?

In talking (interviewing) with your competitors, they say (something really positive) about your company. How have you managed to get the competition to feel that way?

I noticed in your annual report that profits were up 25% over last year. What is the major contributor to that?

What are the major business issues that keep you awake at night?

This is one of the best "group" of interview questions you can ask. It makes people go inside themselves and think about the answer. I guarantee you, not one in a hundred candidates is going to be as perceptive and wise as to ask this question. The answers you get from the group will create an atmosphere of a conversation rather than an interview.

You can think of many more when the situation arises. Notice that all of these are positive questions that force fairly positive answers. I wouldn't recommend that you bring up anything negative in a group setting. It is too easy for people to get defensive, not only with you, but with each other. The last way to get hired is to start a small civil skirmish. So, something like, "I noticed that you have lost money the last three years and your debt to equity ratio is way out of kilter. What's up with that?" is not a smart question.

If the group you are interviewing with is only two or three people, you can be less careful about what you ask. Two or three people is more intimate and personal. When the group gets bigger than that, there is a totally different dynamic. Two or three people in a group is intimate enough for you to ask the same kind of questions that you might ask an individual.

If the group is larger than three people, a "political" dynamic takes over. Each interviewer is not only trying to interview you but also trying to show his or her peers how smart he or she is. You may be a person in a group ego game. If this happens, ask broad, general questions that are safe to answer. Asking why the sales department didn't perform well is not smart—it gives other departments room to criticize the sales department. Questions around such topics as "What does the future hold for the company?" "What kind of growth might be expected?" fit better.

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