How to Handle a Group Interview and Live to Tell the Tale

Business people tableBy Chere Estrin and Carla Haney, CP, MBA

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the all-important interview. Now it’s time to take a deep breath, give yourself a little pat on the back for your success to this point, and get to work. If you’re heading to a panel or group interview, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

One-on-one interviews are challenging anyway, but when you add multiple interviewers with different personalities, perspectives, and candidate requirements, it’s a whole different ball game. You’ll have to prepare in more detail, work harder to develop rapport with each of your interviewers, and convince each of them that you’re the best person for the job; and you’ll have to do it all at the same time.

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Before going to an interview, it’s important to know three things: the company/firm, position details, and the interviewer(s).  

When researching the firm, find out its size, number of offices, reputation, practice area(s),and most significant cases and clients. Don’t forget to consider logistics. Know exactly where the firm is located, parking options, whether the building has security that you’ll need to go through, and where the office is located within the building. The internet is a good place to start looking for information, but don’t forget to check with your network to find out valuable tips about the type of person the firm likes to hire.  Inside information is always the best way to go.

 Get real about your qualifications. Understand precisely why you are the right person for this particular position so you can effectively present yourself as the best candidate.  When researching interviewers, LinkedIn can be a great resource.  If your interviewers have public profiles, check them out. Your goal is to gather information to help you develop rapport, so you should look for aspects of their backgrounds that align with your own. Your network can also be a great resource; if you know anyone who has worked with your interviewers, hit them up for information, too. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to come across like a stalker.

Work your knowledge into your conversation(s) in a casual way that demonstrates your high interest in the firm and that you did your homework without making your interviewers think they need a restraining order.

 Tip #2: Dress for Success

If the question is “should I wear a suit?” the short answer is “yes”. The long answer is “yes”, too. The interview is your opportunity to show a prospective employer the best, most professional version of you, so even if you’re interviewing with a firm that is uber casual, a suit is typically the way to go.

Stick with dark (black, navy, or dark gray), solid colors and stay away from shiny materials. Avoid heavy cologne, large jewelry, and bulky handbags or briefcases. Look professional  but don’t wear anything in particular that the interviewer is going to zero in on. You don’t want the interviewer to focus so much on your Jimmy Choos that she forgets all of your outstanding skills.

 Tip #3: Knock Their Socks Off!

Group interviews are used to save time and to test your ability to interact with others. They’re tougher than one-on-one interviews because you have to knock everyone’s socks off at the same time. But there are some things that you can do to wow a group. 

When responding to questions, be concise; don’t give long-winded answers. It’s also important to include all of the interviewers in your answers. One person is likely to dominate the questioning. Look around the room at each interviewer when responding. Sometimes it is the quiet one has the most hiring authority.

 It is very important to answer the questions asked of you. Pay attention and ask questions to clarify; make sure you understand the question before answering. That said, make the points you want to make. Don’t let the interview proceed as though it were an interrogation; don’t get intimidated because there are so many interviewers. Ask questions, make points, and sell your unique skills and amazing personality.  Stay on track, don’t wander off.

Part of the screening process is to see how well you react to the rigors of a group interview. Most legal positions require those who are skilled at maintaining calm under pressure. Maintain your sense of humor, don’t get impatient or thrown by different styles and personalities, and always be genuine.  If you don’t know the answer, don’t bluff.

 Sales seminars stress the fact that the greatest compliment you can pay someone is to say their name; people just love hearing their names. Be aware of the firm culture, however. Don’t automatically revert to a first-name basis if the firm is very conservative and call each other “Mr.” or “Ms.” Say each person’s name when you meet and again when you leave, at the very least.

 At the conclusion of the interview, don’t forget to smile, thank the interviewers  and reiterate your interest in the position.  Your thank you letter should also go to everyone who interviewed you.  Don’t leave anyone out as that person may have been the very one making the final hiring decision.

Carla S. Haney, CP, MBA is a consultant and freelance paralegal based in San Diego, CA.  She is the Career Services Director for UCSD Paralegal Program and co-author of the new edition of The Successful Paralegal's Job Search Guide (Prentice-Hall).