4 Hazards of Group Interviews

Jul 18, 2012

Because I’ve written a book on hiring best practices (Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer), I receive emails out of the blue from executives considering a shift in their recruiting strategy. This one is from a hiring manager in Kalamazoo, Michigan followed by my thoughts on his strategy:

One of the ideas I’m thinking about trying is the concept of a ‘group first interview.’ I got the idea from a couple of business owner friends, and they reported great success with it.

The process begins with an invite to all respondents to a local hotel for a two-hour group interview with the first hour being a presentation by our team on our company values, culture, job description, expectations, salary range, etc. Then there’s a short break with an opportunity for anybody who feels that the job is not a fit to leave with no questions asked. I’m told that typically as many as 50% of the candidates leave.

The second hour is for those still interested to be asked behavioral questions by our staff and to take a personality profile test. After that meeting, our staff gets together and identifies those candidates that impressed enough to warrant a second interview, and at that point the interview process takes a more conventional one-on-one approach.

I think the pros to this approach is that there’s much less time spent on the first interview process. Another plus is that you may get to see character traits and personalities that you may not have otherwise seen just by reading resumes. Have you heard of this approach and what are your thoughts?

On the surface, I certainly see the pros in this — being more efficient, focusing less on resumes, and focusing more on if the candidate is the right fit. Those are all solid hiring principles.

But I have four major concerns about this interview format:

  1. Don’t have the group interview be the only entry point to your interview process. You need to accommodate candidates who can’t attend your group interview. For example, a sales rep who recently accepted my company’s job offer was required by his previous employer to work six days a week including evenings, and he didn’t want to take vacation time during his interview process with us because his wife was eight months pregnant. We conducted all his interviews on Thursdays only. We’d have missed out on this outstanding candidate if we weren’t flexible with his first interview.
  2. This format will turn off candidates who are conducting a discreet job search. My company doesn’t hold employment open houses anymore because several candidates told us they were interested in our company but didn’t want to be seen by a co-worker (or their boss!) which could jeopardize their current employment. A couple years ago, a well-known local TV newscaster applied for one of our jobs and for her sake we held all her interviews when nobody else was in our office. If we would have forced her to attend a group job interview, the other candidates might have been asking for her autograph.
  3. I’m concerned about presenting company culture and values at the start of your hiring process. My company doesn’t overtly state those attributes until near the end of our hiring process for a couple reasons. First, we don’t want candidates trying to tailor their answers to fit our culture. Second, by not telling them about our culture up front, we’re testing their intellectual curiosity, their initiative to ask questions about culture and values, and their ability to perceive a situation. We care a lot about culture, and we want to hire folks who care about culture as well. By not describing our culture, we see when the candidate has a chance to ask questions if they care about culture or do they not bother to ask.
  4. Group job interviews might achieve the business outcomes of your hiring process, but you’ll strike out on achieving appropriate emotional outcomes. No matter how strong certain candidates are or how obvious their lack of qualifications, you want every candidate to feel certain emotional outcomes. The No. 1 emotional outcome is each candidate feeling your company is professional. At my company, we tell our receptionist the name of each candidate and when they’re scheduled for an interview. Each candidate is greeted by name, offered a bottle of cold water or a cup of hot coffee, and waits (not for long) on a comfortable chair in our lobby. Candidates voluntarily report to me how impressed they are that every employee who walks by smiles, says hello, and asks if they’re being taken care of. Compare that emotion with the “cattle call” group interview where you sit with a dozen or so other candidates for a one-size-fits-all presentation. Which company would you feel is more professional?

Please don’t view my concerns as me trying to nicely say “avoid group first interviews.” I don’t know the position, your company, and your local job market well enough to know if this could work for your organization. But beware of the pitfalls of group job interviews.

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