Re-Engineering the Group Interview

There are instances where some of the most vital solutions can be found in their weaker or more contradictory forms.

There are instances where some of the most vital solutions can be found in their weaker or more contradictory forms. Such instances bring us to question our presumed understanding of certain solutions, and to suspect that perhaps the clarity of these solutions are merely pixilated illusions of a more complex and heterogeneous form of potential. These instances also tempt us to imagine what might happen if we viewed the distinctive components of certain solutions—form, function, and usage—in opposition to how we understand them as a collective whole.

Recently, a candidate assessment team that I worked with experienced something along these lines when considering the possibility of conducting a group interview.

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The Problem with the Group Interview

The group interview model has many flaws and contradictions. It was designed to provide insight, yet operates with built-in blinders that misdirect focus. Its aim is to accurately filter-out unfavorable candidates, yet its means of seeing unfavorable candidates is disproportionately and unintentionally more focused than its means of seeing favorable candidates. Its usage acknowledges the fact that a significantly wide spectrum of candidate potential cannot be represented within the pages of a resume. Yet, the representation and assessment of candidate potential is reduced to mere minutes of self-serving verbal performance. It inadvertently takes competitive verbal performance as an indicator for real collaborative work performance (a contradiction and mismatch). It favors extroverted and competitive performance, yet fails to recognize the fact that individual levels of competitiveness and extroverted/introverted behavior varies according to circumstance and environment. Although most professionals know that the quality of brilliance (in thought, work, and general productivity) sometimes manifests itself inconspicuously and during the stillest of moments, the screening for this potential is evaluated in a verbal arena-like context: a setting which has nothing to do with what it attempts to draw out.

In a nutshell, the group interview aims to measure certain qualities using the wrong tools and in the least favorable time-frame and setting.

What We Did

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Ironically, when my assessment team was tasked with interviewing multiple candidates for leadership positions, we decided that the group interview, despite its deficiencies, was the tool par excellence to accomplish everything that it was not designed to do. Of course, we had to re-engineer it.

Change 1: Contrary to the group interview’s time-saving format, we actually lengthened the interview time by several hours, wagering that a longer duration would save us the time and cost of having hired the wrong people.

Change 2: We added a three-week research and preparation assignment—a collaborative workshop project involving every candidate–to be presented, implemented, and assessed during the group interview. This gave each participant the opportunity to create leadership-based projects at their own time and pace, which in turn encouraged careful and creative thought in a non-urgent setting (something closer to a “real” work scenario). We were also able to assess the quality of work presented, given that each candidate had plenty of time to create their project.

Change 3: Each assignment required candidates to address, within strict time limits, several management issues at varying capacities, and to have their assignments implemented across multiple “hypothetical” staff competencies (to gauge how well they can handle working with a diverse staff). This process allowed us to gauge each candidate’s skills in communicating, delegating, and managing specific tasks in a timely manner.

Change 4: Each presentation required an extensive degree of collaboration. Reversing the group interview setting from a competitive to a collaborative one allowed us to see how each candidate performed as a team player as well as a leader.

Change 5: Each candidate was then required to critique each other’s presentation. Although the focus may seem to be pointed toward the candidate being critiqued, the real focus was on the candidates who were giving the critique. We wanted to assess how effectively they gave criticism, in terms of both meaningful content and delivery, as well as respond to criticism.

In the end, our group interview was exceedingly productive as it was also highly though less-conspicuously competitive. Instead of having the candidates compete directly with one another, at the expense of losing the opportunity to gather more meaningful performance-related data, the competitive sphere was transposed to the realm of preparation, ingenuity, collaborative effort, and communication. In other words, “real” work performance in a micro-arena. Of all the people we hired, only 1% did not make it through, and the retention rate for the remaining employees was 100%.

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