Leadership

Team interviews: Good or bad?

When interviewing for a job, how do you feel about the team interview? Would you rather meet everyone at once or go through individual meetings with everyone?

When interviewing for a job, how do you feel about the team interview? Would you rather meet everyone at once or go through individual meetings with everyone?

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Yesterday, I wrote about a TechRepublic member's experience with an interview that ran longer than he'd anticipated or planned for. This sparked a memory for me of a place I used to work that conducted "team interviews."

For the purposes of the company doing the hiring, a team interview is meant to give people who will be working with the candidate the chance to vet him or her. It's done mainly to ensure culture fit.

For the job candidate himself, it can be an intimidating experience. If you're meeting with a team of people in one room at one time it can seem like the Nuremberg trials.

We were a young company with no HR department, so the managers were setting up the interviews themselves. After we saw the face of the first job candidate who wasn't expecting the group thing, we made sure we informed them of what to expect when setting up the initial meeting.

I've always wondered, though, from a candidate's point of view, which type of interview would be more uncomfortable. Would you prefer a series of one-on-one meetings that might keep you on the premises for a good portion of your life, or get it all over with at once with one group of people who are firing questions at you like you're doing the oral defense of your dissertation?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

36 comments
No User
No User

forget it. Each person represents a different interest and typically a different department which makes it a joke. Usually they each only have limited time for the interview which makes their participation pointless. When you have the marathon sessions people who are not talking lose interest and go into I need to sit here and look attentive mode and end up conversing with Walter Mitty or falling asleep with their eyes open. In the first place what would folks from a variety of interests have in the hiring of a person in a department other then their own? I have had a couple team interviews with all IT folks and in both instances they argued with each other over the answers given to their questions. It gave me the distinct impression that they were so unsure of themselves that they had to have a committee vote on everything so that no one person could be held accountable. Once I was given a screen shot from Unix and told that everyone who uses Unix knows what this is and if you have used Unix then you have seen it and asked me to tell them what I thought it was. It looked like a page from the middle of a readme file. My response was you have got to be kidding and I thanked them for their time and told them that I had another engagement and ended the interview. They sat their awe struck with their mouths open speechless. I wish that I had a picture it was priceless. I prefer one on one and certainly no more then two on one. How can you get a feel otherwise? The more people involved the more confused it gets and the interviewers compete with each other. People have different points of view and want their answer. I have never felt intimidated in those interviews I have learned to simply kick back enjoy the show use it as practice and write it off. Entirely to much emphasis is placed on culture and I have found that unless it's a bad environment that office culture is more a case of perception then reality.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I have gotten every job that had a "team" interview attached and for the most part they were attached to a bunch of "group think" drones with no originality. The last one however was different. When the HR person and the team leader started to mention a round of "visits" I told them I didn't do "team" interviews and still got the job. I told them I didn't do "politically correct" interviewing and saw a hint of relief in their eyes. I said if their professional opinion was worth so little in the eyes of their team then I was in the wrong place.

father.nature
father.nature

Have been on both sides of the table, and have found that as a candidate I have an opportunity to impress my potential peers and/or set limits on what I will and will not do as a professional. I may get a good job or lose an opportunity for nightmares, depending. As a team member I have a chance to help weed out those with the potential to make my life miserable if they're hired. HR does not and cannot know everything a team is looking for. I do appreciate knowing in advance that a team interview is scheduled.

engeld
engeld

It depends - there are pros and cons to both. When I was laid off, I liked the one-on-one interviews for the following reasons: 1.) You can focus your attention on the one interviewer, which gives you the opportunity to read their body language. In doing so, you can tailor your responses or expand on an answer you just gave based on their reactions. 2.) It is often held in the office of the interviewer. This allows you to observe the interviewers personal space, giving you some incite into who they are. For example: If their office neat or cluttered may tell you whether they are anal or disorganized; do they display a lot of personal items or photos may indicate they are family oriented (work-life balance); Photos or personal items may indicate if they have any hobbies, such as a picture of interviewer holding a fish or a golf ball clock. If you liked fishing or golf also, you could mention it in passing (show common interests) When I am interviewing while employed, I prefer the panel interview. The simple reason for this is scheduling time away from work - it is easier to schedule one interview for however long it may take, then two or more interviews, since they generally do not happen on the same day.

jonsaint
jonsaint

that's for sure. I am in a Business Analyst role presently which requires a lot of interpersonal contact and fact-dredging. If I wasn't an extrovert I would not like what I do very much. I was asked to prepare a technical presentation on a topic of their choosing. The presentation and follow up questions was the whole interview. It took about four hours. I got to know the members of the team who turned out to be my work unit. After the presentation, each member was primed with specific questions from a script so there was no domination by one loquacious/pugnacious individual to darken the tone of the meeting. I enjoyed the process, which was all new to me, but I can see that introverts would have been in a coma before the session was up. Question for the group: what do the non-North American correspondents on Tech Republic think of this topic? I'm guessing this higher stress type of employment interview may not be culturally acceptable?

mdiaz
mdiaz

I know team interviews really work for some employers, but I would want NOT want it to be Them on one side of a table, me on the other. That happened to me once, and it was horrible. I did not feel comfortable with it, and was not told it would be one of me and about 10 of them. I was told I would meet with a few people on the hiring committee. To make matters worse, I thought it was a benefits administrator job, they were actually interviewing for a community relations minority outreach/benefits admin person. WTF?

lenwarren
lenwarren

I arrived for a team interview and there were 9 people in the room, I decided then I didn't want the position, too many indians and no Cheif.

ray.ann
ray.ann

...but not for the company. I've done this many times on both sides of the table. I'm talking about the ee meeting with the "team" of their potential peers. If the boss is there, it wrecks the whole thing. Still some benefit to the ee, but very minor. The idea of a team interview may have intimidated me as a young worker, but now (years later) I would jump at the chance. Now I know how to bond quickly with people - young, old, male, female - who do the same work I do every day. This is the best way for a clever ee to learn the real culture of the company, the downside of the job, the possible deal breakers. You can ask questions of HR and management forever and never hear the truth. The only bad thing for the ee is if some on the team don't like you and you get hired anyway, they are difficult or impossible to win over once you start working. I used to swear by this technique as a hiring manager, but now I can't think of any way in which this is a good deal for the company. It creates all kinds of problems and the results are terrible!

cavlosnap
cavlosnap

I've been interviewed by teams of up to 14 at a time. It is no big deal once you get the hang of it. The first item is to pick who is really the team leader; it may not be who they say it is. Next is to pick out who the important dudes are and who is just there for the coffee and cakes or free lunch. Give yourself 10 minutes or so by then you should have a feeling for where the interview is going and if you really want to become an item with the company. If you feel the interview is going nowhere then you can either hone up your interview skills on the committee or just work to conclude the interview as quickly as possible. I always did a postmortem on every interview to pick out my mistakes and develop strategies to avoid them the next time. Oh yes, don't forget to tell the committee where to send the expense cheque if you have any legitimate expenses.

lgamoran
lgamoran

My interview was a 2 step process at the initial one on one interview I was informed that if they were interested I would be called back and that the next interview would be a team interview.As I interface with all of the people that were at the latter interview I feel that it was a good idea as they were all able to then get a sense of who they would be working with and how they would fit in.

kehill50
kehill50

Well, it went like this..... I had an interview with a Hospital here in town. The interview was group based. The first group, was with all the developers and Project Leaders. It went textbook! The asked about the C-Programming, UNIX, Shell Shell Scripting, Code Reviews, and Full Life Cycle Development. The one issue was they had, was they had some proprietary software that ONLY Hospitals use. (...Of course, had no experience there, since I never worked at a hospital...) At that point, the one of the developers spoke up and said, "...no worries, we all had to learn the software, you will do fine..." As I scanned the room for non-verbals from the other members there, it was clear that I had passed the gauntlet..... So I thought...... Then the next group to show up, well was not really a group but just two(2) Managers from Operations..... Managers from Operations........ Managers from OPERATIONS........ TWO MANAGERS FROM OPERATIONS.... The one manager, whom look as though he just, well, WOKE UP, grilled me on the layout of my Resume'. The other manager, we "hell bent" on how will I learn the new software. Back and forth, back and forth. Like Tag-Team action of the WWF. He, ranting about the structure of my resume'. She, babbling about her accomplishments and her stance on new developers, or whatever she was speaking about. This went on for an hour..... Needless to say, those two had the final word, somehow, someway. (..I still cannot figure that one out...) Did not get the position, but you know, it was a blessing in disguise. I would have either taken the "Walk of Shame" or I would have quit anyway.

techrepublic
techrepublic

I don't like them, mainly because it's harder to build rapport in a short period in a group setting. When there are multiple people on the other side of the desk (or conference table), it's hard to decide which person to make eye contact with and which questions to give detailed answers to and which questions to give shorter answers. In one-on-one interviews, everyone gets 100% of my focus and each of the interviewers gets to (or is forced to) participate. Also, with multiple one-on-ones, I can ask the same question to different people and compare answers. This method takes longer but is worth it to me.

shasca
shasca

We always interview with three to four people in the process. I did not mind interviewing to the whole IT. group when I came on board. I was excited about getting the opportunity. I could see a one on one with several people being very annoying. You know the same question would have to be answered several times. Exactly or not interview questions don't vary much. That would get old after the second or third time you had to answer it.

tech
tech

We just dropped the model of having our whole staff interview/veto candidates. We had increased to around 17 staff so it was unwieldy & a waste of staff time/labor costs. It's great to have multiple opinions but I think it's more productive to have the 2 or 3 people who are intuitive and have the best people skills do the interviewing to weed out the bad apples.

brianmilke
brianmilke

At ITT-Tech, my class for Portfolio and professional development has both the group and individual interview styles. I am told, other than giving us the heads up for the group style of interviewing, it also gives us the ability to learn how to stay cool in any kind of group setting. Interviews in a group environment can become very personal, and even feel like you are being attacked. How you perform in that interrview, as in how you react to talking to one person, and someone else interrupts you, or how you react to having two or three people asking you questions at once is something you will be judged on in a group meeting. From what I can glean from my instructor, any group environment can be very stressful, and your employer wants to know up-front how you will respond to that kind of pressure. Although the original blog suggests that the people sitting at the table when you walk into an interview are you future bosses, that may not be the case. As my instructor told me just last week, Don't assume that the people you are talking to are your future management. Be prepared to be talking to executives. Know your stuff inside and out, but just as important, know their company the best that you can. Study your future employer, their business plan, their goals. Have that knowlege and use it. Impress everyone you can. It's your show...You're the one on stage! Make it a performance they want to see again...and the job is yours.

brent.harmon
brent.harmon

Your instructor is very wise. His advice to learn everything you can about the company before the interview is priceless advice. One of the first questions I ask interviewees is what do they know about our company. If they don't know anything about us, I generally abbreviate the interview at that point. One thing that I would add to the advice of your instructor -- don't underestimate the importance of details. If the position for which you are applying requires that you wear a suit for an interview, make sure it is pressed (and not smelling of moth balls!) I will admit to being a little odd, but I always look at a person's hands and feet. For an interview, I like a person to have clean hands and appropriately trimmed nails ... I have to shake your hand after all! And for some reason, I get hung up on the condition of a person's shoes ... worn and polished shows me that the person has pride in her/his appearance, even without the means to afford new designer shoes. You are on the stage, whether interviewing with one person or 100 people, so make sure you put your best foot (and hand)forward!

clearmiddle
clearmiddle

I used to not like them but as I shift into more people-oriented (but still technical) work, the team interviews I did for my present job allowed me to start to connect personally with the team I would be working with, and I think that helped me get the job.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I ended up not getting the job, but it was a positive experience for me. Now I'm well prepared and comfortable in team settings. I just go with the flow.

Tig2
Tig2

I had a team interview for a role in the late 90's. I went through an initial interview with a recruiter who advised me that the next step was to do a team interview and that I should plan for at least two hours. This was the good part. The recruiter tried to let me know what I was in for. I arrived on time for the team interview and entered a conference room with five other people. I was being interviewed for a project management role and assumed that the interview would focus on my abilities in that area. I was wrong. I was even asked questions that I had seen on my MSCE even though that skill set was not a requirement for the role I was interviewing for. How many PMs out there know that the registry structure is known as a hive? In my opinion, this was definitely the bad! The ugly? The interview lasted four hours. By the end of it I was totally exhausted and no longer cared if I got the job or not. All I wanted was out of that room! In my opinion, there is nothing wrong at all with the team interview. But the goals of that interview need to be clear to all of the interviewers before they meet the candidate and some reasonable guidelines agreed to- length of interview and such.

dukethepcdr
dukethepcdr

I have had both team interviews and group interviews. The team interview I had wasn't so bad as it was just two people instead of a whole bunch. They kept it conversational and I felt more like I was just shooting the breeze with a couple of fellow pc nerds than being in a formal interview. They told me a lot about themselves and their experiences in the company and I told about myself about equal ammounts of the time. It was pretty nice really. It was actually less stressful than most of the one on one formal interviews I've had. I've also had a group interviews where it's one person from the company interviewing a bunch of candidates at once. That wasn't so good. I felt like I was in some kind of class instead of being interviewed. The more vocal, more outgoing candidates dominated the interview and most of the rest of the people hardly said anything. It seemed like other candidates stole all the good things I was going to say. By the time I got a chance to talk, I wound up parroting a lot of what had already been said. It was aweful. Please don't do group interviews, those on here who do interviews. Now, the team interview was fun. If you can keep it informal and conversational it can be a good experience.

ahadsell
ahadsell

From the interviewee's perspective: 1) It can be a time-saver, because you avoid answering the same question over and over again. 2) You get to see a little bit of the organizational dynamics in action. How do people in this company behave in meetings? This can be a key issue. 3) If the hiring manager is in the meeting, you get to see how he or she conducts meetings. That's another important item of information. 4) Of course, "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!", but it's really nothing to be afraid of. People in a meeting tend to moderate each other's behavior, so you will normally see less rudeness and fewer inappropriate questions.

gtcorwin
gtcorwin

I did a group interview where as each question I answered for one person, the next person just got tougher and tougher. It was like a progressive test, what does it take to make him wrong? One tech even said, "I don't know that answer and I already work here. Can we let up?" So some people can eventually get out of control but yes, they can also keep each other in check. I have to admit I liked it better than a string of interviews with 5 people.

david.shorr
david.shorr

I'd rather ride 50 miles of bad road than sit through a team inteview. Particularly when companies don't train their staff how to interview an applicant. Tough enough to try and keep track of who you see when meeting them one at a time. Its impossible to know who the important people are in a group interview.

koehj
koehj

1. There's always one person who's trying to prove that he/she is smarter than you are and smarter than the rest of the team. 2. Almost nobody has read your resume. 3. Half the people don't want to be there and have no idea what they should ask. 4. The questions jump from topic to topic with no rhyme or reason. 5. If you're talking to one person, you can get on the same wavelength. If you're interviewing with a group, there is no wavelength. 6. Although these interviews introduce you to the cast of characters, your boss will be the one who calls the shots. If not, you don't want to work there.

T Mike
T Mike

Oh-yes, by all means, try to meet with as many as possible. Alot of the 'old hands' will have refused top shelf title/power,{and extra obligations}, & opted to just keep working at the projects.....if you are a 'worker/thinker' try reaching out at this point. Get a feel for how they Delegate Tasks & accept the work load themselves. Put them all in the 'mix' and you get a feel for where the lead & strong skills may really be. Just mah humble time-tested opinionated opinion..:)

joeysg
joeysg

I expect to find out what the job entails and what really is expected from the person you will report to. On subsequent interview, team based interview would allow one to see the dynamics of the team and formulate probing questions to the other members.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...only do the one-shot/one-time interview approach, and will only bring back people for a second interview if there was a 'tie' between candidates. I figure, if they're throwing the bowl of spaghetti your way (in terms of people and questions), you may as well respond in kind (find out as much as possible and try to make as strong as an impression as possible)...it may be the only shot you get. As with anything else in life, the approach one takes in an interview is situational.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...the team interviews, as you sort of imply, do save quite a bit of time over the one-after-another-after-another approach. If these are the people you're going to be spending about 1/3 of your time with (if not more), you may as well get as good a feel of the group dynamic as possible upfront.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

The interview process is as much about finding whether or not you want to work with them as they are wondering about you.

girardd
girardd

As an initial interview - No. As a final or near final element, after one-on-one's with the team, as part of a multi-interview process, its part of reality. (The fake presentation or Q&A session. "Let see what you've got kid.") If you're applying for a Sales Engineering position, you'd better be prepared for it.

Curious00000001
Curious00000001

My first "real" job I had the normal first interview (who are you and why should I hire you) followed up by a suprise teleconferenced "team interview". Even though I had no idea it was going to happen I really dont think I would have take the job if it hadent happened. Team interviews are a good thing but should definitly take place AFTER the initial interview and hopefully with the candidates prior knowledge. This really helps you get a good feel for what will be expected of you and what the job entails. Most hiring managers dont have the knowledge or experience to know the details that could make you decide that the job is right for you (or to run like H311).

tyoffe
tyoffe

what is a Sales engineer?

john.wang
john.wang

I've always known them as Pre-Sales Engineers and I've often called them in order to expedite an outstanding service call even to the extent of having pre-sales come out and fixing the units using their demo stock as spares. If they want repeat business, they are motivated whereas the regular service staff are typically managed as a cost only center and hence are never motivated to provide reasonable service.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

who sets up tailored system demos as well as attemps to sell you the product. You never see these people again after purchace as they are sales types.

girardd
girardd

There is quite a bit of customer contact with SE's both before an after the Sales in many organizations. The SE is classically the technical manager of the sales process - from soups to nuts. This can go through the installation and can involve ongoing interactions with the customer to insure satisfaction. Most SE's used to be in the trenches, themselves.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

and was told that the process was going to take all day I would consider telling them to forget it unless I REALLY wanted the job in question. There is no need to waste an entire day only for 1 of the persons interviewing you to take a disslike. What are thr chances of everybody liking the same candiate. In which case it goes back to the hiring Boss who should have interviewed you (once) anyway!