Creating Effective Group Interview Activities


Nothing should be as crucial and important as selecting top-notch student staffers for the upcoming semester or even for various summer sessions. Colleges and universities employ various processes for screening and selecting staffers, which in many cases includes a group interview process. For those of you not familiar with this, a “group process” is a day when potential student candidates are invited to participate in various activities to assess their worthiness to move on through the job selection process. The length of the group process and the types of activities involved are institution-specific, and many of the activities are handed down from one “generation” of professional staffers to the next.

While a group interview process can be a very powerful assessment tool, I have observed many that were filled with “fluff” activities and ice-breakers that did not help in assessing whether or not a student will be a good fit for the open position(s). Having student candidates solve puzzles or perform the “human knot” to determine if they would be a good resident assistant or orientation leader is just as effective as having medical students sit down and play a card game to assess their level of concentration for surgery. The only benefit of these types of group interview activities are to screen out the “show-off’s” and those who hide in a corner.

Here are some strategies and suggestions for creating effective group process activities:

  • Create actual quizzes to determine their level of knowledge about campus information and resources necessary for the position. While most of this information is something that would naturally be covered in training, there is nothing wrong to determine the level of awareness a student has pertaining to job-related information. A 10 to 20 question quiz can be distributed to everyone during a group process. Scored quizzes can serve as a source of valuable information to see if they take the quiz seriously and write mindful guesses even if they do not know the exact answer (or to see if they attempt to cheat!) Additionally, quiz scores can be used as “tie-breakers” should the selection process get down to a few candidates left for one remaining position. (Question examples could include: 1. Where is the counseling center located on campus? 2. What is the phone number for campus police? 3. What are the dining hall hours?)    
  • Include activities that require them to create or demonstrate something job-related. I like to see job candidates actively show me effort and motivation. If they give a half-hearted effort during an interview process, they most likely are going to perform in a similar manner if they are hired; past behavior usually predicts future behavior. One example: Having them come prepared with a leadership portfolio to present to the group will allow you to see if they actually do the work ahead of time, the quality of the work, and if they present well to the group. The presentation is particularly important since you are hiring for positions that require high levels of interaction with people. A handful of candidates may simply self-select out because they do not want to put the time and effort into this project. An example for screening orientation leaders could be to break them up into smaller groups with a current employee and have them give impromptu campus tours. Each candidate could give a short five minute walking tour while the other candidates ask questions posing as new students. Each candidate would get the opportunity to serve in each role (i.e., tour guide and new student). Given that not every situation can be trained for, this allows you to see how they think on their feet, handle potentially difficult questions, and also to see if they are a good sport when given the opportunity to ask questions to a fellow candidate (i.e., Did they try to stump them out of malice and competition? Were they helpful despite not being the guide? Did they even ask questions? Did they take the activity seriously?)  

Keep in mind that a group interview should only be one part of the entire screening and selection process; the group process should be seen as one tool in your toolbox along with individual interviews and application materials.

Please leave suggestions of group interview activities that have and have not worked for you below in the comments section.

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3 Responses to Creating Effective Group Interview Activities

  1. Scott – I challenge the notion a bit about group interviews. I think there is some opportunity within them to find a few nuggets, but the human capital spent to go through them might not be worth the expected returns. I believe that peoples backgrounds/experiences are what gives us the most trainable/moldable people. I really have no need to see if they can perform a job related task because if they can’t I’ll train them anyways. I’d like to ask questions such as – ‘tell us about a time you struggled working in a group, what did you do’ or ‘what is one successful experience you have had leading a team or group’ – I think it gets at the core of what the group process is about, but helps introverts ;)

    Trust me – I’m an E to the max so I love group processes, but I get tired trying to implement/navigate them – and even more frustrated when not much about the decision to hire someone comes from the process. Don’t get me wrong, the more intentional the group process is, the more it could yield – just not sure it could yield as much as a few good questions in a 1:1 or 1:small group interview.

    • Hey Torry:

      Thanks for commenting. I do not disagree with you. To be honest, I have not held or have been a part of a group interview process in over seven years (although I am looking to reform one as I need another screening tool). The point of my post was to challenge those who are group process “traditionalists” to be more mindful of the activities they choose when putting one of these together. Many departments see these as gospel and do not strategically look at their actual effectiveness as you have suggested. I don’t want to say that I have found them to be a waste of time, but they can be made “leaner” and with more screening efficacy (even if you need to do them at all!) The suggestion you gave of of smaller group interviews is a good one for departments to explore as well.

      As for assessing introverts, I would challenge that you can’t train an “I” to be an “E” (this refers to “introvert” and “extrovert” for those of you not familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). This is not to say that introverts should automatically be exempt from campus leadership-type positions, but I want to know and see if an “I” is a hard worker, team-oriented, and a good fit for our team. The questions that you pose are great, and I would take this a step further because it is easy for a candidate to embellish a particular example or even make up a story (although I would contend this doesn’t happen with the majority of interviewees). Of course having them demonstrate something doesn’t have to be a whole-day Saturday deal either; these can occur during one-on-one’s or smaller group interviews.

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