Best Way to Go about in Team Interviews

Before the interview begins, the employer will need to decide whether to use one interviewer at a time, or more. Is it a good idea for employers to conduct team interviews in which two people from the company interview a candidate at the same time? The answer is—yes and no.

In general, a bad team interview tends to be worse than a bad one-on-one interview. But a good team interview can be at least as good as a one-on-one interview, and can accomplish a number of other purposes for the company.

Team Interviews Best Way to Go about in Team Interviews

A good team interview provides the following advantages:

  • It’s easier on interviewers, since they can permit someone else to take the lead and relax. That is especially important on campus, when many interviews follow in succession.
  • It gives the company two judgments on each interviewee.
  • It provides two people with whom the interviewee may be able to establish rapport.
  • It provides two familiar faces who may be available to see the interviewee in later interviews.
  • It may be an effective training technique for the less experienced interviewer in the team.
  • It provides two people who can follow up with the interviewee if an offer is made.
  • In the unfortunate event that a claim of discriminatory interviewing is made, it provides two people from the company to attest to what was said.

At the same time, a poorly conducted team interview will be terribly uncomfortable for the interviewee, and unproductive for the company. Besides the other disadvantages of a poor team interview, it is expensive for the company because it consumes two interviewers’ time.

A bad team interview usually takes one of two forms. Too often, the team interview degenerates into an interrogation. The interviewee is bombarded by one question after another from different interviewers, being bounced back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. The interviewee leaves feeling as if he had been a suspect for the heinous crime of seeking a job.

At other times, the team interview becomes a conversation between the two interviewers from the company, in which the interviewee is all but ignored. The interviewee leaves feeling that her time was wasted. She did not have an opportunity to sell herself, but served only as an excuse for the interviewers to chat among themselves.

The best way for interviewers to avoid these pitfalls is by choosing one person to be the lead interviewer in each team interview. That person should ask most of the questions, with the other interviewer piping in only later in the interview. Besides avoiding the pitfalls described above, having one person take the lead in the interview also permits an interviewer to follow up on a line of questions, rather than be interrupted and distracted by questions from his partner.

If the interview team consists of one person who is clearly senior to the other, make sure that the senior person is not always the lead interviewer because that will give the interviewee the sense that the junior person is being brought along only as a lackey. This impression is particularly damaging when the junior person is a woman or a member of a minority group.

Effective team interviewing also depends on both interviewers respecting one another. Remember that the interviewee will assume that the relationship demonstrated between the two interviewers is typical of the relationships between people at the company. Though there is nothing wrong with a modicum of good-natured joking between the interviewers, if the interviewee gets the impression that one of the interviewers is abusing the other, it will sour his view of the company. Be aware, too, that a joke between interviewers who know one another well may be misconstrued by the interviewee. On the other hand, a demonstration of mutual respect between the interviewers can go a long way toward making the interviewee feel that relationships between people at the company are comfortable and collegial.

I do not recommend using more than two interviewers in any job interview. It is almost impossible to create any level of comfort in the interviewee in that situation. And, I do not believe in stress interviews.

If you are being interviewed in a team situation, be prepared for interviewers who have not thought through the dynamics of conducting a successful team interview. When questions are fired at you by both interviewers, make sure that you finish answering each question. If you’re interrupted, ask politely whether you may finish your answer, perhaps by saying to the second questioner, “That’s a good question and I’d like to answer it, but may I first finish answering Mr.-?”

Conversely, if you are ignored by the team interviewers, don’t be bashful about inserting yourself into the conversation. Generally, just jumping in with a comment will do. You may have to do it more than once. In a particularly egregious situation, I might not be above saying, “This is an extremely interesting conversation; I’d love to participate.” You have nothing to lose, since if you do not intervene, your chances of receiving an offer are extremely slim, in any case.

Finally, one suggestion may help you feel more comfortable in a team interview. Try to position yourself so you can see both interviewers without having to move your head from one side to another. This will avoid the Ping-Pong effect, and will allow you to feel and appear much more relaxed. (If you doubt this comfort factor, next time you go out with two friends, position yourself so you are forced to move your head back and forth, and notice how you feel.) If the interviewers start to position themselves so that you cannot accomplish this, you may even want to ask permission to move your chair, perhaps saying that you would find it easier if you could see and talk to both of them at once. Besides helping you to feel more comfortable, this assertiveness in positioning yourself may even serve you well in the interview because it demonstrates a certain degree of self-confidence to the interviewers.

Breaking the Rules

None of the suggestions made earlier for getting the interview off on the right foot are “rules.” They are only hints as to what may help to relax both parties. Where the approaches do not seem useful or comfortable to you, don’t use them. In fact, one of the most memorable interviews I ever conducted broke all of the rules as to how an interview should begin.

I was interviewing at the University of Virginia School of Law, having been on the road doing interviews at other schools for three consecutive days. My morning interviews at the law school had not been particularly successful in finding promising candidates for my firm, and the first interview of the afternoon was with a student who, though he had been a college high jump champion (having high jumped seven feet one and a half inches), was not somebody I was likely to invite back to the office. As is my practice, I noted the name of the next person I was scheduled to interview and went to the door to greet him.

Team Interviews 1 Best Way to Go about in Team Interviews

In front of me stood a young man about five feet ten inches tall, wearing a conservative, blue three-piece suit, heavy horned-rimmed glasses, and wing-tipped shoes. I stuck out my hand, shook his and said, “Kaplow, tell me one thing. Can you high jump seven feet one-and-a-half inches? Because, if you can’t, I’m not even interested in talking to you.”

Kaplow glanced down, looked back up at me and, without skipping a beat, replied, “Not in these shoes.” Kaplow became an associate at my law firm.

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