8 Tips for Acing Group Interviews With Social Anxiety
Ah, the dreaded group interview. If you’ve been invited to one, you’re probably asking:
“What if everyone else loves talking about themselves – and I won’t be able to speak up?”
“What if my mind goes blank?!”
“Is it even worth going when I know a louder, extroverted person is going to get the job anyway?”
These are all valid questions. And there are group interviews, often lead by inexperienced interviewers, where the person who shouts loudest is likely to be the chosen candidate.
But the good news is that this isn’t always the case. In fact, being introverted has advantages during a group interview – if you know how to spin it (we’ll talk more about this later).
Let’s start with the basics though…
“What is a group interview and what can I expect?”
Companies use group interviews either because there are lots of positions to fill, or because they want to filter out those who can’t deal with stressful situations (this is common for sales or customer service roles).
Of course, there’s also a cost and time saving element – every business loves to save both of these. Most group interviews involve 3-7 candidates, which can be a big time saver.
Once you start the interview, there are usually three phases:
- The introduction or “icebreaking” phase. I know, I know…just the word icebreaking makes you shiver. But this is a common part of a group interview. Some employers may give a presentation during this phase too. I’ll show you how to prepare for the icebreaker in a little bit.
- Group interview questions. The interviewer asks questions to each candidate individually. Usually these should be answered without repeating what others have said.
- Group interview activities. The group is given an activity or problem to solve. This is often related to the job description, although more abstract tasks are also common.
A group interview may contain all these phases or just one or two. Sometimes you might be asked for a one-to-one interview if the interviewer liked you.
Which brings us back to the big problem with group interviews if you have social anxiety: how can I stand out and appear confident and in control…when I’m not?
The good news is that group interviews probably aren’t as bad as you think.
Let me explain…
When you’re in a one-on-one interview, all the focus is on you and your responses. While it’s fine to take a few seconds to think of an answer, you don’t get any extended breaks.
This isn’t the case in a group interview.
Instead of speaking all the time, you can listen and think while others are talking. Interviewers actually want to see you’re listening, as this is a vital skill.
Also, group activities allow you to show your skills without needing to “make conversation” …which can help you relax.
OK, so “relaxed” probably isn’t the word describe it. But you might at least feel more comfortable!
“What If I’m Too Scared of Group Interviews?”
I’m going to surprise people here and say it’s not always a good idea to attend a group interview if you have social anxiety. Here’s why.
Exposure therapy, where you expose yourself to difficult situations, can be an effective way to make real progress with your social anxiety…
But it needs to be a gradual process. Throwing yourself into a terrifying experience nearly always ends badly…which can set back your recovery.
That’s why I don’t think the advice “just go and see what happens – you’ll be fine” is helpful if you have social anxiety. Instead, you need to weigh up the pros and cons…and work out whether the advantages of a group interview outweigh the benefits.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Do I really need this job?
- Is this my dream job?
- Have I been struggling to get an interview for any job?
- Have I got several “regular” interviews lined up?
All these factors can affect whether attending is the right decision. For example, if you desperately need a job, you might be forced to make a bigger effort to attend. And if it’s your dream job, the benefits probably outweigh the negatives.
A great question to ask is: “Do I feel differently about this interview if I decide to go for practice rather than to try and get the job?”
If this question makes you feel more comfortable, then I recommend attending the interview for the exposure and practice. But if you still feel terrified of the group interview, that’s when you need to decide whether it’s something you’re ready for…and whether the advantages outweigh the benefits.
8 Tips for Group Interviews with Social Anxiety
So, now you’ve decided to attend, here are 8 tips for a successful group interview if you have social anxiety.
1. Remember: This Is Not A Social Meeting
It’s easy to get caught up in the “group” aspect and forget an interview isn’t a social meeting. It’s not about being the most interesting person or about making friends. Just remembering this fact can be very helpful if you have social anxiety.
Instead, your goal is to show you can handle stressful situations while being able to speak your thoughts clearly.
This isn’t easy, especially if you suffer from physical anxiety symptoms. But if you believe your skills match the job requirements, just focus on these and forget about trying to impress anyone – especially not the other candidates.
2. Shift Your Mindset
I talk a lot about mindset at Social Anxiety Shortcuts. And the biggest mindset shift for group interviews is to remember you don’t have the job yet.
This might sound strange. But an interview is just a step in the process. Not getting the job doesn’t make you a failure. And, if the interview goes badly, there aren’t any long-term negative effects.
Even more importantly, think of an interview is a chance for you to judge the employer. If you hate the working environment– you’ve just dodged a bullet.
3. Prepare Like You Would for Any Interview
Group interviews have unique quirks and question types, but you should still do the standard research. This includes:
- Research the company and their position in the marketplace.
- Practice common questions such as “where do you see yourself in five years time?” and “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”
- Make a list of questions to ask. Try to have at least 10, because many are likely to be answered during the interview.
- Get a good sleep before – if you can! Also avoid drinking lots of caffeine in the morning. You don’t want to appear more jittery or nervous than necessary.
You should also eliminate any potential causes of stress. That means planning your exact route in advance, knowing where you’re going to park, having your outfit cleaned, ironed and ready to go the day before, and possibly even doing a “practice run” so you know where to go.
4. Arrive Early
Arriving early is hardly new advice, but it’s even more important when you’re dealing with social anxiety
It’s usually a good idea to arrive 15-30 minutes before the interview. This gives you time to compose yourself, and means there’s no chance of being late.
Don’t just sit and stew in the car for half an hour though. Instead, I recommend using the Breathe and Squeeze method. This lowers your heart rate, which helps you feel less anxious. It can even reduce physical symptoms such as shaking or sweating. You can download my free guide to the Squeeze and Breathe method by clicking here.
And, once you’ve finished the Breathe and Squeeze, go inside a bit early. Use this time to get an overview of your surroundings, and maybe even say hello to a few of the other candidates.
Be aware that you’ll probably be judged from the moment you enter though!
5. Prepare for Common or Likely Scenarios – Including the Icebreaker
Many job sites recommend not “over practising” for group interviews. This makes sense, because employers have chosen a group environment to see the “real” you.
If you have social anxiety though, I think the benefits of practising questions and scenarios far outweighs the potential downsides. You’ll feel more in control and less likely to have your mind go blank.
This doesn’t mean you have to memorise responses to every question. Instead, here are some questions and activities you should prepare for:
- The “Icebreaker” – make sure you memorise a few interesting sentences about yourself. This doesn’t need to be long. Just a few sentences to give some insight into you, what you do and why you’re there. Be prepared for interviewers to shake things up though – questions like “tell us about something you’ve done that no-one else in this room has” are common.
- Activities within the field you are applying for – for example, if you’re applying for a sales role, expect to be asked to “sell” a random object to someone else in the room.
- Activity follow ups – these might include “What did the team struggle with during the exercise?” or “What was your biggest contribution to the team activity?” You can’t prepare these in advance, but you can practice answering in a diplomatic way.
- Individual questions – as I mentioned earlier, be prepared for individual questions too. Examples include “What unique talents or skills will you bring to this role?” and “How would you describe yourself?”
A great resource for any interview is GlassDoor.com, as it has details of many company’s interview process. Just search for the company and you’ll often find interviewees have posted valuable details.
Previous interview details shouldn’t be taken as 100% accurate, because companies change their interviews all the time. But it’s an excellent place to start.
6. Listen Carefully to the Interviewer AND Competitors
People with social anxiety are usually great at letting others speak. So you’ll be glad to hear you can use this to your advantage in group interviews.
Most companies use group interviews because they provide insight into how you interact with team members. A big part of this is listening to other people and taking on board their thoughts and ideas – even if you don’t agree.
When listening, it’s a good idea to take the occasional notes. This shows you’re giving the other person your full attention. It also helps you avoid repetition when it’s your turn to speak.
7. It’s Time to Speak Up
You’re going to have to speak up during a group interview – there’s not getting around this. If the other candidates are all outspoken, you might even have to “force” openings at the proper time.
This doesn’t mean interrupt though. Instead, when it’s your turn to speak, begin talking in a clear and authoritative voice (this is something you might want to practice too). If you do this and people talk over you, this reflects worse on them than it does on you.
But if you still find it hard to get a chance to speak, try raising your hand when you want to say something. This nearly always gets the attention of other candidates and provides an excellent opening.
On the other hand, if you are asked a question directly, don’t be afraid of taking a second or two to think. This is perfectly acceptable – and is often encouraged.
8. Remember Your Advantages
It’s easy to focus on the disadvantages of having social anxiety. But there are advantages too. People with social anxiety are excellent listeners. Sure, you might have trouble remembering everything say when you’re anxious, but you don’t have difficulty letting others talk.
Some people get so competitive during group interviews that they interrupt others or are just plain rude. This is probably the biggest mistake you can make – and one that’s unlikely to be a problem if you have social anxiety.
So there you have it – a complete guide to group interviews with social anxiety. I hope this helps you:
- Decide whether attending a group interview is right for YOU at this time.
- Prepare so there aren’t many nasty surprised – including researching the company, practising possible questions and arriving early.
- Know what to expect during the interview, including how to use your personality to your advantage.
Do you have a group interview coming up? Are you worried your social anxiety is going to cause you to miss out on the job? Feel free to ask any questions in the comments – I’ll try to get back to you as quickly as possible.
And remember: it’s not always “he/she who shouts loudest, wins” when it comes to group interviews – even though it might feel that way.