September 13, 2014

“Groupcruitment”: Group Interviews—Of, Not Just By, Recruiters

Why not routinely have applicants—even just one applicant—group-interview assembled competing recruiters (instead of or at least as often as vice versa)? Why limit a format as successful as group interviewing to only one form?

Group interviews of job applicants are, of course, commonplace and, in some ways, efficient and effective—despite whatever unease they create among those forced into direct toe-to-toe, face-to-face interactive competition.

So, if that format works, why not reverse it: Why not have one candidate [or more] simultaneously interview and be interviewed by a group of competing recruiters? (Notice that “interviewed by” describes all participants in a job interview—a fact partially obscured by whatever power advantage is conferred upon one side by a job-talent supply-demand imbalance. Every interview is a “by” and “of” type of interview, but in varying proportions that depend on who is dominating it.)

A job fair does not embody this innovative format, since virtually no two competing recruiters will have a scheduled joint interview with one applicant, although possibly spontaneously.

One such reversed group interview format has a precedent of sorts, at least in fiction, in the movie “Jerry McGuire”, in which sports recruiter Tom Cruise (“Jerry McGuire”) pleads his case in an unscheduled encounter during which an arch-rival stands alongside the free-agent football standout they are trying to snag only for themselves.

Although McGuire brashly seizes the moment without any concern about whether the venue is appropriate or how the other recruiter feels about it, some “rules” can easily be formulated by common consent to legitimize, organize and facilitate “groupcruiter”  interviews (i.e., multiple recruiters, one candidate)—including agreement about venues.

For example, once the format is agreed to, any fears of a recruiter “home-turf advantage” can be allayed by making the interviews Skype-based, and much less vulnerable to the enticements of the host recruiter’s office and headquarters.

It is also important to note that even though the candidate(s) would officially be interviewed by multiple competing recruiters, the imbalance of applicant-recruiter numbers in the group, even in a tight job market, will make the interview as much an interview of recruiters as by them, since it will be their turn to compete with each other.

Groupcruiting: a Cost-Benefit Analysis

What is to be gained or lost by recruiters and candidates by having such groupcruiter interviews? An enumeration of and comparison with the benefits and costs of conventional group interviews is the best place to look for an answer. Pluses and minuses are marked as such:

1. (+) Good gauge of performance under pressure: In a conventional group interview, the presence of competing candidates tests and allows immediate comparison of each of them for key performance parameters—such as confidence, courtesy, attentiveness, persuasiveness, determination, adaptability, knowledgeability, grooming, people management skills and enthusiasm. Is not each one of these just as important to assess when choosing a recruiter or the employer (s)he represents?

How can this groupcruiter format pressure benefit recruiters as well as applicants?—in the same way group pressure can benefit applicants as well as recruiters in a conventional group interview or in a multi-applicant groupcruiter interview: As a ramped-up challenge, it provides a strong incentive to sharpen one’s presentation, broaden the knowledge-base to be displayed at the interview, to carefully prioritize the components of a presentation and to fortify the skills required to fend off competitors.

2. (+) Catalyst for a useful “bidding war”: Although it may not be obvious, a conventional group interview can present each applicant with the opportunity or necessity to “up the ante”, by raising his or her “bid”—in the form of an explicit or implied offer of more than what other applicants have suggested they can or will provide an employer.

That’s not hard to do; for example, even though it may sound like empty rhetoric, an edge can be honed by saying something like, “There is no one in this room who won’t give you anything less than 100%; but, I hope to be the one to make it 110%.” If that can work for applicants, it can work for recruiters in a groupcruiter interview.

The presence of other recruiters might not only make any on-the-spot bidding for the applicant transparent; it also is likely to make it more intense, should the interview assume a quasi-auction format. Because the bids need not be explicit or dollar-denominated, e.g., enticing perks or company status mentioned “in passing” as part of the job presentation by the attending recruiters, de facto competitive bidding is a real possibility.

Although laissez-faire market economists are likely to argue that such open auctions better reflect “real market value” of an applicant than secret bidding, the case is not a slam-dunk, since spiteful, purely antagonistic, hysterical and other price-distorting bids are not possible in secret bidding—which suggests a winning bid in a closed auction may be a better measure of a candidate’s market value. On the other hand, bluff-bids can backfire when called and the time to ante or pay up comes.

This is the game-theoretic notion of a “game of perfect information”, in which each player knows exactly what every other player knows, and can make fully-informed decisions on that basis. However, interestingly, there is a kind of Heisenberg interaction effect with this arrangement: knowing what the others are bidding will change the bids, unlike the more conventional job-offer process, in which an applicant will make the rounds among non-communicating recruiters and choose the choicest offer.

3. (+/) Reduced risk of “doctored”, manipulated information:  Presentation of information to a single group, rather than separately and privately in one-on-one interviews, suffices to maximize the likelihood that all those interviewed are suited up for play on a level information playing field—with neither innocent, manipulative nor discriminatory variation in any single recruiter’s pitch or its tone to change the message.

From the groupcruiter standpoint, the applicant in a one applicant-on-many recruiter format will also, like a recruiter interviewer in a conventional group interview, be unable to tweak, slant or otherwise vary his or her self-presentation from one listener to another (or one company to another).

However, there is the downside risk, however small, in a groupcruiter interview that valid applicant “customization” opportunities will be lost, e.g., mention of required language skills for one recruiter’s posting, Photoshop for another. But that risk can be minimized if the applicant’s pitch and groupcruiters’ questioning are fluid and varied enough.

The same risk exists in a conventional group interview if the pattern of questioning and other assessment of a group’s applicants are so standardized and narrow as to obscure potentially valuable talents and experience.

4. (+) Economical use of human and other resources: Of course, one clear incentive to hold group interviews of any kind is the “economies of scale” they achieve, as multiple sequenced or parallel individual interviews coalesce into one.

The question is, “savings for whom?” Conventional group-interview savings or reduced costs are not only of time and/or personnel, but also in information coordination, documentation, use of audio-visual presentation resources (including chalk and projectors), space allocation, and interview content harmonization and standardization efforts.

If the groupcruiter interview is Skype-based, not only does the applicant save time and shoe leather, but the participating recruiters can be spared the time-wasting hassle of a “practice” interview, often sought by applicants who merely want to hone their interview skills. Even though some recruiters may be invited to or arrange the groupcruiter interview when they are not, in the estimation of the applicant, serious contenders, if there is, from the applicant perspective, even one highly desired company represented in the group, the interview will not be “for practice”—since that would be too dangerous for the applicant.

Hence, the likelihood of being duped into a practice interview could be substantially diminished by a groupcruiter format.

Moreover, in a groupcruiter interview, a single applicant will, of course, reduce the total time individual recruiters will spend on him or her to the minimum a single meeting requires.  That’s an economies-of-scale savings for the applicant(s). In a Skype-based groupcruiter interview, each recruiter will spend on the given applicant not much more, or no more or fewer man-minutes than would be spent in a conventional interview (private or group); however, the hours the applicant would save parallels the time savings of conventional group interviews of applicants.

Also, there can be time and energy savings for recruiters to the extent that other recruiters in the groupcruiter interview may present fresh questions that otherwise would have to be excogitated and formulated alone.  On top of that, just as applicants can learn from other applicants in group interviews, recruiters can learn from each other, to sharpen their pitch content and self-/ job-presentation skills.

 5. (+) Compassionate collaboration: However unlikely the prospect, it could happen in a conventional group interview that one or more of those interviewed decide to remove themselves from the competition, not from a lack of confidence or fear of humiliation, but out of sympathy for another interviewee who seems to need the job much more than anyone else being interviewed. For example, seeing the plight of a homeless father of four with virtually identical skills and experience, the second of two candidates withdraws—purely out of compassion. (Unlikely, yes; impossible, no.)

Such a scenario could unfold in a groupcruiter interview too. One prospering independent recruiter, familiar with his independent rival, who is offering a job virtually indistinguishable from his own, obliquely gets the applicant to go with his rival. (Unless you live in a very small town or are more than 100 years old, this will probably seem incomprehensible to you.)

6. (-/+) Acute discomfort: Assuming that the group being interviewed has some who favorably stand out more than others, there will always be somebody who is going to feel increasingly uncomfortable as the interview progresses, or even from the get-set-go—actually a lot of somebodies, especially shy or nervous participants. That’s an emotional given in a zero-sum, “I-win-you-lose” interview situation where one’s competitors and the scoreboard are in plain sight.

As a drawback, this is inherent in both the conventional group interview and the groupcruiter interview formats. Nonetheless, since it is a feature of all group interviews, such discomfort has also got to be a good thing.

Like natural selection is.

Read more in Interviewing

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).