should we have job candidates do group activities with each other?

A reader writes:

The company I work for is very keen on having a multi-stage hiring process, both for new staff and when applying for internal vacancies. This is all fairly standard I think – things like psychometric tests, written projects, and typical face-to-face “tell me about a time when…” type interviews. Something they’ve recently introduced on top of this is the idea of the group project, which tends to come in before the interview but after everything else (although most recently it was the final part of the process, with candidates having been eliminated after each of the other steps).

So they assemble a group (about 6-8) of the candidates who’ve progressed to this point in a room and hand them a task. Sometimes this is related to our particular business, but often they are imaginary scenarios. (For instance: “There’s been a nuclear apocalypse. There are 12 people alive in a bunker but there’s only enough provisions to keep 6 of them alive. Here is a list of the people you have and their backgrounds/abilities. Decide as a group who you’ll save and who you’ll cast out into the nuclear wasteland.” Or “You’ve formed a new pop group. Decide on your name, style, marketing technique and produce a plan for your next video.” Things like that) You discuss it as a group for about half an hour (all the while there are several management/HR people sitting in a corner in silence, each of whom has a person in the group that they’re watching/making notes on), then you make a 5-minute presentation showing your thinking and the conclusion you’ve come to.

It’s a strange process to experience, especially because often in these groups there are a lot of big personalities who are all desperate to get their voices heard and to feel that they’re shining more than everyone else, and that’s something that’s made worse by the fact it’s part of a recruitment process rather than just part of the day-to-day job (people who seem generally quite laid back suddenly become very outspoken). I’ve had to do this a couple of times and have always done quite well, but I’m unsure of what value there is in this or what sort of game-plan I should have to stand out in these activities. Previously I’ve just gone for being a normal, pleasant human being and not being overbearing, but I can’t believe there’s not more to it than that (and I’d have hoped that by that point in the hiring process those kind of traits would already be pretty obvious).

Is this something you’ve ever used as a selection technique? Can you shed any light on what people in recruitment or management are looking for when they do these kinds of things? Or on what a candidate would need to do to be considered successful at this sort of activity?

Hell, no, I don’t do this. Nor should your employer. It’s an interview strategy of people who don’t know how to interview well, and who aren’t clear on the specific qualities or skills they need to be assessing.

If anyone ever wants you to interview with a group of other job candidates, run screaming.


It’s demeaning, most people find it awkward, and it’s not useful in gathering information about what people will be like on the job. (By the way, I’d throw out those psychometric tests your employer is using too.)

The way you hire good people is this:

– You have rigorous in-depth interviews where you probe into how they think, how they’ve operated in the past, and what they’ve achieved.
– You use exercises and simulations to see them doing the work you’d be hiring them for (or as close to it as you can realistically get).
– You talk to people they’ve worked with in the past, and you thoroughly probe into those experiences.

You do not create artificial situations where they’re forced to work with other job candidates, or condescend to them with “you’ve formed a new pop group” scenarios, or otherwise treat them like performing monkeys.

{ 275 comments… read them below }

  1. Someone Else*

    I would leave this interview… This is just too much. If this is the style of interviewing they think is beneficial, what kind of three ring circus would a new hire walk into after accepting an offer???!!!!

        1. kdizzle*

          I believe that interviewing disaster was Operation Smile; let’s give credit for being crazy where credit is due!

    1. Daria*

      Yep, I’d be out. To me that would be a huge red flag of the culture of the place, and I would not want to work there.

    2. Lisa*

      How does one leave though without looking bad? I would immediately want out too, but would want to tell why. If they are having 9 candidates at that final stage, and the activity is the way to whittle down the number more, I would feel like they don’t value my input at all and the hunger games aspect of interviewing is ridiculous and at senior levels shouldn’t be done. Though it shouldn’t be done at all unless the job involves group work like this.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What I’d do in this situation is say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think this is for me. Best of luck in filling the role!” And then get up and leave.

        1. Totally Normal Person*

          This exactly. The concern about looking bad or burning bridges is a legitimate one. However, what many don’t consider is that there is a great deal of opportunity cost to maintaining useless bridges. You don’t have to burn useless bridges, but you also don’t have to use up valuable time and resources to maintain them either.

      2. Vicki*

        ” the hunger games aspect of interviewing is ridiculous ”

        Oh. I’m sorry; I forgot my bow and arrows. I’ll just go get them, shall I?

        1. TychaBrahe*

          You could always be blunt.

          “In case you haven’t heard, The Hunger Games is intended to be fiction.”

        2. Ruffingit*

          Forget the bow and arrow, I’d be all about finding some Tracker Jackers to sic on these ridiculous employers.

      3. Bea W*

        I’m not sure I would care about “looking bad” at that point I would just want to escape anyway possible.

    1. Snarcus Aurelius*

      I would also add that these types of questions are truly ridiculous. You’re asking people to come up with complex solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist. If you read the Daily WTF, you’ll see how Microsoft hired a lot of bad people using this method.

      Plus these types of questions have been around so long, I already know what I’m supposed to say. It really doesn’t take much to figure it out, especially when everyone ELSE is doing it too.

  2. Rue*

    I went through this type of interview in college when I was being considered for the residential adviser position. It was fun at the time, but I would never want to take part in this type of interview now for all of the reasons that the OP stated (mainly dealing with the overbearing people)!

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Years ago, I went through the group dynamic interview as part of the foreign service in-person interview process. There, at least, the exercise was based on something related to the work (there is a particular amount of funding available. Each person in the group had a specific project to summarize and present to the rest of the group; then the group discussed the projects and came to a decision on which one(s) should be funded). However, the process felt very artificial and creepy (silent obervers around the room), with a fair amount of jockeying to present your idea. I realize the point was to see how well you listened, presented, and collaborated with others (and not just to get your project funded at all costs) but this was a group of strangers who were competing with each other for a job. Very awkward.

      I didn’t get an offer, but on the plus side, I have LOADS of stories from that interview experience that I can use in interview workshops for students.

      1. CNM*

        I was going to post the same thing! I went though a similar process for the US State Department foreign service exam. It was very odd. No one, not even other people who had been accepted into the program, knew what they were looking for. Was it to see if you could convince others, or collaborate, or what? I also went through a fake emergency situation where I was asked what I would do in certain situations that would progressively get worse. That part of the test was very awkward because I was given no idea as to what sort of resources I had (did I have a car? any trusted co-workers?) to respond to a situation. This fake emergency situation sounds a lot like what the OP is describing, but even more attenuated to the job.

        1. A*

          The Foreign Service exam immediately came to mind. As an FSO, I can see the merits of it, but it is not a foolproof system in anyway. The group session does let the examiners see how people interact in a group setting, which can be interesting.

          1. Julie*

            Well, it lets them see how people interact in that type of group setting (strangers competing for a job opening), which is different that any other type of group setting they’re likely to come across at work, so I’m not sure how valuable it is. In that kind of contrived situation (if I didn’t just excuse myself and leave), I would not want to fight to be heard or argue with the other folks, and I would never take a job where that was required. But in an actual work situation, I have plenty of skills that I use to help my team succeed.

          2. Poofeybug*

            I had to do the same thing with the FSO test — it was like an 8-hour day-mare (which is a nightmare you can’t wake up from). At the end of the day, the FSO guy called me into a room and said he was sorry but I was “not successful.” His exact words. I have a friend who every time I see her wants me to tell the State Dept. interview story again just to hear that statement. They may feel they rejected me, but I feel that *I* rejected them at about 10:00 AM, but just didn’t have the spine to leave.

    2. Elysian*

      Yes. I was on both ends of this in college – I interviewed this way for a resident adviser position, and then once I got the position I had to observe others during the interview process.

      For this particular position, we were looking for things like how you interact with others who don’t share your opinions or how you make room for others in the conversation. One of the RA position requirements was to do educational programming for the hall you were assigned to, so we were looking for people who were good facilitators for those educational things.

      They’re hard skills to test for, and I think the group aspect only worked at all (though not entirely) because there were SO many positions and so candidates weren’t directly competing against each other.

      It wasn’t a particularly good interview strategy, but it worked ok with college kids. I think it would be really insulting as a professional.

      1. TL*

        When I did the group interview in college, it didn’t really showcase anything.
        For instance, I’m pretty good at facilitating educational things (being a TA and volunteering with children’s museums and whatnot) and I’m really good at facilitating conversations and getting people involved (at least with my peer group and young kids), but in an interview situation, generally everyone is so invested in showing how much they’re involved and peppy, ect… that there’s really no room to showcase those skills.
        There were so many people talking at my interview, at least, that I felt I couldn’t contribute to the conversation (not to mention it was such a large group that I certainly wasn’t going to start singling random strangers out when plenty of people were talking) that I just stayed silent most of the time.

      2. Melissa*

        “For this particular position, we were looking for things like how you interact with others who don’t share your opinions or how you make room for others in the conversation.”

        These were things I was looking for as a hall director, but my major problem with our process is that other RAs were the ones who rated the group exercises, and not all of them were as informed as you are about what we were looking for. A lot of times I reviewed the ratings sheet and saw that an otherwise great candidate got marked down in the group exercise simply because he or she was quieter, typically by an RA that I knew to be very extraverted (and most of our RAs were). A closer look at the ratings sheet would often reveal that they were simply observant and participated in other ways, like taking notes or redirecting conflict. That is *exactly* the kind of person I want on my team (especially since I was working with upperclass residents). But some of the RAs assume that the only way to be a good RA is to be very outgoing and extraverted.

    3. TL*

      I did too, for an RA position. We were each given a picture and we had to figure out how all the pictures fit together. There were at least 25 people in the group and we had 30 minutes and it was pretty awful.

    4. AdminAnon*

      Apparently all Student Affairs offices use the same model to interview RAs. I went through the same thing during my interview and again as an observer for the next 2 years. I do think there is a difference between interviewing for a paraprofessional Resident Assistant position in a university setting and interviewing in a professional capacity. That being said, I hated every second of the group activities (though, sadly, they are an unfortunate reality in student affairs, even beyond the interview process).

      1. Melissa*

        They share this as a “best practice” at student affairs conferences, so yes, many of them do.

        I do think that on some level, though, if an interviewee hates *everything* about the interview activities they probably won’t enjoy RA training. RA training is like a crushing bear hug that lasts for a week and a half. You have to LOVE EACH OTHER SO MUCH, at high energy kicked up to 11. And there are a lot of of meaningless activities (which even I, as one of the chief architects of training, hated. I always lobbied to cut them out and always got voted down. *sigh*)

    5. hayling*

      I did something like this to get into a more exclusive “leadership” dorm in college. Guess its a dorm thing!

    6. MaryMary*

      I did an interview like this once for a scholarship in college, and then later as part of the process to be accepted into a leadership program. Ironically, I later gained a reputation of being the one in the leadership program who stepped in after the Type As flipped out at each other, so maybe they used the exercise as more of a “plays well with others” test.

      1. Eudora Wealthy*

        I, too, did this for the RA job. As much as everyone is putting down the group activity, I loved that job and made friends for life. So maybe there’s something to it in that particular context.

        1. AdminAnon*

          Oh, don’t get me wrong–I loved my time as an RA and wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m just not a big fan of forced socialization, especially in groups. I was always more fond of the 1:1 bonding with residents and not so much the forced group activities.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            ITA. I had a great time in college as an RA, but luckily there were no Hunger Games type interview activities. I worked in a dorm where all 4 RA’s used different tactics to manage their floors (one RA had the women’s basketball team, one had a lot of underclassmen in what was an upperclassmen dorm, I had the brainy floor thankfully, and the top floor RA had to manage Animal House). We bonded over our shared experiences, but if we’d had to do a team exercise before we were hired, none of us would have been RA’s and we’d probably have killed each other. I doubt the teamwork that we developed would’ve shown itself in an interview when we were strangers.

    7. Melissa*

      I was just about to comment on this. I used to work as a hall director and part of our hiring process for undergraduate resident assistants (but NOT for the professional staff) was this kind of group exercise.

      In all fairness, though, the exercises were actually much closer to things an RA might have to do with a group. I still thought they were stupid, and when I hired my RAs I didn’t really take the ratings on the group exercise very seriously. If they got great ratings, awesome! If they got poor ratings, it was usually because they were quiet and were rated by an extraverted RA. Personally, I took the personal essays and the individual interviews into account far more than the group exercise.

  3. BRR*

    It’s not even going to accurately test the candidates. They’re going to go far more hunger games in a situation like this than they would in an actual project. These don’t even sound like situations that relate to the positions they’re applying for. Thank you Alison for suggesting the psychometric tests get thrown out.

    Also it has to be a logistical nightmare finding a time 6-8 candidates can all make it into your office. If someone can’t make it are they out of the running? You could be loosing good candidates that way.

    1. Katie the Fed*


      I’m not saying I’m the best candidate, but I guarantee I wouldn’t shine in this kind of scenario and you’d be potentially missing out on someone my dog thinks is pretty damned great.

      I tend to shut down in situations where multiple people are domineering and talking over each other. It causes sensory overload for me and I’ll just quietly sit there unless there’s something I HAVE to contribute. So, that would suck for me. And the employer, potentially. Unless you’re looking for a bunch of domineering Type As. Because that’s who you’re going to find. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily but there’s an argument to be made that a mix of personalities is good for the office.

      1. Dan*

        There’s an argument to be made that a mix of just about everything is good for the office.

        I haven’t heard it too much in recent years, but emphasis on “leadership qualities” always drives me nuts. You don’t have a team if you don’t have worker bees. If everybody is a “leader,” then who is left to get the job done? There’s no shame in *not* being a leader.

        And I will lead when I’m the right person to do the job. *I* am not the one who makes that decision. I’ll let the type A’s fight it out first, and if nobody steps up (and I’m qualified) then I’m it. But I don’t fight the A’s for top dog.

        1. C Average*

          This comment and your comment below about designated leaders raise an interesting related problem: when you look only for Type As, you wind up with a company full of go-getters who ALL want to lead, which can be disastrous in project work. Because everyone on the project wants to be a leader, you wind up with multiple people pushing for more responsibility and/or undercutting the leader to demonstrate why they’d be better leaders.

          People who can carry out orders competently don’t get much press, but employers need ’em.

          1. PEBCAK*

            You also end up with tons of people who want to be promoted and advance their careers really quickly, and unless your org structure is really messed up, not everyone can be a manager.

            1. Kelly O*

              I listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, and this was a point in last week’s episode – the people who are the loudest in their desire to be promoted can be problematic. While it’s absolutely good to have ambition and to want those promotions, constantly promoting yourself and seemingly only doing things for a promotion can backfire, at least with a good manager.

          2. Kay*

            This! At the risk of being politically incorrect, people in my family have referred to this as having “too many Chiefs, not enough Indians”.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              The PC version of that is, “too many chiefs, not enough seamen.” Chief petty officer is a Navy NCO rank.

              And that’s still PC, because women can be seamen.

          3. Stephanie*

            My buddy works at a Big 3 management consulting firm and says that’s one of the big drawbacks: that many Type A/overachiever types in one office can be really tiring.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Exactly. And everyone doesn’t have the same leadership style. My style is more faciliative – I like to give people the tools and guidance they need and let them shine. I don’t want to be in the spotlight – I want to create the conditions and set people up for success. So you’ll almost never find me dominating any discussion. But it works, and works really well, for me and my team. They’re incredibly production and we have great morale, and I can stay true to myself. If I had to be loud and dominant all the time I would be miserable.

          1. Vancouver Reader*

            And isn’t that the type of tactic that Richard Branson uses and that’s why Virgin is successful.

        3. Melissa*

          ^Haha, this is me. Usually when I end up being leader it’s because other people have voted me there, not because I volunteered. But damn it, somebody’s gotta follow from time to time.

      2. amaranth16*

        Given the way gender and race dynamics tend to play out in group settings, I can also imagine it putting women and minority candidates at an unfair disadvantage.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, exactly. I’m not trying to get the “angry black woman” designation in an interview, so I’d probably be reserved to a disadvantage.

          1. Elysian*

            I observed a group interview once where one member of the group was being really borderline-horrible with his comments about race, and the only black member of the group was female and reluctantly (I mean, she fought it off for a long time) called the horrible group member out on it.

            It made for a really complicated de-brief among the observers for exactly the reason you mention. The situation was horrible all around. I still specifically remember this conversation and its been at least 7 years since it happened.

            1. Stephanie*

              I was at an interview lunch (at a Japanese restaurant) and we were making small talk. The interviewer proceeded to ask if my college had a lot of Orientals. Luckily, I was eating at the time, so I conceal my look of horror.

              Aside from the comment being racist, the situation was just awkward. Due to the power imbalance (i.e., I wanted a job, this guy was the key to the job), I wasn’t sure how to call him out without jeopardizing my job chances.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I would have been evil and said, “Why yes, there are quite a few lovely Oriental rugs in some of the lounges. Oh, you meant Asians! Well, I don’t know–I never really noticed.”

      3. EngineerGirl*

        No introvert is going to shine in this scenario. You are b
        Ask ally filtering against deep thinkers.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To be fair, the company might want to do that. There are some jobs where you really want to hire extroverts.

          It’s a bad idea for loads of other reasons, of course.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            But is that a good strategy? Like above – I wasn’t saying that missing out on me is the worst thing in the world, but isn’t it kind of a stupid strategy to hire all the same personality types? I can’t think of any situation where hiring all extroverts and Type As would be good for the company, unless you’re hiring promoters to give out vodka samples at bars or something.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Depends on the role. If you’re hiring a team of fundraisers or organizers or salespeople or vodka-promoters, then yeah, it could make perfect sense to screen for extroverts.

              1. the news from poems*

                I’m an introvert who worked over 5 years in principal and major gifts at a non-profit research institution (cultivating prospects to donate to the organization in the range of $5 million to $100 million). During that time, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran many articles which suggested that introvert vs. extrovert may be largely irrelevant to success in this field. As an example, this seems to be an abbreviated version of something I remember reading when it first came out:


                Even that example article suffers slightly from buying into popular misconceptions surrounding introversion. In my experience, effectiveness in most (certainly not all) roles has less to do with the specifics of what drains or recharges your batteries … and far more to do with whether you practice self-care, i.e. making sure that your batteries do get recharged as often as they need. Draining one’s batteries is a good thing as long as they’re recharged regularly! To illustrate, I’d draw parallels with exercise: strength training breaks down muscle fibers and literally makes you measurably weaker … but if one gets the proper amount of rest afterward, the body’s chemical processes rebuild those muscle fibers to be stronger than before. In my experience, one can actually enjoy stretching oneself in social situations on a regular basis, as long as one takes time to recharge. And similar to the exercise example, building up the strength of your battery means that in the next social situation, you are either less drained compared to before, or you can go longer without feeling drained.

                1. the news from poems*

                  *introversion vs. extroversion
                  *abridged, not abbreviated

                  Must read rough drafts before clicking submit …

                2. Programmer 01*

                  Yes yes, thank you for pointing this out! I come off as extroverted because I like people, like talking to strangers, love working in teams and love talking in front of an audience, but after a full day of this, when I get home I am completely wiped and need no human contact for the rest of the night.

                  It’s all about where I get my energy back from — if I were really an extrovert I’d feel energized from all of the above, but it’s incredibly draining. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it and don’t love doing it, I just plan say, a few days after a major convention of pure downtime or else I know I’ll be useless and may try to bite someone who approaches me.

                3. the news from poems*

                  Oh cool, I’ve got a question for you! re: you love speaking in front of an audience …

                  I’ve read somewhere (I think in “The Introvert Advantage”, but not certain) that supposedly introverts only love public speaking if they feel they know the topic in and out, through and through. (I think it was actually even presented along the lines of “Unless an introvert feels they’ve completely mastered a topic, it can feel as if they know next to nothing about it and thus are unqualified to speak about it.”)

                  Personally, I do relate to those statements — but I’ve often suspected this might not be correlated with introversion per se, and rather might be connected with a much more nuanced set of psychological/neurological factors.

                  What’s your experience from loving public speaking? Do you tend to speak on topics you know ‘like the back of your hand’ or do you also do a lot of extemporaneous stuff? Do you feel underprepared unless you’re an “expert” on the topic?


                  I’d also like to second your comment about “it’s all about where I get my energy back from” — knowing this in detail about oneself really helps a lot. The more detail the better.

                  For example, watching TV alone and writing a symphony are both “non-social” activities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they both recharge one’s batteries. For me, watching TV alone would have zero effect, whereas exploring or fleshing out ideas is THE ultimate way to recharge. I imagine there are plenty of people who would have the opposite experience.

                  And even within an activity category, it can vary, and it’s helpful to know that ahead of time so one can “schedule” oneself effectively. For example, in my case, sketching out ideas for a symphony = my energy cup runneth over. But doing the painstaking work of making virtual instruments sound as realistic as possible in order to produce a mockup of those ideas so others can hear them = draining (albeit in a positive way!).

                  And of course, such things may even vary based on your current mood/circumstances. Experimenting and learning to listen to oneself is so valuable in this context.

                  (I know you already know all this, just trying to reinforce your comments in case helpful to someone.)

                4. louise*

                  As a fellow introvert, I understand entirely how you could excel in a role like that. When the stakes are high (big donations), a giver wants to feel appreciated and cared for. A lot of introverts would be fantastic in that kind of situation. Never having been a large donor before (maybe someday!), I can’t say with certainty, but I suspect the last thing they want is the classic extroverted used car salesperson.

                5. ADE*

                  I am the classic introvert who excels in people-centered sales roles.

                  The trick is understanding that a sales/fundraising relationship is not a social one. As an introvert, I find myself highly coordinating my conversations with clients that end up making the conversation about the product, not about my particular sparkle.

                  If anything, introverts could have the upper hand here because a) they are more likely to see these conversations as “work” and take them seriously and b) they are going to be more guarded/professional/come in armed with information on the topic and not what you did last weekend.

                  Crackpot theory of the day!

          1. Kelly L.*

            I’m the biggest introvert who ever introverted–and I think it’s problematic to equate “introverts” with “deep thinkers,” as though no extroverts are deep thinkers.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Very good point. Plenty of introverts are far from deep thinkers, and plenty of extroverts are quite deep thinkers. Introversion/extroversion is about how you draw energy and recharge your energy, not how deeply you think.

            2. Tinker*

              This is a good point.

              I’d also add that it’s not necessarily so that an introvert, even one who expresses that trait fairly strongly, would do poorly in these sort of group problem-solving exercises. Introversion is a tricky concept to get ahold of, and a lot of times folks kind of blend it together with things that look similar or sometimes come along (but sometimes not) such as shyness, social anxiety, lack of social skill, or an inability to project an assertive presence.

              I’m notable as an introvert among my introverted friends, but am also notably not shy and (barring a couple odd scenarios) not socially anxious. Depending on the situation, I can actually be fairly aggressive in managing or contributing to a group event, particularly when the focus is on a problem rather than just general socializing.

              It can be a little perilous to make assumptions about the relationship between extraversion/introversion and the way people externally represent, particularly for introverts who are more mature and have more well-developed tools for social mediation.

              1. CT*


                I’m very introverted – at the end of the day I want to sit in my apartment alone and read or think or generally just be away from other humans. But in a group that’s focused on any sort of problem I’m assertive and opinionated. It drives me crazy that my coworkers claim I ‘can’t possibly be introverted’. I don’t want to hang out with them socially at the end of the day but that doesn’t mean I’m quiet and shy.

                1. C Average*

                  I’m speaking only as ONE introvert here and in no way trying to speak for all introverts or even most introverts.

                  The events and activities I find exhausting are the ones that require me to pretend to be someone I’m not. It’s not the presence of other people that’s the defining source of stress for me. It’s the expectation that I’ll have to work to be “on” in the presence of the other people.

                  Small talk = exhausting after a short time. Focused, interesting collaboration and conversation = exhilarating, although I do like to decompress alone when it’s done.

                2. the news from poems*

                  +1 to both CT and C Average.

                  I’ve held roles where “events and activities […] that require me to pretend to be someone I’m not” were exceedingly frequent. For the benefit of anyone who’s an introvert and also finds themselves in such situations on a recurring basis … it’s hard to describe in a specific way, but I eventually learned how to be myself in such situations (for my own emotional and mental well-being), while somehow simultaneously fulfilling the requirement of appearing to be “someone I’m not”.

                  It’s hard to put into specifics, but somehow I learned that instead of pretending to be someone I’m not, I could just decide which parts of myself would and wouldn’t be highlighted, given that particular given situation/group.

                  As always, your mileage may vary … I may merely have been lucky enough to find myself in situations where this was a possibility.

              2. the news from poems*

                +1 Tinker.

                For anyone who feels they are struggling with being “an introvert in an extrovert’s world” … for anyone who feels that the “battery drain” they are experiencing is at an overwhelming level that is nearly never recharged … some unsolicited thoughts from my own experience, on the off chance that they might help in some small way:

                Some portion of feeling that your batteries are drained may not stem from introversion itself. Self-awareness is your sword in the stone — listen to your self-talk and replace unhelpful patterns with helpful ones, and you will reveal yourself to be the once and future king or queen of your own hero’s journey.

                This takes energy, and it can take years to change the tides within yourself — but oh, is it worth it. In my case, socializing used to drain my batteries 10x more than it does now (and it used to take 100x more to recharge those batteries) — the difference now is that I’ve eliminated the percentage of battery-drain that stemmed from negative self-talk, such as “Oh no, I’m not going to fit in at the function tonight … oh no, I just said something stupid and now this person must be looking for someone else to rescue them from this conversation … gee, this person looks like they don’t know how to keep the conversation moving with me, I must have said or done something awkward, or ohmigod hopefully I didn’t just offend them somehow …” etc., etc. (It used to be so bad that it would happen even in non-social situations, such as a normal day at the office: “So and so didn’t seem happy when they walked by and said good morning, I wonder what I did wrong that they’re not happy to see me …” UGH, so painful to read in hindsight or when one has some distance from it, but when it’s happening in your own head these illusions can feel so real and “natural”.

                And as so many have stated before, if you’re someone who grew up in an environment where healthy, appropriate boundaries were not modeled for you … this is something that can also be learned, and will improve your quality of life no end.

                In my case, 90% of what I was up against years ago was negative self-talk and an inward lack of healthy boundaries, not introversion. What remains for me today is my own “normal level” of battery depletion, which I know how to recharge effectively. It took several years to “wake up” about it and get where I am today, but if I can do it, anyone can — good luck to you and follow your bliss!

        2. Sydney*

          I’m an introvert and I would shine in exactly this scenario.

          But I would tell you at the end that it’s a terrible idea and should be abolished.

    2. ThomasT*

      I was going to say something right along these lines. This type of activity could theoretically fall under the “exercises and simulations to see them doing the work you’d be hiring them for (or as close to it as you can realistically get)” step that AAM mentions above. Capable participation in group problem solving is a valuable skill to have and/or require for a job. Making it a completely fictional scenario has the potential advantage of the employer not being perceived as getting work done for free during the selection process. But I think that the fictional scenario should be a little more relevant than the ones mentioned.

      But the big problem here is that performance in these contrived situations in the context of a competitive job selection process is a very poor indicator of future performance in group problem solving as an employee. The conflict between the nominal instruction to collaborate and the obviously competitive nature of the hiring process creates perverse incentives that I hope don’t exist when this company’s employees actually have to work together.

      1. Dan*

        Real world groups always have a company-designated leader. In my line of work, he’s called a “project lead.” These exercises fail because there is no one in charge that is responsible for the success and failure of the team.

        1. Judy*

          And even with a given team lead, real world projects, even among software developers, have people assigned to parts based on some sort of knowledge of the individuals on the team. Who has done driver level software before? Who has expressed interest in learning how to handle the driver development or user interface.

          I’ve never been on a work team that all the roles aren’t defined to some extent.

    3. De Minimis*

      If the candidates are entry-level college recruits it is less of a big deal to have them come in as a group. That is fairly common practice in public accounting, for example.

      However, mid-level people seem to be interviewed in the more traditional fashion.

    4. Mike B.*

      If you have a lot of applicants, it doesn’t particularly matter what method you use to cull the herd. You might as well stick rigidly to your chosen appointment time, because you’ll still find more attractive candidates than you can hire.

      The group activities are pointless, of course, and a sign that this company doesn’t know how to evaluate people. This won’t be any better once you’re working there and hoping to be promoted.

    5. Chinook*

      I agree – this won’t test the candidates because any good group project requires both leaders and followers. In a situation where there Are too many people are vying for leadership, I will take a step back and do the work. But, when given a chance to learn I can and have done amazing work (I.e. I have led students out of a burning school and then convinced parents that they couldn’t legally take them home until we had a way for them to do it formally and legally). Even in games like Survivor and Hunger Games, someone is following the leader but, if and when the leader is gone, someone always steps in.

    6. Mephyle*

      Everybody is commenting how it filters out the thinkers, observers and introverts, and pushes the type As forward.
      But that’s assuming they’re going to pick the loud, active candidates.

  4. Kelly L.*


    (Next they’ll probably try faking a fire, like that company from one of the Worst Interviews posts.)

    1. Chinook*

      “(Next they’ll probably try faking a fire, like that company from one of the Worst Interviews posts.)”

      Oooh….this would make me angry and trigger some mild PTSD. I have been through a real school fire and it took years to not jump at crackling fire in a fire pit. Plus, I know that, as a visitor, my best role served is to follow directions, evacuate and not interfere with the designated floor warden or other emergency personnel, the exact opposite of what I would do if I was a staff member.

  5. Dan*

    Having been in the read world for a few years now, I can say that any group activity that doesn’t have a designated leader is just dumb.

    In the real world, groups have a designated leader who is responsible for the success and failure of the team. This leader isn’t chosen by a democracy, s/he is appointed by the higher ups. This person is somewhat of a final authority on most project issues.

    So yeah, schools screw this up, and this “simulation” the OP describes falls into the same boat.

  6. Cat*

    Okay, even if this wasn’t stupid to begin with regardless of the scenario, they’re having people decide who lives and dies after a hypothetical nuclear apocalypse? WHAT? WHY?

    1. MJ*

      Yeah, I think I’d find that question really offensive, to the point that I would refuse to answer it. I’m not comfortable with the idea of deciding who lives and dies based on their “background/abilities,” and I imagine a lot of people would feel the same way, since there’s pretty much no way this relates to the actual job (unless it’s, like, deciding who get a transplant organ or something).

      1. Kelly L.*

        I remember being given some group assignments like this in the “gifted class” in my grade school. One had you on a sinking ship and you had to decide what stuff to take on the lifeboat, from a list (I recall beating my metaphorical head against some other kids who weren’t picking food and water)– and the other was like this, decide who will live in some kind of apocalyptic scenario where only some of the people on the list will survive to continue the human race. At least it was a list of made-up people so we weren’t choosing to “kill” our fellow students. I remember being pretty annoyed by it though. I didn’t know the term Mary Sue/Gary Stu back then, but some of the characters were pretty obviously designed to be picked based on their skill sets.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And there weren’t any real-world stakes! We didn’t even get letter grades in this class.

        2. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

          I remember taking those “tests” and that it was actually really counterintuitive what you were supposed to take with you. Something like “six heavy coats” was number one because it would keep the sweat against your body and you wouldn’t dehydrate, while water was four or five on the list.

          I guess it served the purpose of teaching us to question the “obvious” answers, so there’s that. Since we were in school and all. But the answers were so arbitrary that using it in an interview tells you…jack about someone’s abilities.

          1. De Minimis*

            The same firm I mentioned routinely does these exercises when they do events with college accounting clubs.

            They are a case of trying too hard to be different, at recruiting fairs they would be the only ones who weren’t wearing professional attire, they had these blue polos that made their people look like Best Buy employees.

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            > Something like “six heavy coats” was number one because it would keep the sweat against your body and you wouldn’t dehydrate, while water was four or five on the list.

            What?! That’s not how human hydration works. We don’t absorb water through our skin, or swimmers wouldn’t get dehydrated while working out. Wearing a lot of coats would just make you sweat more and so dehydrate faster.

          3. Turtle Candle*

            I remember that–the answer was always something really weird, I think because in the cases I’m thinking of the point was to get you to think “outside the box,” rather than picking “obvious” answers like food and water. I did one in high school where the idea was that you were on a life raft after a plane crash, and the #1 most correct item to take with you was gasoline, because you could float it on the water and set it on fire to get rescuers to notice/find you faster.

            Which struck me as a terrible idea–I’d think the likelihood of your setting your own life raft on fire (or at least melting it) while making the attempt would be at least as great as the likelihood of getting yourself rescued faster. But it was certainly more, uh, creative than grabbing the big jugs of purified water.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I would SO fail that interview test–I’d be grabbing food, water, a radio, etc. And I’m not shy about saying my opinion either, so I would have to find a nice way of pointing out how idiotic the gasoline thing was.

              1. TychaBrahe*

                Ours was being stranded on the Moon. And I remember saying we should take the matches, because we could lay them out to draw an arrow in the direction we had started walking.

                The inflatable rubber raft would also be useful because 1) draping it over us would keep us out of sunlight, helping us keep cool, and 2) it’s a lot easier to see by a rescue crew flying over us.

                I think I read too much Heinlein.

        3. the gold digger*

          you had to decide what stuff to take on the lifeboat

          We had to do an exercise like this in my Organizational Behavior class in grad school, but the purpose was to show us that unless you have an expert, a group makes better decisions of this sort than an individual can.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Oh, was that the purpose? They never actually told us. :D I don’t even remember what the “right” answers were, either.

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            Yes, we did this too, where you got a score as an individual and then did the same exercise as a group. My team for the semester…did not work well together, which was foreshadowed by this exercise where we all did better as individuals. Ah, memories!

        4. KrisL*

          When I was in school, I eventually noticed that teachers frequently have no clue what to do with gifted kids. As a result, sometimes they would put classes together that really made no sense.

      2. Tinker*

        Yeah, I agree. I guess in a way it’s similar to what the interviewers are doing, but that scenario strikes me as silly and not something I’d be wild about exploring with a group of strangers.

        (It could also go in some really, really ugly directions depending on the makeup of the group.)

      3. rory*

        I hate all of those things on principle, as someone who’d die pretty early on in any kind of survival scenario because of medical reasons. (This is also why I hate apocalypse/disaster movies. “Oh, look, they just killed me again.”)

    2. Kerr*

      The lifeboat/nuclear fallout game is…bizarre. Especially in a job interview (?!?) In a REAL nuclear fallout situation, does anyone think the “chosen” ones are going to just…be tossed out, on everyone else’s say-so? That’s a situation that would escalate quickly.

      I admit, I’d love to see a group of interviewees collectively stage a more realistic version of the same, complete with (carefully) tossing people out the doors, armed resistance with staplers, etc.

  7. Lucy*

    Ugh, this sounds terrible. As a candidate, I have really come to appreciate work simulations/assignments. I had a phone interview last week with an organization who sent three small tasks to do before determining whether to schedule an in-person interview. All of the assignments referred to policies and procedures on the company’s website. It even helped me prepare for the interview by delving a little more deeply into their website.

  8. CTO*

    I had to do a group activity once, during an interview process for a seasonal/holiday retail job at a high-end store. They invited about 40 applicants for a “hiring clinic” with the end goal of hiring 25-30% of us.

    After an intro on company culture, benefits, etc. we had to do one of these silly group activities: building a product out of toothpicks and marshmallows and presenting the product to the group. I suppose that theoretically the activity highlighted our teamwork and sales skills, but it was still pretty bad. Only one person in each group could present, so of course there was awkward jockeying for that role because we were all trying to stand out.

    After the activity each of us did a short interview with one of the managers, so I’m not sure what the activity revealed that they couldn’t have discovered via a good one-on-one interview. They could have easily asked us to do a quick sales demo or other situational things in the interviews. (And because we all had to wait for our turn to interview, the entire event took about 4 hours… which is a lot for a seasonal retail gig, though at least they warned us in advance to expect it.)

    I did end up getting the job and working there on and off for several years as a side gig. It was a great place to work, but I’ve never forgotten how awful that toothpick-and-marshmallow thing was. (For what it’s worth, it was the one and only time the managers did it. Since then they’ve stuck with more traditional individual interviews.)

  9. Adam*

    The closest I’ve ever come to something like this was the one time I interviewed for a bank teller position. The initial meeting was a couple bank representatives and what seemed like at least ten of us candidates crammed into one of their franchise meeting rooms. There were so many of us to the point where we were sitting shoulder to shoulder for the whole hour long meeting.

    It was really strange as I just wasn’t sure how to act. Would “be myself”, at least as far as an interview presence goes, be applicable advice? Is it ok to make a joke or too distracting? How many questions should I volunteer to answer, and is there such a thing as too many/too little in this context? The whole thing felt really awkward.

    In the end the bank reps said they’d be happy to hire all of the people sitting there, which confused the hell out of me because in this maybe hour long meeting some people had answered maybe only one or two direct questions. With so many of us sitting there there simply wasn’t time for everyone to speak a lot about themselves. We were then scheduled one-on-one interviews with managers at different branches. I don’t remember if I was offered the job or not after that. I just remember that either way I didn’t want it.

    Part of me wonders if that initial circus was just a basic “will show up on time and wear a suit” litmus test to determine if a real interview would follow, because obviously I don’t know if they did in fact schedule every candidate there for follow-up interviews, but saying they would be glad to hire anyone in the group setting is pretty sketchy otherwise.

  10. MJ*

    I once did a group interview like this. There were ten of us around the table, and the guy leading the interview enthusiastically opened with a riddle: “You’re thrown into a pit with a tiger who hasn’t been fed in two years! How do you get out alive?”

    The room erupted with people shouting out answers, devising strategies, and generally trying to talk over each other. When it finally died down, I said, “Wouldn’t the tiger be dead if it hasn’t eaten in two years?”

    He gave me a tin of mints with the company logo. I didn’t get a second interview, and it was kind of a relief.

    1. Kelly L.*

      LOL! I think if I were the manager there, I’d hire you for being the one with common sense. But then I wouldn’t have used that question anyway.

    2. CTO*

      A tin of mints with the company logo? Hilarious. At least he didn’t use one of those t-shirt guns to shoot a company t-shirt across the conference table!

        1. Melissa*

          I’m cracking up over here imagining you in Child’s Pose, but with one hand on your face instead of above your head. LOL

    3. BRR*

      I second the I’d hire you. You dogged a bullet by not working at a place where common sense is not valued.

  11. Grey*

    I don’t care if it’s a fictional scenario. I’m walking out of any interview that asks me to issue death sentences to people.

  12. Tiff*

    Oh how awkward. Decide to who to put out into a nuclear wasteland?!?!

    *slow blink*

    I can’t imagine a single instance where something like this would be helpful. Unless they’re just trying to find out who has the highest tolerance for their mess, in which case the exercise could prove fairly accurate.

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      I guess if someone blurts out “First we get rid of the (ethnic/religious/etc. minorities)”, they’re out. So there’s that.

      The group interview thing reminds me of the Operation Smile dinner thing.

      1. Felicia*

        I was reminded of Operation Smile too! Slightly less exploitative and slightly less stupid, but only slightly. I’ve said it in a comment below, but I’d put whoever thought of this process in the nuclear wasteland.

    2. Puddin*

      IANHR, but I think this is related to a couple things…
      1. This is an exercise intended to understand how people behave in small group communication. Who are the blockers, the domineers, the advocates, the yes-people, etc. Who will emerge as the natural leader, who will try to usurp?
      2. Behavioral interviewing gone waaaay awry.
      3. So called “innovation” or creativity being implemented in an ill conceived manner.

      I too would be very wary of a company that employed this scenario exercise as an interviewing technique. I think they have some merits within a team building, classroom activity, or even maybe an ice breaker environment. But this seems out of place for an interview. And it makes me wonder what other inappropriate or misappropriated activities I would have to endure as an employee.

      How would I prepare if I was already there and looking to move up? I would read up on small group communication roles and understand how to leverage those roles into my desired outcome in any given scenario and for the interview as a whole.

      1. Lost in Translation*

        India Association of New HampshiRe? International Alliance for NanoEHS HaRmonization? Don’t keep us guessing!

        1. Juli G.*

          I think Puddin’s acronym means “I am not HR”.

          And if so, I am HR and this is terrible.

          1. Poohbear McGriddles*

            Still better than IANAL…

            Yeah, yeah, you’re not a lawyer, but my eyes skip over that I and the thread seems to be going in a whole new direction.

    3. Rebecca*

      I found this part particularly horrifying. I have to say I would fail miserably, because in my mind, people have value. I’m not going to toss them out. I’m going to figure out a way to find more provisions and for us to make a plan and stick together.

    4. TychaBrahe*

      Medical ethics board. Do you perform life-saving surgery on an infant with a projected IQ of 65? Organ transplant board. Do you give the liver to the young dad of 3 who works retail or the single, childfree entrepreneur who operates a business that employs 300 people.

      1. Jennifer2*

        Yes, you perform life-saving surgery on an infant with a projected IQ of 65. IQ is a shit measure of the value of a human life, and in a situation where it’s not a choice between saving life A or life B, human life is worth more than whatever time or resources will go into the operation.

        As for the organ transplant board, if at all possible, you don’t consider any of that. Whose liver is worse? Who is going to die soonest? Who is the best match for the donor liver? If all those things are somehow truly equal, you have to be arbitrary and go with who was on the list first. Again, there is no way to say “Person A’s life is more valuable than Person B’s life.”

      2. Melissa*

        Somebody already addressed the IQ thing (yes, of course you do), but organ transplant lists have an order that is predicated upon a set of rules, including length of time on the liver transplant list and severity of the illness. Either way, the organ transplant board and the medical ethics board functions as a cohesive unit of people who have established roles, not as a group of strangers jockeying for the same position.

  13. C Average*

    Alison, your answer to this question offers a welcome reassurance that sane people are not extinct. Thank you.

    That is all.

    1. Jeanne*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I was reading saying What The… and Huh? I would not participate in any activity like what is described. I once refused to answer the What animal would you be question (I said I couldn’t think of one). I certainly would not decide who would die even theoretically. Thank goodness some people state the emperor has no clothes.

  14. Celeste*

    At least on Survivor, you’ve got a 1 in 12 shot at $1M. Here you’ve just got the chance to play the stupid game and maybe nobody will get the so-called prize, a chance to work for these Bozos.

    Day-drinking would be a better use of your time than sticking it out at this interview. I mean that.

  15. MT*

    I have been part of something similar in the past. We were bulk hiring for a new facility, hiring hourly workers. We had a 60 minute information session with different speakers and interactive portions. Verry high energy. The supervisors in the back of the room were tasked with monitoring a small group of the people who were watching and interacting. We used those observations to decide who we wanted to call back for an interview.

    1. MT*

      it worked out really well. We hired about 90% of the people we had come back to interview. Of the canditates we didnt screen this way we only hired just over 40% of the applicants.

      1. Lost in Translation*

        Dynamics seem like they would be VERY different if you were hiring, say, 20 people out of a pool of 100 versus 1 person out of 20. In the 20/100 scenario, any group of 10 would feel they could all be winners and would have much less pressure and more incentive to cooperate.

        1. MT*

          Doing a group senerio is a huge time savior. If each person would get a 1 hour interview, it would take that group 6 hours to get through interviews. Instead they do one interview for one hour.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And they get 1/6 of the time with each of them, plus all the disadvantages of a group interview.

            Hiring is a hugely important task. It’s one of the most important things managers do. They should be devoting way more than six hours to it, not less!

          2. Lamington*

            i interviewed with a company that did this, interview the group all at once and it was so disorganized. No one knew who should start talking or people will talk over each other. The owner had a gleeful look, as he looked liked he has enjoying the train wreck. you might save yourself time but you wasted my time and i did ask to be withdrawn from the process after the interview was done.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I’m having trouble visualizing the scenario. What were they doing in these groups and what were they evaluated on? And what kind of “high energy”?

      1. MT*

        we had 100 applicants all watching and interacting during a company information sessions.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’m envisioning somebody giving a rah-rah speech and people being evaluated on their chit-chat during the speech, which I think is why I feel like I’m not getting it. I would think you’d want people who were paying attention. But I may be imagining it wrong.

          1. MT*

            thats what we did. We judged candidates based on if they paid attention, if they interacted when they had a chance. People who appeared to care and put forth some effort to participate, even if that meant just paying attention, were giving interviews

            1. Jeanne*

              Well, it sounds really unhelpful to me but maybe if the job is all meetings I guess you could see who stays awake. I have no idea how it helps to have 100 people in the same room and then decide who to hire. Some people have great ideas but wait their turn to speak. You would never find them in your scenario.

              1. MT*

                We were hiring for hourly workers, who we were going to have to devote a lot of training to, atleast 3 months of training, before they would become productive workers. It was an easy way to see who was really interested and who was there just because.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The thing is, there are some things that you just shouldn’t do because they’re demeaning. I mean, asking them to perform a song and dance might have given you insight into who was really committed too, but you wouldn’t do that because it’s demeaning. (Hopefully.)

                  The other thing is, there are more effective ways of screening large groups. It sounds like you guys stumbled upon this and decided it worked, but it’s really not the most effective method.

                2. Mike C.*

                  Why just ask for bribes or sexual favors to see “who’s really dedicated” and who’s there “just because”?

                3. Melissa*

                  But that’s silly. Sure, they may have had 3 months of training – but after that, they had actual work to do, and presumably you wanted people who could excel at the X years of actual work, not the 3 months of training. Personally I really hate rah-rah motivational speech meetings, especially if they are pretty irrelevant to my job, and I don’t raise my hand to ask questions unless I actually have a question. So what does “paying attention” look like?

            2. aebhel*

              That sounds hellishly ineffective–the equivalent of grading students based on their enjoyment of pep rallies.

  16. CTO*

    Also, what’s with still having 6-8 final candidates after several other rounds of screening and interviews? Unless you’re hiring large classes of people at once, this is too many people to have this far into the process for one open position. You’re wasting these candidates’ time by making them jump through so many silly hoops with so little chance of being hired.

    OP, you also mentioned that your company likes to use these multi-stage processes for internal candidates. If internal candidates are really being subjected to a hiring process this long and silly, that makes even less sense. What on earth could a group activity reveal that an internal candidate hasn’t already demonstrated in the course of, you know, actually doing their job at your company?

    1. De Minimis*

      This is probably a case of hiring a large group at once.

      Using it with internal candidates is insane, however. You could *possibly* make a case for these exercises being useful if we were talking about entry level college hires with no real work experience, but to use it for those who already have internal experience is even more ridiculous.

    2. Puddin*

      Agreed about the internal process! I get annoyed that I have to complete a phone interview for any internal postings. There is no way I would cotton to the type of extensive filtering. Time waster indeed!

    3. OP*

      Just as an example for the internal hiring process:

      A few months ago I applied for an internal vacancy (a middle-management role, one rung up from what I do now – although I do a lot of tasks at that level at the moment and often stand in when no-one of that level is available).

      It started with a written application – about 5 different questions, each requiring essay-style answers. Those who got through that stage then had to fill in psychometric tests and then do a written task (it was basically a list of things the person doing this role might have to do, and you had to arrange them in the order you would do them and write out your reasoning for doing them in that order). Those who got through that stage then had to attend a group activity as outlined in my question. Then after getting through that there was an hour-long interview asking the traditional types of questions.

      I found parts of it more relevant than others, of course, but it was the group part of it that made me think as I’d never done anything like it before (I’ve done it once or twice since as parts of applying for various roles and an internal course that my company offers too).

  17. NavyLT*

    So… this hiring process sums up almost everything that weirds me out about the corporate world. The only thing that’s missing is a team-building exercise with trust falls, but maybe that comes later?

    1. Stephanie*

      Haha. I told my friend in academia that someone stole my frozen lunch one day at work. She was like “No…that actually happens in offices?”

  18. De Minimis*

    Sadly, I know of one Big 4 firm who is fond of using these type of exercises as part of their interview process, or at least they have in the past. They have been known to do it as part of their second round interviews, they have candidates participate in these exercises and then evaluate them and see who “takes a leadership role.”

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        ^ The Wall agrees. It’s a competition to see who can talk over other people the most.

        1. De Minimis*

          I suspect it may be a case of weeding out those who are really staying in the background during the exercises–it’s probably noted that they aren’t getting involved, and that is held against them at decision time, after all the interviews and more traditional recruiting activities have been completed. Although generally, I’d guess that enough candidates know about these practices going in to where they’d all be sure to be chomping at the bit to take the lead in the nuclear holocaust/Martian expedition.

          My firm had us doing more of these type of exercises during national training–they were equally useless but at least you felt like your job wasn’t riding on them as much.

          1. Elsie*

            I work for a firm that sometimes uses group case interviews to select recent college grads for large incoming classes. Our cases are much more closely aligned to the work we actually do than in this situation and in that way are more like project team simulations. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to be the group leader to shine in situations like this. Project teams need all types. If you’re the person who steps on everyone else’s toes to get your ideas across, that’s just as unattractive as the person who doesn’t seem to have a point of view.

          2. Tax Nerd*

            Who the hell is doing this??

            I’m in the Big 4, and I haven’t heard of my firm doing this crap, but then I am not overly involved in recruiting.

            I hate it when we treat potential hires like performing monkeys. Especially since the best of them end up with multiple offers, and this is sure to turn off some people, even if they did well in the exercise.

            1. De Minimis*

              Allegedly the “radio station” firm was the one who did it. I don’t know if they are still doing it or if it was nationwide [though knowing large firms it probably was.] I did see them using the exercises at college events and had classmates who claimed they’d done the same at their second round interviews [I didn’t make it that far with them.]

              But all of this was around 7 years ago and I’m wondering if their practices may have changed.

              1. anonintheUK*

                I was in the Big 4 in the late 90s and early 00s, and definitely saw this used.
                I would have thought in tax planning the last thing you would need is a bunch of rah! rah! people rather than those who thought carefully asked questions.

            2. Poofeybug*

              Well, I can’t say for sure if they still do it, but in the 90s, your United States Department of State did this silly show piece in their hiring process for Foreign Service Officers. And since at that time I wanted to be one soooooooo bad, I did it — all 8 hellish hours.

    1. Dan*

      If they are up front about it, they can just tell me and save everybody a bunch of time. I’m not going to fight for the top dog spot, not in this kind of scenario.

    2. Stephanie*

      I’m sure leadership is important, but seems like entry-level (especially at a Big 4) wouldn’t really involve that much project lead work. Seems like it’d be a lot of “Do this the way I’m telling you, so you can learn this and not get us/the client in trouble.” Doesn’t seem like you want a strong creative leadership streak in an entry-level public accounting hire.

      1. De Minimis*

        It’s a weird system–they do seem to want everyone to have leadership ability, but those traits are not always that useful for an entry level person, other than being self-directed/motivated and being able to figure out things for yourself. The traits that would really help a new associate would probably not be good for a senior associate, and the skillset for manager and above is different to the point where it’s almost an entirely different profession.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, employers who do these exercises will tell you that they’re not just looking for leaders; they’re looking for people who work well as a team, which includes more than leaders. It’s still a crappy idea for all the other reasons though.

    3. MaryMary*

      I did an interview like this for a management trainee program in a large financial institution when I was graduating college. It was part of a second round, day long interview. I guess they were looking for leadership potential? I didn’t get the job, but the company no longer exists so I can’t say I’m too upset about it.

  19. Matteus*

    This is only tangentially related, but during one of my very first post-college job interviews something interesting happened in collaboration with other job candidates.
    I had made it to one of the final interview rounds, involving flying us in for in-person meetings and a tour of the facilities. They were hiring for about a dozen billets, so they were interviewing in batches. They brought a group of 4 of us in at once (separate interviews though, thank goodness), but we did the meet-and-greets and tours together.

    That night, I ran into the other candidates (who already knew each other from school) in a nearby restaurant/bar. We ended up having dinner and drinks and sharing candid notes about the company, what we observed, what we liked and disliked about the positions, the company, and the locale.

    This really helped clarify, for me, whether I wanted to actually accept the position if it were offered. Granted, we were all from similar educational and professional backgrounds, and weren’t all competing for a single slot, but I wish this sort of thing could happen more often.

    1. Agile Phalanges*

      My company is closing our entire location, so the whole office is job searching. It’s been really interesting when I’ve spoken with (and in one case, went through the entire interview processes at) the same companies as one or more of my co-workers. Even though we ARE interviewing for just one spot, we’re all pretty easygoing about it.

  20. CanadianWriter*

    If you only want to hire desperate people, I guess this is a good way to find them.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        Seriously. I’d be all “I am a grownup and this is bullshit,” and walk out.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      The sad truth is that employment is still very much a buyers market so a lot of companies can and do get away with treating applicants badly.

  21. Lily in NYC*

    What the heck? This sounds like an episode of The Apprentice. I would definitely walk away from this type of interview. We give case studies to candidates, but they do them alone and they are very specific to the type of projects we work on – none of this random “pretend you are a pop band” nonsense. And we only do them in certain departments – it wouldn’t make sense for a marketing person to do a strategic planning case study when their duties would have nothing to do with it. This is such a bad way to interview.

  22. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

    Someone watched Season 4 of House and doesn’t understand the concept of satire.

    Which makes me wonder what else they’ve misunderstood along the way.

  23. Holly Short*

    I saw the tweet from Alison on this post & quickly clicked on the link to find out what’s the answer to this. Whew!

    1. Pandora Amora*

      Any doomsday scenario that you face like this does have a correct answer: preserve your life at all costs, while trying as hard as possible not to resort to cannobalism.

      Read «Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex», the inspiration for «Moby Dick». A footnote within «Essex» talks about the proper way to deal with a survival situation on a life raft:
      • the losing strategy: kill someone and eat them. Now you might be the next one to be killed and eaten.
      • the winning strategy: kill someone and use their body as bait; fish up a shark. Eat the shark, and continue to use the shark for bait.

      Cannobalism in a survival situation is an especially poor choice because humans starving will have depleted their fat reserves; and without a certain amount of fat, humans cannot digest protein. So cannibalising a surviving starving castaway will not give you nutritive benefit.

      Plus fishing up the shark means you never need to cross the morally repugnant line of cannobalism.

      In the nuclear survival scenario, as presented, the winning solution is to kill every other member in their sleep; and to survive for 12x longer on full rations; or to ration your twelvefold rations and survive longer still.

      If you murder your co survivors through strangulation you can exaanguinate their corpses and attempt to preserve their blood, and drink that alongside water. If you’re lucky you might survive a month or two before running out of potable water and slipping into a dehydration coma and ultimately perish.

      In a hypothetical nuclear winter, there’s no sustainable survival strategy. Now if we were talking mine cave-ins, we’d have a different story altogether.

  24. Laufey*

    otherwise treat them like performing monkeys

    Unless you are, in fact, hiring performing monkeys.

    In which case, congratulations on finding monkeys that can read your instructions.

    1. Felicia*

      I think this would be insulting even to performing show monkeys. If I were hiring performing monkeys, I’d still make them perform something close to what they’d perform if they got the job.

  25. Abby*

    But don’t forget that the OP said written projects AND psychometric tests. Those are equally crazy. A written project is a lot of work to do for free but providing a writing sample is not and is reasonable. Psychometric tests prove NOTHING and are a sign of a nutty company in my opinion.

    1. C Average*

      I listened to an interesting podcast recently (I’ve forgotten which one, or I’d name-check it here) that went into why psychometric tests are popular.

      It notes that none of the “profiles” “revealed” by these tests are unflattering. People like them because they get to hear interesting, positive things about themselves. (I mean, who doesn’t? You don’t have to be a raging narcissist to enjoy hearing about what your strengths, talents, skills, etc., are.)

      If the tests also “revealed” that some of the test-takers are mediocre, lazy, easily distracted, unskilled at higher executive-level thinking, or possessed of the ideal skill set for long-term unemployment (all of which is statistically certain to be the case if enough people take the tests), the tests would be way less popular.

        1. Kelly O*

          Me too.

          I’m always curious about the validity of those results anyway. People realize they’re being tested and their future employment with the company depends on how they respond. That’s not exactly the same sort of result you’d get when the person is out on the job, dealing with their peer group and actual problems. There’s got to be some sort of measurable distance between those two points on the map.

    2. CA Anon*

      My company does those tests for some of the high level candidates we interview. We don’t do personality tests, we do work style and information processing tests. We have a really good idea of the challenges and strengths for our different teams, so we try and hire someone who’ll work well (or add a lacking perspective) within that context.

      For example, if we’ve got a team full of process-oriented people, we might add a big-picture person to complement them. If we’ve got a team of specialists who’re very detail oriented and focused on their projects, we’ll try not to hire someone who’s super dominating to manage them–we’d rather have someone who’ll listen and build consensus in that situation. If we’ve got a bunch of big-picture schmoozers, we might hire that more dominating manager to pin them down.

  26. B*

    Horrible, awful, run away! That is exactly what came to mind as soon as I saw you mention the psychometric tests. They are absolutely ridiculous, a waste of my time, and usually do not have the answer I would actually want to give. Add this group activity into the mix and it sounds even worse.

    My opinion of this kind of company is they are full of themselves and do not know how to do anything. If you rely on testing and not real world scenarios then why bother interviewing. Just make them write an essay, take a test online, and then hire from that.

  27. Rat Racer*

    Are they actually looking to hire job candidates, or are they recruiting subjects for some twisted psychological study?

  28. Felicia*

    An interview process like this is going to have a lot of your candidates thinking “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of, no way am I taking this job.” So it’s a great way to lose your best candidates! It also has absolutely nothing to do with how well they’d perform on the job, and would make me want to throw whoever came up with this into the nuclear wasteland.

  29. The Wall of Creativity*

    I did one of these tests once. I was put in a plane with Rachel, Ross, Joey and Monica from Friends. They gave us four parachutes and then cut the engines. We had to decide which four of us were worth saving.

    Monica is first up. She says “I’m the best organised, so I’m worth saving.” Picks up her chute and jumps out.

    Joey says “I’m the best looking.” He grabs one and he’s gone.

    Ross says “I’m the smartest.” Grabs a pack and jumps.

    Chandler looks at me and says “You’re looking pretty calm, Wall, given that there’s just two of us left with one parachute.”

    To which my response is “Chill out mate. We’ll both be OK. The smartest guy on the plane just jumped out with my rucksack.”

  30. LQ*

    I’m going to say that unfortunately I’d probably excel at this depending on the group. I’m very happy to step back if there is someone who has been designated a leader, self or appointed, but when no one is stepping up or doing it the way I would I’d jump in and take control and guide everyone toward a solution.

    I would also turn down the job unless I was extremely desperate.

    Ask about a time I led a group to consensus, or handled difficult personalities. Call my former employers and ask them how I dealt with team work when the goal was impossible.

    I will also say that if you made me take the Meyers Briggs I would probably not take the job either. I don’t really want a company that gives me a job based on my horoscope.

    1. Artemesia*

      What better way to know how you handle difficult personalities than to watch you do it in a group process where difficult personalities are trying to impress the interviewers?

      1. LQ*

        Like I said ask me, ask my references. Much better way of handling it, and a much more accurate response.

        LQ excels at dealing with groups with a clear outcome required, moves the group to the require outcome ahead of schedule and under budget but isn’t quite as good at dealing with groups where the outcome is not well defined.

        1. Artemesia*

          References may or may not get you this info — but one thing that really doesn’t is what people ‘say’ they can do. It is always easier to ‘say’ what you can do than to do it. I would not hire a teacher without watching them teach, or someone I intended to hire for development without watching them at least in a simulation of trying to close a deal with a donor, or a team leader without watching them handle a team.

          I agree that the doomsday scenario is stupid, but I have hired dozens of people and am convinced that a demonstration of competence is critical if you want to get strong people.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Absolutely — I am a huge proponent of watching people in action and would never hire without it. The problem is with group exercises with other candidates, specifically.

          2. Observer*

            Yes, but this kind of group scenario doesn’t come close to really showing how people collaborate in normal circumstances.

    2. KrisL*

      Meyers Briggs is not a horoscope. It’s a way to group types of people that can be helpful in knowing what works for different people.

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        But they aren’t absolute. I get different results every time I take it and I’m not the only one. Its mildly interesting the same way a Buzzfeed quiz is interesting, but whether I’m more like Hermione or Ron this particular moment means nothing.

  31. Oh Happy Day...*

    Those “scenarios” are just insulting; my three year old would be insulted if subjected to that game.

    The fact is that everyone isn’t leadership material, some people just like to play their part – and that is ok. The problems with this game are:
    A. If you only hire the “go-getter, run over/out talk everyone else in the group person” each time, you’ll have an office full of people who all want to lead the ship. There will be no balance. Good organizations have front line, middle and behind the scenes staff.

    B. You will be missing out on some great “supporter” type new hires. The ones that can run a back office like no other.

    C. Most of the candidates will not show their true colors; they will exhibit what they think you want to see. That is the opposite of what you want.

    D. This is clownish to say the least.

    1. Artemesia*

      But what if you are looking for people who don’t run over other people but for people who are sensitive to the need to include everyone and who are respectful but also effective in making their point heard. There seems to be an assumption in the criticism here that only those who talk loud and hog the floor will ‘win’ whereas I would assume behavior like that would get them eliminated.

      Totally agree that stupid lifeboat scenerios should not be used.

      1. De Minimis*

        The sad thing is this exercise actually probably could be considered a good indicator into what life is like as an employee there—many of these companies’ business models are built around bringing a large group of newbies each year, working them to death, promoting maybe 15-20%, firing around 10%, and the rest usually will get fed up and leave sometime over a couple of years.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree. I can just see me reporting to work after a few months:
          “Today, NSNR, we are going to play a game. We have hidden your desk and no one will tell you where it is. Please use this experience to describe how you would survive 3 weeks alone in the desert.”

          No. Never. Ever.

      2. Kate M*

        But most people would think that you are looking for a leader, or at least a person who stands out. Which could realistically cause many good candidates (who might be sensitive and respectful) to alter their behavior in order to get a chance at a job. You’re not telling people what characteristics you’re looking for, therefore they have to guess. If they guess wrong and try to show characteristics that aren’t necessarily the way they always act, then you’re not getting a good view of who these people actually are. Like someone said before, there’s no defined goal. If you leave people to guess what you’re looking for, then you’re probably not going to get what you want.

        You don’t put a job listing up that says “Looking for someone with some experience in a general category” and then try to figure out which of your candidates have 2-5 years of experience in this specific category. You ask for what you want, which also helps self-aware candidates to opt out if they know that it won’t be a good fit.

      3. Observer*

        Even if that’s what the evaluators a looking for, this type of set up is not going to really show you that. Remember that the group in no way resembles a normal working group unless the organization is utterly dysfunctional. If the organization IS that dysfunctional, then it’s not going to be looking for the traits you mention. And, in any other type of organization, no normal working group will be made up of a bunch of people who know nothing about each other EXCEPT that they are competing for a prize that has nothing to do with the scenario they are dealing with, and who also know that the results of the discussion are utterly meaningless. Add in the fact that the scenarios have nothing to do with the skill sets the interviewees are supposed to have, and the way that they are going to operate in this setting is highly unlikely to correlate with real world performance.

        Someone could look wonderful here and be total dud, or the reverse.

  32. Beti*

    I had to do a board/group interview once. It was for a municipal position and so they asked the same set of 10 questions to all candidates. We sat in a row and had to answer the same question in turn. They’d ask candidate 1 question 1, then candidate 2, etc. Then for question 2, they’d start with candidate 2 and work their way through the whole group ending with 1. Some of them were “tell me about a time when” or “what volunteer work have you done” but some really had only one right answer and it was really awkward when we all answered the same thing over and over.

    1. AVP*

      Er, especially if you’re candidate #10 and didn’t know the right answer…until you heard it 9 times in a row!

    2. James M*

      I call that a “circus of one-up-manship”. It’s specifically designed to annoy top candidates.

  33. Stephanie*

    We did one of these “desert island” scenarios in high school English. We all got roles and we had to vote who could escape from the island. It devolved into us all yelling to be heard and picking fairly inappropriate situations. Even at 17, I thought “Why the eff are we doing this? Shouldn’t we be studying Frost or something?” I’d be horrified doing this for a job interview. I just get quiet if everyone’s shouting over each other, so I’m not sure what the hiring manager would assess. Plus, it’d be really creepy to have all these silent people observing and taking notes.

    By psychometric tests, do you mean those tests with questions where you select “Strongly Agree”, “Agree”, etc? If so, please stop doing those. I personally find them tedious and paranoia-inducing (i.e., “How should answer this? How I actually feel or how the company thinks I should feel? And do I answer in extremes? I know some companies don’t like…” I got an internship offer in college where the process solely consisted of taking psychometric tests. I think I talked a recruiter once for 10 minutes on the phone.

  34. Artemesia*

    When we were recruiting for an opportunity that involves weeks of advanced training and included a trip to China (so highly sought after) we used group interviews that involved dealing with a scenerio.

    However, the scenerio was not some demeaning crap like the hideously meretricious and outdated lifeboat scenerio, but a simulation of the kind of management situation they were in or aspiring to and would be the focus of the management training itself.

    We were looking for how people performed in a group setting e.g. did they exercise leadership, did they listen to and build on the work of others, were they pleasant to deal with, do they effectively advocate positions without putting others down, were they inclusive and sensitive to the need for all to have their share of input etc etc.

    One way to be sure you are not recruiting assholes is to view how they interact in a problem setting with other people.

    It was remarkable effective at helping assemble a good team. And everyone we had doubts about but pushed through turned out later to justify our doubts.

    But put me in a room to do some juvenile ‘rock band’ crap and I am out of there.

  35. Jamie*

    If I was on the hiring end of one of these things my impulse would be to chase down everyone who took one look around and walked out and try to hire them.

    Although in an environment that did these things I doubt that would fly.

    1. Kelly O*

      Yeah, I would be sorely tempted to just slip out the back of the room while the others were arguing (because you KNOW that would happen) and wonder if it wasn’t like that bit at the beginning of Men in Black.

  36. Apple22Over7*

    I’ve done several of these, usually under the guise of “assessment centre” or something similar. They seem to be quite common for entry level roles, at least in the UK. You turn up at 10am one morning with 8-15 other candidates and proceed to do a variety of tasks, including once (I kid you not) having to build the tallest tower out of paper and sellotape. For a minimum wage, part time job stacking shelves in a supermarket. Ridiculous.

    The biggest problems I have, particularly with the nuclear apocolypse type scenarios, is that they are simply not relevant to the job. Even if they are something like “prioritise these work-related tasks in order from 1 – 10”, they’re just not really relevant. All they seem to do is allow the loud, overbearing personalities to dictate the conversation and lead the group. This means that the quieter ones don’t get much of a say, and so are labelled by the interviewers as “not a team player”. Yet the louder ones aren’t given the same label. Then the presentation thing – again, for the jobs I’ve interviewed for where this has occurred, presentations are not part of the job. A call centre job will not require me to make presentations in front of a board of 4 managers – so why make me do it at interview? It means again that the nervous, quieter ones are disadvantaged.

    Really winds me up, it really does. Simulate work tasks – fine. If that requires working in a team, then simulate that with current employees (who can then give useful feedback themselves), or at a stretch with other candidates – provided it’s relevant. Deciding whether or not to leave a pregnant woman behind on Earth to experience nuclear devastation, or take her with you on the magical spaceship to safety really is a pointless exercise.

  37. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For people saying they wouldn’t do well in this situation and so the company would miss out:

    I think the company’s response to that would likely be that they want to hire people who WOULD do well in this situation, and they’re comfortable with their process weeding out people who wouldn’t. They wouldn’t see “well, you’d miss out on me!” as a bad thing — it’s presumably what they want the process to do. They’d probably tell you that they need people who are comfortable in situations without clearly defined roles, that they need people who will step up and bring order to chaos, that it gives them insight into how people navigate group dynamics and they’re looking for certain approaches, etc.

    The problem with this, though, is threefold:

    1. It’s a bad test of those things, for all the reasons that others have already stated (and I especially want to echo the point about putting some demographic groups at a disadvantage, which is a really bad thing).

    2. Even if it weren’t a bad test of those things, it’s demeaning to candidates and will turn off some of their best prospects. They’re signaling to candidates savvy enough to interpret these signals that they have no idea how to hire and aren’t too concerned with demeaning people who are in a vulnerable position (as job seekers often feel when interviewing).

    3. There are far better ways to test this stuff — looking at past experiences, rigorous probing in interviews, simulations that don’t involve other job applicants, talking to references, etc.

    But I did want to point out the company’s response to “they’d miss out on me” is probably that the process is designed to do exactly that.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Good point. I have no idea why you’d want to hire all the same kind of people though. Seems a loss to me. Some of my best employees have been the most unique.

      1. De Minimis*

        The field where I’ve seen this is big on that mindset…they want certain personality types who will quite frankly do whatever they’re told and will be willing to put work and being a “team player” ahead of everything else.

    2. MR*

      Alison – I’m curious to know if you have clients who do (or have done) this process, and after you tell them how ridiculous it is, what is their response?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually worked with someone recently who had done this in the past and was talking to me because they were trying to figure out how to get better candidates, since they weren’t happy with the group they’d hired from the process last time! I did indeed point out why this doesn’t work well.

    3. Lora*

      Maybe they are hiring for other qualities.

      -Someone so desperate for income that they won’t be in a hurry to leave, having had a terrible experience in the job market, so they can give a lowball salary offer and be fairly confident the candidate will take it.
      -Someone willing to be the fall guy for whatever idiotic thing they are ordered to do. Some companies just do not do dissent, however respectfully it’s delivered.
      -Someone who accepts crummy management unquestioningly. Maybe they feel that their entrenched awful management isn’t going to change, so what better way to demonstrate it?

    4. Elsie*

      In this situation, the scenarios seem fairly far-fetched, but is it still a bad idea if the case is an accurate representation of the work and the company’s team model? As I mentioned, my firm does this for a few external positions, but they only time I’ve had to do it was for an internal position. I thought it would be awkward, but it ended up feeling like just another day with my team on client site. After that experience, I could see why it might be valuable; if you couldn’t excel in that environment, I’m not sure you’d excel in a project team. We switch teams all the time , so you’re constantly working with people you don’t know and our firm puts an emphasis on making a culture that could be competitive , highly collaborative. I think an exercise like this would highlight who could truly collaborate in a situation where there is still pressure to personally excel.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think it’s a good real-world test. I’d absolutely have people role-play with other members of your staff, but not with other candidates — for all the reasons stated here.

      2. woah there*

        I think I know of which industry you are speaking. Is it management consulting? If so, I disagree with Alison’s response that it’s not a good real world test. Then again, it’s a unique situation.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      The number one thing that jumped out at me is that they don’t know how to hire AND they are really not sure what the job entails.
      I have worked for bosses that weren’t sure what I should be doing. That is just way too hard.

  38. Tokyo*

    OP, are you looking for a job in Japan? Or, is this a Japanese company that hasn’t hired too much in the West yet? The reason I ask is this “group discussion” practice is a normal part of new graduate hiring here. Every big company does it. If you’re in Japan or interviewing at a Japanese company, I can give you some strategies for this kind of evaluation.

  39. Cube Ninja*

    To borrow from several earlier comments and go tongue firmly in cheek…

    “I volunteer as tribute!”

    *drops mic*

    *leaves interview*

  40. MR*

    I’d be curious to know how many people actually self-select out of the hiring process upon either hearing about shenanigans like this happening, or shortly after the shenanigans taking place.

    I suspect most people just suck it up and deal with this process, as opposed to stepping aside.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, it sounds awesome in theory to walk in and flip the bird to all this, but people who are desperate for work will probably put up with it. Honestly, I probably would. I’d be muttering under my breath the entire time, but if this interview might be the choice between making rent and not making rent, I’d have no real choice.

      1. Felicia*

        I’d probably stay too, and take it if I got it, because I am a little desperate. But if I had any other options, I definitely wouldn’t accept that job (i’d probably be too nervous to walk out of the interview), and if I did get the job, I’d want to leave ASAP and be out of there as soon as I had any other option at all. Even in my most horrible workplace, I wouldn’t take a job like that if I already had a job. It would definitely make me not want to work somewhere because of that stupid hiring process, and they really can’t get anyone who has any other option. There are often brilliant, extremely qualified people who are desperate, but they’re going to lose anyone with options.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As with any crappy employer, the chances of self-selecting out are directly related to how many options that particular candidate has (or group of candidates have). Which is one reason why when you see these practices, it’s pretty much always with really junior candidates.

    3. Apple22Over7*

      Personally, I’ve only seen one or two people leave during the process – but they told the hiring manager during break periods and quietly left, rather than making a scene. To be honest, I don’t know if those people left because of the stupid group situations, or a personal matter, or anything else. They spoke to the hiring manager/HR person, gathered their things and were gone.

      Usually I grit my teeth and get on with it – it’s a day out after all, I might as well complete the day. But once I did leave the process quite early on – I’d had a raging headache all morning, I knew the job wasn’t a good fit and when they announced we were to spend the afternoon doing group activities I knew then that I had to leave. Once the task had started, I had a quiet word with the HR woman in charge, explaining I didn’t think the job was for me and I wished to withdraw from the process. I gathered my things and left.

  41. lindsay*

    Teach for America does stuff like this. I get that they’re trying to process large numbers of applicants through a system with a very low acceptance rate. But you’ve got 20 college graduates, most type-A over-achievers, discussing an article about education reform and doing a group project, with each person trying to be the smartest in the room. It’s a nightmare for people who may be good teachers but don’t have the personality to thrive in that situation.

    Clearly I didn’t like my TFA interview.

    1. Stephanie*

      Oh gah. The TFA interview. I made it to the final round and put up with that all-day hell.

      I had exactly that scenario with the group discussion. It wasn’t a very natural discussion as everyone was phrasing their responses to sound the most intelligent and articulate. You could tell some people had written out their responses the night before and were going to say them, regardless of the direction the conversation was going.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Yeah. I walked in with no idea what to say, came up with one response to another person that I thought sounded smart, and then shut up for the rest of the time and nodded my head a lot. I got an offer (so maybe that strategy worked?), but I still have no idea what they were looking for in the group discussion. Do they even still do it? I understand why they make people present a lesson to the group, but the discussion seemed pointless.

  42. A Teacher*

    I am a high school career teacher (health sciences) and my kids hate when we do activities like this. We actually did it at the beginning of the year to show how pointless they are–which if a 15 year old can tell me its a “stupid waste of his time” then I think most career minded people would feel the same way.

  43. Juli G.*

    So here’s what I find the most insane. Per the OP’s order of events, the traditional 1 on 1 interview happens LAST. I hope there are at least phone screens or something because if the employer isn’t even talking to these people until they jump through a million stupid hoops, it’s even worse than I thought.

  44. Sarah*

    My cousin (a senior in college) had a group interview for a summer counselor position. I think the group interview is appropriate in this case. They had tasks that could relate to the position (ex: they were given so many props and supplies and were supposed to come up with an activity that was age appropriate). Otherwise, this is lame.

    1. Mints*

      Yeah, I was going to say, at summer camp I think the group interview worked really well because it was actually testing work scenarios. Everyone was told prepare an activity and then we ran it with the group. And there wasn’t much of a “being the smartest in class” because about half (maybe a third?) were actually hired. Also, everyone took turns being the lead, and when you weren’t leading, you were supposed to be a good team member by playing along.
      Lastly, this wasn’t the whole interview, and there were other behavioral questions separately.

      I know this blog focuses on white collar, and I know that deciding my pop band isn’t relevant (I’d either be the smart one our the rebel) but I think group interviews work in this context

  45. EM*

    I haven’t been in a situation quite like this before, but I have done group interviews (interviewing with other candidates) — if I had the option, I would self-select out of ever doing these again in the future.

    I also went on an interview once where after I was done speaking to HR and the hiring manager, the HR person nonchalantly notified me that the company does those “psychometric” tests that are mentioned above. He asked if I had any problems completing one. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t know what to say or how to say no gracefully, so I consented.

    This thing ended up taking over 2 hours to complete and was ridiculous. It was one of those tests where you had to choose how much you agreed with a statement and it would ask the same statement, slightly re-worded, approximately 5 different times through the course of the test.

    I would never want to do one of these again, either. Anyone have a good suggestion for a gracious way to refuse?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Assuming you have options and don’t need the job at all costs, you can simply withdraw — no explanation required. You can simply say, “Thanks for considering me, but I’ve decided to pursue other positions.”

      If you’re put on the spot and need to respond in the moment though, then I’d say, “While I’m glad to discuss in detail the work I’ve done in the past and the work I’d do for you, as well as show you that work in action and put you in touch with people who have worked closely with me, these sorts of tests have never struck me as a good use of anyone’s time. If you’re committed to using them, I understand, but I think it’s probably not the right match.”

      Be aware that they will likely think you’re arrogant and will be annoyed. You have to genuinely not care, and have enough other options that it isn’t a problem.

      1. EM*

        Thanks! Yes, it was one of those “on-the-spot” situations. The HR Director wanted me to complete the test immediately, right then & there. Thinking back, I guess I could have said something about not budgeting enough time for it and needing to leave for another commitment (since I had no idea they were expecting me to do this prior to arriving at the interview), but I didn’t think quickly enough.

        I was already lukewarm on the job because it would have been a long commute and from the interview, I got the sense that they were understaffed and it would have been a stressful job with long hours — it was an editorial position and they had routine deadlines they had to meet.

      2. Jean*

        Thank you for reminding us that even in the middle of the craziness of a job search we are entitled to take a step back, appraise the situation correctly, and take actions to defend ourselves and our dignity! Most interviewers prefer to SAY “It’s not the right match” themselves rather than HEAR it spoken by a candidate, but by the time they’ve introduced something as nutty as psychometric testing they’ve already defined themselves as “too crazy to work for.”

        I’m not trying to dismiss the very sense of financial desperation– or the misguided sense of family responsibility or the very human total exasperation at the treadmill of a job hunt–that make an applicant grit her teeth and vow to do Anything to Get Hired Now when they should be Getting the Hell OUT of that Particular Office with the Dingbat Hiring Criteria. But hopefully enough people will read this advice and decide, next time, not to participate in these undignified methods of evaluating applicants that employers will quit using them to make hiring decisions.

        1. OldAdmin*

          My present company does psychometric testing – for internal advancement!!
          Meaning if you want to advance to the very lowly position of group leader (the very first step up), you already are forced to do personality testing and jump through a number of other hoops.

          Several colleagues have clearly stated this is a reason not to even apply for internal advancement (another one is that the management tasks – aetimated at 20% to 50% of the workday) are expected to be done *in addition* to 100% of previous workload). We are having a hard time filling the positions, and my new group leader basically stopped managing us after 6 months, and asked us to “self manage”. Wonderful.

  46. Ed*

    This is probably a result of skilled IT people being in demand the past few years but I have a low tolerance for how many hoops I’ll jump through for any job. I dropped out of an interview once when I found out I would be interviewing for 8 full hours rotated through a dozen managers. It wasn’t even that high level of a position nor was I at the final step in the hiring process. I was already luke warm on the job and that immedaitely lost any interest I had. My time is too valuable. The same goes for filling out a detailed online profile including basically rewriting my entire resume before I can even submit my application. No thanks.

    Earlier in my career I would have tolerated this type of interview but I would absolutely leave if it happened now.

  47. Diane*

    Interviewer: “Your group must choose six of these 12 people to throw into a nuclear wasteland.”

    Me, with mock horror: “What kind of business IS this? Do you deal in nuclear arms? IS THERE SOMETHING WE SHOULD KNOW!” *runs screaming from room*

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Yeah, I was horrified by that example. I’m usually fine in group scenarios, but I wouldn’t do well with that.

    2. anonness*

      Are we going to be playing Fallout? I don’t mind leaving the nuclear shelter as long as I have Dogmeat…

  48. Leah*

    When I read what your company is already doing, it reminded me of an expression my grandfather loved: That guy is wearing a belt and suspenders (braces, for UK readers)! A whole hiring round for psychometric tests, then one for a written project, then an interview and they want to add another round? I’d be out of there so fast, the whole building would feel the breeze unless its some sort of highly unusual job that called for it. I’d also run from the group “project” since I do much better having time to collect my thoughts and then collaborate. I’m not naturally competitive and have a low tolerance for people speaking over me, which this type of “project” would seem to encourage.

  49. Winnie*

    I went through this at Whole Foods in Greater Boston, when they bought another supermarket chain and had to suddenly staff a lot of new stores with department managers. First we all went to an open house where we sat through a presentation and left our resumes. Some of us were invited back to this group thing where we were there for half the day (which was not clear at the time of the invitation), given numbers, set up in groups, given tasks, and occasionally rotated, all while being watched. Everyone trying very hard to be the best. “Winners” were then invited to one-on-one interviews, which I was. Unfortunately WF required these management trainees to be completely mobile and able to work in any of their stores, and without a car, that’s just impossible, even in Greater Boston, so I never went onto the 1-on-1. But the whole process was ridiculous.

  50. Confused*

    I know of a very competitive program which uses a test like this as part of their acceptance process. They are looking specifically for people who are going to take charge.
    But a regular ol’ job? Waste of time.

  51. Vicki*

    “If anyone ever wants you to interview with a group of other job candidates, run screaming.


    Alison –
    Thank you.

    My first thought on reading this was that, if I were ever put in this position, I would hope I’d have the gumption to say “thanks for the offer, but I have somewhere else to be” and leave.

  52. abby*

    At a former employer, we added a similar exercise to one of our recruits. I wasn’t involved and don’t know exactly what the exercise involved, but I do know that all the finalists were invited to participate in some competitive group activity together. Not surprisingly, to me, anyway, the hire it produced was a failure in our organization. Oh, he was extremely confident and great at talking, but it ended there. I don’t think they ever did that exercise again.

  53. Ruffingit*

    I swear, if I walk into one more interview where there’s a Cornucopia in the middle of the room…

  54. shellbell*

    These interview schemes are concocted by people who have read one too many youth dystopian novels.

  55. FSO*

    To be fair, there are some situations in which exercises like this can be valuable. For instance, the U.S. Department of State has had great success incorporating a group exercise similar to the above into their hiring process for Foreign Service Officers (diplomats). In this case, the scenario–while clearly fictitious–is designed to closely resemble a real life situation that a new-hire could face. The set-up is exactly as the writer desribed: six people sitting around a table for 25 minutes, hashing out a situation, while observers sit silently in the background.

    Having been hired as an FSO this way, my colleagues and I tried it out when hiring some local staff for a very entry-level job. We took a group of 6-7 applicants, sat them around a table, and gave them 25 minutes to “discuss an experience you had dealing with bureacracy (e.g. getting a passport, opening a bank account, etc.) and together come up with three suggestions for how to improve that type of experience.” (Trust me that the prompt was actually nicely worded and it was clear what to do.) We took the role of silent observers and were stunned by the results–within two minutes, it was clear was going to be a valuable addition to the section, who was going to be more trouble than their worth, whose oral communication skills were there, whose weren’t, etc. In the end, we hired four excellent people, and I really do attribute that to a professional and well thought out group exercise

  56. Blue Anne*

    I’m currently finishing up an interview process that I think is a lot like what this company is aiming for, if it was done well. The process is:

    -Online application, and someone contacted me to verify my educational qualifications
    -Online psychometric tests: math, verbal, situational judgement
    -Competency-based telephone interview
    -Assessment Centre day, which was like a simulated work day: e-tray exercise, analyzing an imaginary company and writing a report on it, assessed meetings with a difficult client and follow-up with my manager (client and manager played by actors, no shit)
    -Final interview with a partner at the firm (next month, wish me luck!)

    I’ve found the application process to be pretty good. They’re prompt about organizing the next steps and letting me know when I’ve passed a stage, they don’t play any games – they just want to find the best people, and that’s pretty clear from how they’re acting. BUT.

    This is a huge, huge company. A Big 4 accounting firm. This job would involve a training contract, and they hire 1,000 people for them every year, and get something like 20k applications. This type of process is also very common for graduate jobs at very large companies here in the UK. If *all* of that weren’t true – if this were a little local firm – I would be giving them a huge side-eye about this process.

    For the Assessment Centre, I was there with other people. But they made it very clear that we weren’t in competition – not all of us were applying for the same area, one kid was just trying to get an internship and didn’t have to do the final meetings, etc. If we all did well, we would all move on, we didn’t need to somehow eliminate each other. In that setting, being with other people who were applying was actually pretty nice. And I think it gave the assessors a good idea of how we would act socially with colleagues.

    Also, the point of the day wasn’t to have us solve some ridiculous scenario like “there are zombies coming at you and all you have is a pogo stick! Quick, what do you do?!” It was to see how we did on the type of work we would actually be doing, and also to give us a chance to try that work ourselves and decide whether it really suited us.

    So, it can be useful, but not if it’s run the way the OP is describing. I’d suggest:

    1. Don’t make it competitive.
    2. Make the work they’re doing actually relevant.

    1. Blue Anne*

      Also, I kind of enjoyed the psychometric tests, just because I’m very lucky that I’ve always been good at standardized tests. And in this case, they’re actually relevant, because the company is basically hiring a year group of people to do a postgraduate degree on the job. It makes sense to make sure the people they’re hiring have a basic level of math and verbal ability, just like a college would look at your SAT/ACT score.

      But for individual jobs that aren’t training contracts? Really? Is that something that gets done?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a very different thing though! This is actually a pretty strong hiring process, minus the psychometric tests (and I don’t know why they’re verifying education before they even talk to you, unless you just mean they were verifying them with you as opposed to your school). But it’s quite different from the OP’s situation!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh wait, they weren’t even psychometric tests, it sounds like — they were math, etc. Then I don’t object to those although I’d want to be convinced they’re relevant to the skills needed to do the job and can’t be assessed more effectively in other ways.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Huh, that’s interesting – in the UK, for all the jobs at the level I’m applying to, they just get referred to as psychometric tests. There was a “Situational Judgement” test as well as the maths/verbal, but a lot of companies do just the maths/verbal and those are called psychometric tests as well. Could be just applicants lumping them all together and calling them the same thing, I suppose.

      2. Blue Anne*

        Yes, I did mean that they were contacting me. They just asked me to send them a scan of my degree certificate, etc.

        I do know that it’s quite different from the OP’s situation – I mention it because I feel like this is that kind of thing the OP’s company might be aiming at, and missing the mark completely. The lack of competitiveness between candidates was the really big thing for me, actually. I have heard stories of other Big 4 assessment centres which are like the one I went through, except that the candidates *are* in competition with each other. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

  57. BritCred*

    I had to do this for a insurance companies call centre: Intention to be on the phones all day.

    They had a group of 8 of us and a slot together shelving unit.
    2 were chatting about the weekend.
    2 were constantly assuming it wouldn’t work on the basis it hadn’t yet one piece in
    2 were trying to break down the possible options but working over everyone else and ripping parts out of their hands.
    2 of us were trying to bring everyone into it and not restart every 5 seconds….

    I basically ended up giving certain pieces to each person and would call out how many slots we were looking for on the piece (we had a picture).

    We completed the unit. We were the first group they had ever interviewed to do that. No one else ever got more than half assembled.

    They then refused to hire me because I was too “controlling” and over focused on getting the task done…….

    For a role that would mostly be me and a phone.

      1. BritCred*

        Yeah, annoyingly I actually really needed the work and it would have been much closer to home than any other options I had….

  58. Anne*

    I had to do a group activity for an interview. Then we had to go around the group at the end and tell everybody who we thought the best person on the team was. Nobody picked me and I was mortified.

  59. Us, Too*

    I’ve worked for an employer who did a group exercise for any candidates who got past the HR phone screen process. Anyone who got past the group exercise, we’d invite back for a full day interview.

    It was also “OK” at seeing how people manage stressful situations with new acquaintances (something that was absolutely relevant to the job). But what it excelled at was identifying obvious sexists, racists, sociopaths and other office a-holes.

    I was absolutely STUNNED at the things I heard come out of some candidates’ mouths. Things that I can’t imagine uncovering in a standard 1:1 interview. Among my favorite quotes:

    “Stop talking! It’s MY turn!” (shouted at someone else)

    “As soon as I realized I wasn’t going to be able to complete the task, I intentionally sabotaged the other candidates so that they couldn’t complete the task, either. I didn’t want to go down alone!”

    “I worked with a bunch of guys from China whose English was poor” accompanied by drawing his eyelids downward and outward with his fingertips and followed by this gem: “They all sounded like this: Ching Chong Chow!!!”

    Granted, I possibly could have uncovered this in a day long interview, but boy I was glad to get it out of the way with minimal time investment.

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