08/08/2012 09:29 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2012

Acing the Group Interview

Few get hired today after one interview with one person. There may be a seemingly endless series of one-on-one interviews. These have challenges: Am I repeating myself or did I say this in the previous half-hour interview? More daunting still is the group or committee interview where you walk in and face a boardroom full of strangers.

As a headhunter helping nonprofits choose their next leaders, I often sit in on these. So while I don't know the terror first-hand, I do have a lot of tips.

  • Ahead of time: Ask who will be there. Yes, you can "Google" them. But do not reveal all you have learned about each during the interview.
  • Assume you're a finalist. This session with the hiring committee is carefully choreographed. The date was set weeks or even months in advance. If there is a search consultant, she/he has been working with the committee for weeks or months. Resumes have been vetted in advance. Time is scarce. We are sometimes given but one date to convene the committee. While some members of the search committee may join via Skype, others will fly in specifically for these interviews.
  • Do not "wing it." Accordingly, the search committee will expect you to be prepared. That means, you've analyzed the website, the financials, and the competition. You've asked for recent documents such as a strategic plan. If this is a bricks and mortar entity, such as a museum, you've visited.
  • Do not worry about who you're succeeding: The Committee may want someone completely different from that person.
  • Don't worry about your place on the schedule: Candidates agonize about going first or last. It doesn't matter. I've had hiring committees zoom in on the first person, remember the one in the middle or light up over the last candidate even at the end of a long day.
  • Walking in the door: When offered water, accept. But that's it. Even if they're all eating lunch, do not join in. No one looks good or speaks well while eating. But don't starve yourself: eat something before.
  • Unburden yourself. Try not to walk in looking like a pack mule. Forget the gym bag.
  • Opt for business attire. No matter what they are wearing. We had a search where one committee member had cashed out of his business. I think he planned to never shave again. His tee shirt had holes. The successful candidate? Well, he looked like he could have been at a wedding: his own.
  • Sketch a seating chart. You will hear each person's name during introduction. Sketch a quick schematic for yourself.
  • Making the most of it: The Committee thinks you're the one ... or one of the ones: Presumably, someone from the committee or a search consultant has interviewed you before this point and "sold" you to the committee. So the committee knows you've worked for a smaller entity or haven't managed 20 people before. They want to see you anyway. So forget your anxieties and insecurities.
  • Don't obsess out loud about the organization's problems: Rhapsodize instead over the potential. If the entity has never received, say, a single corporate grant, imagine what you can do.
  • Eye contact: One person may do all the asking or each person may ask a question. Make sure you make eye contact with everyone at some point. Committee members can feel slighted or ignored. Be especially careful about ensuring that a committee member on the phone or on the screen can hear or see you.
  • Leave time for all their questions: Translation: your answers should not be endless. Think about sound bites and a single example. They can always ask for more information or technical detail.
  • Yes, you'll be asked at the end if you have a few questions: The key word here is "few." Save the others for another time -- ideally, after you have the offer.