Job interviews can be challenging at the best of times, but when twenty-something Jayden Toukley had to perform rap in front of a group for a bookstore position, the experience felt more like a nightmare.
“It was awkward,” Jayden recalled.
“It would have been awkward to refuse, so you just did it. No one seemed to enjoy it. They were kind of going along with it.”
Of course applicants are going to write ‘amazing’ things about themselves. I decided a group interview was a great way to see who exactly was ‘genuinely’ awesome.
Welcome to the modern job interview. In today’s tough employment market, it seems that candidates should be prepared for anything from dancing to playing charades.
You want me to do … what?!
In addition to his rap performance, Jayden – who has attended three unconventional group interviews over the past two years – has been asked to give an impromptu speech on a topic he knew nothing about, memorise objects on a table and discuss the movie star he’d most like to invite to dinner and why. The positions he applied for included retail sales work and cooking burgers.
The worst aspect of being interviewed at the same time as other hopefuls, says Jayden, is that “you see who you’re competing with and you’re competing with them at the same time”.
“Talking to twenty people compared to one is far more difficult,” he says. “If you’re put on the spot, you can make something up, but you’re more worried about what the other people are thinking.”
This style of off-the-wall interviewing, which has no designated industry term, sits within the structure of the ‘group interview’. Essentially, the technique involves benchmarking a group of candidates against each other in front of hiring personnel. The interviews involve unconventional techniques to test personality traits and often take place in locations outside the place of employment.
You’ve got to be kidding, right?
So, what do employers hope to derive besides the discomfort of jobseekers?
According to Elena Di Fiore, director of HR Management Consulting, it’s about observing team skills, gaining an insight into the applicants’ personalities and how they react out of their comfort zone.
“I’ve seen the shift towards group interviews as employers have less time, particularly with the shift from paper-based to online applications. You’re not getting ten or a hundred applications for a job: you’re sometimes getting one thousand. How do they manage large amounts of applications?”
Compared with a conventional one-on-one interview, “a group interview is more time-effective and also provides a group dynamic,” she explains. “It brings the skill section to life and you can see it in a real-life scenario.”
When Matt Collins, a business coach and operator of Smooth Business, advertised for a personal assistant he was unhappy with the way everyone sounded so good in their resumes.
“Of course applicants are going to write ‘amazing’ things about themselves,” he says.
“I decided a group interview was a great way to see who exactly was ‘genuinely’ awesome.”
Matt asked the seven applicants to submit to a group personality profiling exercise, role-plays, games and a reality TV style scenario where the applicants chose who got the job.
“This part of the process was most confronting for the applicants,” he admits.
It ain’t no joke
There are a number of legitimate concerns about group interviews. For example, interviewees are often asked to disclose personal information about themselves in front of other applicants, potentially raising issues around confidentiality.
“We work towards equal opportunity,” Elena says.
“If you’re going to interview someone and measure their performance or abilities by getting them to dance it doesn’t provide the opportunity to truly access their employability skills. So it’s not fair.”
In addition, employers potentially expose themselves to discrimination issues if applicants believe they haven’t been treated fairly.
Elena recounts the story of a school-leaver who had attended a group interview for a retail role with a well-known fashion outlet.
“This person came to me quite distressed. Basically, they were just out of school. They’d received an email invitation to come to a hotel room for an interview. They booked into the foyer and were greeted by the hiring store manager. Going to a hotel, instead of a business, added to the distress. They were asked, ‘What’s your style? Get up and dance.’ There was no music. My client said their heart jumped out of their chest. Is dancing a relevant competency for retail sales? There’s a few morals in the story – not just about how [employers] treat their staff, but also about how you bring the best out of your candidate.”
Business, or funny business?
Elena believes that the companies concerned should be aware of the brand perception they’re promoting.
“What are you saying about your company by adopting these kinds of hiring practices?” she asks.
“Anyone who comes to your interview will be or already is a customer.”
One troubling aspect of these styles of group interviews is that they seem to target young, low-skilled, entry-level candidates – those with the least power in the employment market.
Elena agrees: “Employers are using these strategies more in the retail or hospitality sector. It’s more the entry-level type roles.”
Quit the malarkey, boss
So should job seekers take up the performing arts in order to get a job?
“That’s entertainment value, not employability value,” Elena says.
“I would say I’m quite an outgoing person but there’s no way I’d dance for an interview. You’re wanting to see transferrable, relevant skills and experience.”
Does she have any tips for job-seekers who are asked to dance? If candidates feel uncomfortable with the process, “they can say no,” she says.
I would say I’m quite an outgoing person but there’s no way I’d dance for an interview. You’re wanting to see transferrable, relevant skills and experience.
That’s not so easy when you’re desperate for a job, though.
Despite his discomfort during his rap performance, Jayden ended up scoring the bookstore job and is happy in his latest role.
He says of the interview: “The guy who was running it said, ‘We’re looking for the most bubbly, outgoing people.’ I was so far from that I don’t know how I got it.”
** The name of the job applicant has been changed to protect his privacy.