As an introvert, I’ve excelled at every job I’ve ever had. But you won’t see my best qualities when I’m in a large group.
As I listened to the details, anxiety started rising through my chest — I’m going to have to do a three-hour group interview, including an icebreaker and group tasks, followed by an individual interview.
My heart sank. My hands were clammy, and panic engulfed my whole body; my heartbeat bounced around my head, and my eardrums pulsated, fit to burst.
I slowly repeated back the keywords for the benefit of my husband: group interview, icebreaker, group tasks. They were enough for him to understand why my initial reaction had turned from excitement to terror. He looked at me, widening his eyes and slowly nodding, encouraging me to say yes and indicating that everything would be okay.
Two months earlier, when I’d applied for the job, it seemed like the perfect role. It was as if the description had been written just for me, and it appeared too good to be true. But now I knew why. It had been so long since I’d applied, I thought my application had been cast aside, yet here I was, agreeing to an interview in two days. “It will be fun,” said the voice on the other end of the phone (quite obviously belonging to someone who wasn’t an introvert).
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Group Interviews Put Introverts at a Disadvantage
I regretted my decision before the call had even ended. Once it had, I started pacing up and down, berating myself for accepting. A group interview was my worst nightmare and something I avoided at all costs.
The last one I’d attended was more than 10 years ago, and the thought of it still makes me shudder. Rows of tables filled the entire room; interviewers on one side, interviewees on the other. It was utter chaos, and it was noisy: so incredibly noisy. Interviewers all shouting over one another, and interviewees doing the same, trying to make themselves heard as they talked through their resumes.
For an introvert who is also highly sensitive, struggles with large groups of people, and is sensitive to light and sound, it’s an experience I’d rather forget. The best part was, I didn’t know that’s how the interview would be held. If I had, I never would have agreed to it.
I turned up expecting to be interviewed by one, perhaps two, people — but instead, I was herded up and shepherded to one of the tables. My introverted personality didn’t know what to do. I was overwhelmed by the situation and didn’t want to make a fuss. I needed a job, so I let myself get swept along.
We were then split into smaller groups for the following two stages, and somehow, I made it to the third round. To this day, I still can’t remember what the second stage entailed. I’ve somehow blocked it from my memory. But I remember stage three vividly — it was engaging in a role-playing scenario. This is where everything came undone, and my interview ended.
Honestly, I’m surprised I got as far as I did. I just wish the younger me had walked away rather than making myself do something I didn’t want to. Now that I’m older and wiser, more accepting, and at home with my introversion, I would turn around and walk straight back out.
Introverts Don’t Need to Be Louder, Chattier, or More Outgoing
In a world built for extroverts, introverts often feel like we don’t belong. I understand there are different levels of introversion, and not every introvert struggles with the same situations. But, when it comes to being in the workplace, and even studying at college, I felt like a square peg trying to force myself into a round hole.
Group interviews, open-plan offices, and team-building days are all aimed at extroverts: people who like to speak up, be the center of attention, or get their energy from mixing with others. Not everyone looks forward to group activities because not everyone finds them fun. Companies don’t always understand how challenging it is for candidates who don’t fit that persona. Introverts don’t need to be “more extroverted;” we’re happy as we are. It’s other people who think we need to be louder, chattier, or more outgoing.
As an introvert, I have many good qualities, and I’ve excelled at every job I’ve ever had. I’m a deep thinker, good listener, and problem-solver; I’m empathetic and compassionate, but I struggle with large groups of people. I don’t want to be the center of attention, especially with strangers. And an icebreaker isn’t fun — it’s a waking nightmare. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do the job I’ve applied for. It just means the interview process isn’t right for me.
Many companies don’t realize they’re excluding talented candidates (perhaps even the perfect candidate) because of the conditions in which they hold their interviews. Being watched and scrutinized while performing tasks that push people out of their comfort zone prevents a candidate from being seen at their best. Introverts like to take their time with questions, think things through, and reflect on information. We may not be the quickest to respond, but our answers are always well-thought-out and often from a different perspective. Unfortunately, introverted applicants aren’t given the chance they deserve. Instead, we are prevented from shining, connecting, and showing our true talents.
Creating an environment for extroverts puts introverts at a disadvantage. A group interview puts us under pressure, leaving us fumbling for answers because we don’t have time to reflect and process. It has the opposite effect of what the company is trying to achieve. It doesn’t allow introverted candidates to show their natural skills and talents. The achievements and personal qualities that stand out on a resume will go unseen in a group interview. A group interview snatches away any hope of getting to know that person, crushing their dreams before they’ve begun.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
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I Should Never Have Accepted the Interview
So, what happened at my recent group interview?
I didn’t go.
I spent a day preparing interview questions and researching icebreaker activities — which only increased my anxiety. No matter how much I tried to convince myself things would be okay, I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do; it wasn’t the right environment for me. I felt confident about the one-on-one part of the interview process. I knew why I wanted the role and what I could bring to the position. I’d also prepared examples of how I would deal with different scenarios. But the icebreaker and group tasks would put me at a disadvantage, and my anxiety would end up redlining.
My husband left for work that morning and wished me luck, but I’d already decided during the night that I wouldn’t be attending. Early that morning, I phoned the interviewer from two days earlier. I apologized and explained the situation, telling her I should never have accepted the interview. I thought my honesty and a phone call, rather than a no-show (something I would never have done), would put me in good stead for future suitable opportunities. She told me she thought I’d be missing out on a “good experience,” but understood why I couldn’t do it. She also told me how she’d had to scrutinize each resume and that mine was a strong one she didn’t want to pass up.
I was grateful for her understanding — and even more so when she asked if I would like a one-on-one interview at the end of the week. “Leave Friday free, and I’ll be in touch,” she said. Grateful for the opportunity, I told her how much I appreciated it.
Unfortunately, the call and the interview never came. I’ve replayed the situation over and over again in my head, wondering if I should have attended the group interview, and I always come to the same conclusion: No. I made the right decision. I know I wouldn’t have performed at my best, and I know I would have been at a disadvantage. But, I also know I could have excelled at the role, just as my “stand out resume” confirmed. I just needed the right environment in which to prove that.
Although it seemed like the perfect role, it obviously wasn’t. I wholeheartedly believe that the Universe has something better coming my way, and another opportunity will be along soon. So, I have one request for companies who insist on conducting group interviews: Please stop.
There will never be a perfect “one-size-fits-all” interview process, but group interviews put many qualified and capable candidates at a disadvantage. An applicant’s resume stood out for a reason, and in the correct environment, you’ll see what they can offer. Talk to candidates one-on-one. If there are specific skills you want to see, have them do a scenario with one other person and one observer. Yes, this will still be nerve-wracking, but nowhere near as challenging as a group interview with “icebreakers” and “group tasks.”
You asked them to an interview because you were impressed by their application. At least give them the opportunity to impress you in person rather than put them at a disadvantage. Think about the skills you’re looking for, and how someone with those skills might interact, process information, and connect. I understand it’s impossible to tell from a resume whether someone is an introvert, but at least with a one-on-one interview, you’re putting everyone on an even playing field from the start.
And if a candidate is brave enough to tell you they’ll struggle with a group interview, please phone them back if you’ve offered them an alternative arrangement.
I write about all things related to health, well-being, and vegan living over my blog, Kale and Kettlebells.
You might like:
- 5 Job Interview Struggles for Introverts (and What to Do About Them)
- Dear Workplaces, Churches, and Schools, PLEASE Stop Doing Icebreakers. Signed, Introverts.
- If You Relate to These 21 Signs, You’re an Introvert
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