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How to Host Group Interviews

Every month, HomCo Lumber & Hardware hosts a group interview, whether they’re looking to fill open positions in the store or not. These group interviews have become an integral part of the operation’s hiring process. While many retailers are struggling to find good workers, HomCo has not had the same hiring headaches thanks to its group interview process. 

Chief operating officer Todd Callan shares how the process works and how it has benefited the company. Read on to learn how you can use group interviewing to enhance your hiring process. 

Hardware Retailing (HR): How do you prepare for the group interview process?

Todd Callan (TC): Our store manager Christy Engel and I go through the applications we’ve received in the weeks prior to the interview day and give each a “yes” or a “no” and invite the yes applications to the interview. I prep the questions ahead of time and assign them randomly. So, if we have five candidates, I’ll write seven different questions on five pieces of paper.

HR: What does the interview process look like?

TC: On the day of the interview, we ask them to get here 30 minutes early and we have a questionnaire for them to fill out with questions about what’s important to them at work, aspects like salary, work environment or time off. We want to see those answers, but it’s also a way for me to see how their handwriting and spelling are because those are important in a retail setting. We then bring them upstairs to our conference room, and as each candidate walks in the door, my team hoots and hollers for them, which gets the energy level way up. Our conference room is also lined with our company’s mission statement, so job candidates are immersed in our culture right away. 

HR: How do you ask questions in a group setting?

TC: I have each of the candidates start by telling us about themselves. After they introduce themselves, I give them one of those pieces of paper with questions I prepared ahead of time for them to answer. The questions cover our industry and core values, and I always include one fun question to see if people can think quickly on their feet and respond. One of my favorite fun questions has been, “How do you describe the color yellow to someone who has been blind since birth?” Retail is not black and white, there will be difficult customers. We want to see if candidates can think on their feet and communicate well and be willing to roll with it and have fun with it. Once we ask all the questions from the sheets, I open it up to the panel to ask any additional questions they have. 

HR: Who participates in the group interviews?

TC: I host, and Christy and our chief financial officer Dan Groth help facilitate the interviews. Other members of the HomCo staff also participate in the group interviews; for example, if there is a job candidate who would be a good fit for the lumberyard, I will bring a lumberyard employee to be a part of that group interview. Each staff member in the room is assigned one of the job candidates and is given a scorecard for that candidate. They are looking for how their candidate dresses, how they speak, can they project when they speak, do they answer the questions well, do they make eye contact and are they paying attention to the other candidates. The rest of the people are looking at the group as a whole. 

HR: What are some of the benefits of group interviews?

TC: We can get through five candidates in about an hour, which saves us a ton of time in interviewing. The group interviews are also a great tool to teach other staff members outside of management about the hiring process. We had one candidate who answered all of her questions perfectly, but when other interviewees were answering, she was shaking her head, rolling her eyes and not being respectful. One of our 18-year-old cashiers who was in on that interview saw what she was doing and said, “I don’t think she’s good for our culture.” That was a really good pickup she saw. In a one-on-one interview I may have hired her but thanks to that employee’s input I didn’t. It’s important that our management team empowers our associates and this is one way we do that.

For more interviewing best practices, check out How to Have a Successful Exit Interview and 10 Questions You Need to Ask Interviewees.

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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