Recruiting university tutors using an interactive group activity

Hiring candidates with strong academic results may seem like the best way to recruit tutors. But this does not always mean they will have the right attributes to support student learning. In this video, Carl Sherwood explains how and why to use a group interview process to recruit university tutors

Carl Sherwood's avatar
5 May 2022
bookmark plus
  • Top of page
  • Key Details
  • Transcript
  • More on this topic
bookmark plus

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

The University of Queensland logo

You may also like

Points to consider when personal tutoring remotely
What to consider when personal tutoring remotely

Key Details

This video will cover:

1:07 Why adopt a group-interview process for recruiting university tutors

1:51 How to design and implement a group-interview activity to recruit university tutors

3:11 The advantages and disadvantages of implementing a group-interview recruiting process


Hello, my name is Carl Sherwood from the University of Queensland. I’ve been invited to talk about an interactive group-interview process I designed for recruiting university tutors. It relies on a group of three applicants interviewed for 20 minutes.

In the first 10 minutes, the group works together to design a tutorial question using their combined knowledge and the content of an unseen newspaper article. For example, applicants wanting to tutor economics are given articles with headlines like “Hospital parking fees are enough to make you sick” or “Easter holidays to deliver fuel price hikes for motorists”. In the last 10 minutes, applicants are each asked the same questions, where they must reflect on the group activity.

During the interview, a panel of three observers, plus the interviewer, rates each applicant using attributes known to make a good tutor, such as empathy, leadership and communication skills.

I designed the group-interview approach to overcome various challenges when recruiting tutors. First, I wanted to address comments from students such as “I can’t understand my tutor”. Second, I wanted applicants to demonstrate their suitability as a tutor in a simulated active learning environment rather than simply relying on academic results. Third, I wanted to replace a one-on-one interview process with one that provided each applicant with a learning experience and instant feedback on their performance.

And I also wanted to simulate a workplace environment where student applicants could gain experience for future job interviews after graduating.

If you adopt this type of interview, my advice would be to think about several key points.

First, use academic performance to shortlist as many applicants as possible and even include some that are not among the highest achievers. This can really help reveal those best suited to be tutors.

Second, prepare a detailed run sheet for the interview indicating what tasks need to be completed by whom and when.

Third, create templates to help with the process: for example, a score sheet used by the panel of observers to rate applicants’ attributes such as communication and interpersonal skills, empathy and ability to apply academic concepts in practical contexts.

Also aim to include non-academics on the panel of observers. For example, when recruiting microeconomic tutors, I’ve involved course administrators and learning designers. Their ratings are usually surprisingly similar to the interviewers’, and they’re the subject experts.

And finally, allow at least five minutes for the observers and interviewer to decide who they would select. Usually, I set up enough interview groups so that on average one applicant is selected per group.

I find there are several advantages in using group rather than individual interviews. For example, group interviews can process a larger number of applicants in the same amount of time. If the applicant is a student, it gives them an opportunity to gain interview experience before graduating. The group activity also allows applicants to demonstrate, rather than simply describe, such things as their knowledge, communication, leadership and empathy skills, and applicants can self-rate their performances against those in the group providing instant feedback on their interview performance.

Using a group interview has disadvantages, though. These mostly relate to coordination and the effort needed to set up the group interviews. Attention must be given to tasks like receiving, reviewing and shortlisting applicants, scheduling interviews, organising interview materials, tracking applicant performances and contacting successful applicants.

The key to addressing these challenges, I find, is to have good administrative support in place. It can really make or break the process. Creating templates and an interview run sheet will help the process run smoothly.

So in summary, if you’re looking to recruit university tutors, I’d recommend using an interactive group activity interview. After shortlisting applications using the academic results, a group activity offers two key benefits. It requires participants to demonstrate they can apply their knowledge in a teaching and learning setting; it also reveals if applicants really do have the attributes known to make a good tutor. Bye for now.

This video was produced by Carl Sherwood, a senior lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter.


You may also like

sticky sign up

Register for free

and unlock a host of features on the THE site