Nail the Group House Interview

Stand out from the pack in your first encounter with potential roommates

August 10, 2012

Daniela Aramayo, far right, was a bit intimidated during her interview with her now-housemates at the Lamont Street Collective.

Daniela Aramayo, 25, recalls sitting, tribunal style, around a dinner table with five strangers, interviewing for a spot in a seven-bedroom group house in Mt. Pleasant where she now lives.

“I was a little intimidated because it’s a house full of people who have this history, and you’re the newcomer and have to prove yourself,” Aramayo says.

Vying for an open room in a group house can be stressful — think job interview meets college application essay meets blind date.

If you’re one of the lucky few whose initial email gets noticed —it’s not uncommon for nearly a hundred people to email about a single available room — the next step is usually an interview with a phalanx of current housemates.

If you beat out the competition, the prize is cheaper rent and a new network of friends.

But it can be tough to stand out from the crowd. Here are a few tips from group house experts for getting noticed and getting in:

Work Your Network

“Use the power of networks,” says Debbie Kaplan of the rental website Urban Igloo. “Alumni networks, friends and Listservs; you just gotta get creative.”

The entry bar is lower for friends of friends, says renter Eric Sonnenberg. You’ll still have to win the approval of the other housemates, but having that connection is an advantage.

“That’s how I’ve found most of the places I’ve lived,” Sonnenberg says. “If you’re not the kind of person who can put [yourself] across well in a short interview, then it can be tricky to get in.”

Be a First Responder

If you go the Craigslist route, it’s no secret that the first few responders to a new post are more likely to catch people’s attention. It’s hard to stand out if you’re the 50th response from a young professional who enjoys barefoot running and craft beer.

Still, if you find a great spot that was posted more than a couple hours ago, it can’t hurt to respond. Just don’t get your hopes up.

Shop Solo

Time was, you could get together with five friends and start a group house of your own. That’s much harder to do in today’s ultra-competitive rental market.

“It’s hard to find more than one spot available,” says renter Lauren Konopacz. “Look on your own.”

Be Yourself

If you’re invited for an interview, don’t put on a front just to impress your potential new roommates. If they don’t click with the real you, you won’t be happy in the long run.

“If we get to the end of the 45-minute [interview] and conversation has been flowing easily, or we feel like we can keep talking, then that’s a good candidate,” Konopacz says.

“Which isn’t to say that shy people can’t get into a group house,” Sonnenberg says. “They just have to find the right people.”

Don’t Badmouth Your Past Roomies

If you clashed with a past housemate, the interview is not the time to highlight it.

“If they say awful things about their roommates, then that’s kind of a flag,” Sonnenberg says. “It’s the same as in a job interview. You’re not supposed to say too-negative of things about your previous jobs.”

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions

Group house veterans agree: A healthy amount of curiosity is a good sign you’re interested in the place, but it shouldn’t feel like you’re the one interviewing them.

“Sometimes people would come in and ask us a bunch of questions, like they were going to decide whether they wanted us,” renter Jacob Moschler says.

Be Enthusiastic

Genuine enthusiasm can give a potential housemate the edge, the renters say.

“The people who usually got it were the ones who wanted it so bad that while we were deliberating and interviewing others, would call back every night and check,” group house veteran Jacob Moschler says.

Aramayo says she expressed interest in the Mt. Pleasant group house immediately after the interview and got the spot the following day.

Sell Yourself, Not Your Stuff

While it’s OK to demonstrate what “stuff” you can bring to a group house — maybe a TV or a new toaster — don’t make it feel like a transaction, Konopacz says.

“I meet a lot of people who think that their material belongings are going to get them the ‘in,’ ” she says. “I don’t really care what you have. I care what you bring in terms of personality.”

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Kristen Page-Kirby | August 10, 2012