It can be scary to walk into the interview room and see multiple interviewers, all sitting on one side of the table, with a chair for you on the other. For a split second, it feels reminiscent of an old-style interrogation full of bright lights and harshly barked questions. In reality, the panel interview is a normal business situation where one person is facing multiple interviewers.
Companies choose panel interviews for several reasons. First, it may simply be a matter of convenience. They can do away with the first, second, third interviews and do them all at once. Second, it may be because the company places a heavy emphasis on teamwork.
It is not unusual for the interviewers sitting on the panel to have different roles. Depending on the role assigned to them, they will be looking for different things. At the end of the interview, the interviewers will meet and discuss their impression of the candidate, each looking at the candidate from a different angle.
For you, the end goal is the same. You want to show that you can be a good fit into the group, add value to the organization, and that your experience and skills fit the requirements of the position.
Tip One: Do Your Research
If you have not already done so, contact HR and find out who will be sitting on the panel. Ask for the name and the title for each person and try to find out as much as possible about them. For instance, try to find out their role in the company, they background, etc.
Being in front of multiple interviewers is nerve wracking for even the most confident person, so practice self-relaxation techniques before the interview. You want your experience, education and confidence to shine through any nervousness. If possible, practice by videotaping yourself. Make sure to check your body language so that defensive behaviors aren’t slipping in. You want to make sure that you are smiling, that your arms are not crossed and that you look open and approachable.
Tip Two: Make It One-On-One
When you enter the room and are introduced, introduce yourself back to all the panel members just as you would in any social setting. If they offer a business card, take it and, once you are seated, place the cards in the same order that the interviewers are sitting. If they don’t have a business card, as soon as you can, write down everyone’s name according to where they are seated and take relevant notes about each person. For example, Tom, the tax accountant is sitting on the left. Lisa, the supervisor is second in from the left. This will allow you to call each interviewer out by name, when addressing them.
It’s extremely important to give individual attention to each interviewer. When one person asks you a question, remember that the other members on the panel may also be interested in what you have to say. So, as you answer the question, don’t focus only on the person who asked you the question, but pay attention to the other members on the panel as well. Look for non-verbal cues from the other members such as whether they are listening more attentively, taking notes or nodding their head. Make sure to acknowledge the other members of the panel as well when answering.
If you can, tailor your answers depending on who’s asking you the question. Is it someone from HR, is it an associate in the firm, or is it a director? Depending on their position, they will be looking for different things. Of course, they will try to look for someone qualified, but they will also look for someone they will want to work with. Try to relate to each member of the panel as opposed to only answering questions.
Just like there is usually one dominant person in a group of friends, there will usually be one dominant person at the panel interview. This person will likely have more sway in deciding who’s going to be hired. Sometimes you can tell because it’s the person who asks the most questions. But the best way to tell is by looking at who’s in command. The dominant one is the one to whom others will show deference. This is the person who probably has the most power in the decision-making process and is the person who you must impress the most.
Bring multiple copies of your resume or backup documentation. HR may have told you that you will be interviewing with 5 people, but bring at least 7 or 8 copies, just in case.
Tip Three: Think Team
Since panel interviews are often used for positions that rely heavily on teamwork, you must assume that the interviewers will want to see how effectively you can work as part of a team or on a project. What this means is that when you frame your answers, you not only want to show your experience, skills or accomplishments, but you also want to show that you are a true team player. This can be a tough balancing act at times as you never want to take the focus off of how you can best meet their need. However, it does bring us to the fourth and final tip!
Tip Four: Get Your Story Straight
It’s sometimes very hard to anticipate exactly what types of questions you will get during a panel interview. More than likely, you will get a hodge-podge of different types of questions. You may get behavioral interview questions and you will more than likely get the same question asked in different ways.
So the best way to handle this is to prepare anecdotal information that will showcase 4-5 of your biggest accomplishments. You should have at least a few that highlight how well you worked in a project or team setting.
Make sure you are prepared to ask questions! If the tone is more relaxed, then feel free to slip them in as appropriate, but if the tone is formal, either wait until you are asked for questions or at the very end, simply mention that you have a few questions.
No matter how the interview went, end by showing excitement for the job. Last but not least, always remember to thank each member of the panel at the end of the interview and follow-up with an email or a note sent to each member.
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List of the different interview types:
- The Video Interview
- The Informal Interview
- The Technical Interview
- The Phone Interview
- The Structured Interview
- The Scenario Interview
- The Assessment Event
- The Second Interview
- The Panel Interview
- The Lunch Interview
- The Group Interview
- The Behavioral Interview