Panel interviews are becoming increasingly common as the job market hots up and companies look for ever more rigorous ways to screen job seekers and spot the best talent. Often uncomfortable for candidates, panels save organizations time, particularly if they’re recruiting for a number of positions across a company’s various department.
As the name suggests, a panel job interview is where a candidate is interviewed by a group of interviewers. In most cases, they will be on their own with the panel, particularly if it’s for a senior position, but in other scenarios there could be several candidates and interviewers all in the room at once. In this situation, each interviewer will then ask every candidate a question in turn.
The whole idea of a panel interview is to put an interviewee under more pressure compared with a typical one-to-one interview. It could be the case that you have four or five people all asking you questions. The panel will consider how you cope under such demanding conditions.
Sound daunting? The good news is that with a decent amount of preparation, there are ways for candidates to shine in this situation.
Before the interview
As the saying goes: knowledge is power. It’s even more powerful in a panel interview where questions are being fired left, right and center. Make sure you study the job specifications and your resume and prepare as far as possible for likely questions.
At a minimum, the interviewers will expect you to have knowledge of the job role, the company, its products, services and competitors, how it’s viewed and issues within the market. Such information can be found online, on the company website, in the media and by speaking to experts such as recruitment consultants and industry bodies.
You’re likely to be asked for examples of when you demonstrated certain skills or experience. Have three to five success stories up your sleeve to bring out on the day and make them results focused. Think about how your individual actions and approach led to a positive result.
Also, check who will be on the panel by asking the recruitment consultant or person you secured the interview with. Read up on their job roles, career background and recent work success. That way you can ask questions that are relevant to them as well as to the role.
Rehearsing by asking friends or family to fire questions at you is a great way to help you get used to the environment. Look through your resume for any obvious curveballs – is there a gap in your employment that needs explaining? And, rehearse the answers to any difficult questions like this.
Think about your appearance, particularly as you will be judged side-by-side against other candidates. If in doubt about the company dress policy, always err on the side of caution – a dark, smart suit is usually best. Pay attention to detail such as tidy hair, polished shoes and subtle makeup and accessories.
Finally, check the finer details like the journey – always plan to arrive at least 10 minutes early; being late for any interview is inexcusable.
The day of the interview
The golden rule of a panel interview is to engage with the whole panel, not just one specific member of the group. When you first get into the room, look at all of the interviewers, try and remember the names of each and address them accordingly. Shake them firmly by the hand if you’re standing and then wait to be invited to take a seat. When sitting down, maintain an open, positive and engaged body position. Don’t fidget, sit up straight and lean slightly forward in your chair.
When you’re asked a question, maintain eye contact with the person asking it, but when you answer, address the whole panel. This will show that you’re confident and will help to build a rapport with everyone in the room.
Remember that each member of the panel comes to the interview with their own agenda. As the interview progresses, work out what makes each of the interviewers tick and use answers that will appeal to them. While it’s easy to address all your answers to the most engaged member of the panel, be aware that it’s often more effective to try and win over the doubters first.
Be optimistic but careful not to come across too confident and over presumptuous. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence so wear a smile, relax and consider the tone and style in which you engage with the panel.
When the interview comes to a close, thank all participants promptly and gather business cards if you haven’t already done so. It’s also a good idea to send a thank you email later that day.
Finally, remember that panel interviews are nothing to dread. If you prepare, come armed with a positive attitude and plenty of success stories then you should have nothing to worry about.