The prospect of a one-on-one interview can get your heart racing but imagine those nerves when a potential employer says that you’ll be interviewed not just by one, but by five people – all at the same time! It can feel more like a firing squad than an interview!
Whilst the idea of a panel interview may seem intimidating, having all the decision makers together can speed up the recruitment process and give you a greater appreciation of the key stakeholders that you could be potentially working with and how they interact together, so it does have strong advantages. But panel interviews don’t need to be scary. Knowing what to expect and preparing accordingly can help you feel more confident.
Before I go any further, let’s not confuse panel interviews with group interviews. Panel interviews are about ‘you’. You are the sole focus of the interview and the interviewers will spend time asking you questions to get to know you.
Why do organisations use panel interviews? - I’ve already mentioned that it can streamline the recruitment process but it’s also an opportunity for interviewers to observe you in a group setting and see how you build rapport, interact with different personality types and communication styles and how you handle stress. Panel interviews are also beneficial when an organisation requires a consensus on a decision.
Here are a few tips to help you survive your panel interview…….
Know your interviewers
Typically, your panel interviewers will represent various areas of the organisation. Due to the variation of the interviewer’s backgrounds and roles they will consider your CV and responses to their questions differently. One manager may be more interested in your background whilst another may want to hear more about your technical expertise.
This is why you need to find out about your interviewers in advance, so you can tailor your responses. This can simply be achieved by asking the person who organised the interview to tell you more about the panel you’ll be meeting with. At the very least, you should know their names and job titles. Researching them online and on ‘Linked In’ to gather more information about them and potentially what’s important to them will be extremely beneficial prior to the day. Better still, if you know of anyone who works for the organisation contact them to ask additional questions about the interviewer’s motivators and potential pain points.
Know the job inside and out
Drill down on the job description and the roles requirements. Look on ‘Linked In’ to see if anyone has fulfilled the role before and review how they describe the role to gather a greater understanding. I appreciate that this aspect is probably the most obvious part of your preparation however, if you can find out more about the job other than just reading the black and white job description you have been provided, by speaking to connected people, it will increase your confidence and knowledge further prior to the big day.
Brush up on your memory skills
The impression you make at the beginning of your panel interview will be vital. Initial introductions with the panel, recalling and using your interviewer’s names and job titles throughout the interview will increase engagement. If you are concerned you may forget, take a note pad with this information written down. It is perfectly acceptable to take notes in an interview, just ask your interviewers if they mind first. (You may wish to quickly draw a seating plan along with the names of the interviewers to help you remember who’s who).
Engage your audience through your responses
Now you have an understanding of who is in the room, you can build rapport by connecting with the interviewers, both as individuals and as a group.
To achieve this, answer each question directly, but then expand your answer to involve others in the panel. For example, one interviewer may ask you about how you effectively manage a team, but you already know that some of the other interviewers may be more interested in how you would engage their teams and work interdepartmentally. You may start your answer with “I would hold weekly meetings with my team to ensure everyone has clear priorities and expectations. However, I also feel it is important to communicate with other department managers to ensure that we are all aligned to the overall business strategy. This really enhances collaboration and communication”
By being able to effectively mould your answer to involve other representatives of the panel will increase your engagement with the whole group, not just one interviewer.
Keep laser focused!
Despite you researching and preparing in advance, it’s easy to get flustered when meeting complete strangers, especially when they are rapid firing questions at you.
Remember, the ultimate goal of any interview is to find the right person for the job and your goal is to prove to the panel that person is you.
Rather than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed, use the opportunity to showcase your agility and stress management skills.
There will be repetition of questions as different people have different ways of processing information and your interviewers are approaching it with their needs in mind. Don’t let this put you off.
Be aware of your body language
You may feel like a bug under a magnifying glass during your interview, the last thing you want to do is act like one.
Eye contact with all of your interviewers is essential. As mentioned in my earlier point, aim to elaborate your answers to the panel involving and engaging the group. Be aware of your body language. You need to exude and project confidence. Avoid hunching, arm crossing and fidgeting, this will amplify your nerves and show signs that you do not wish to be there, hurting your chances of securing a job offer.
Yes, it may feel like an interrogation or the firing squad with those rapid-fire questions coming from all angles. Bear in mind, your interviewers all have their own agenda and want their questions answered, plus they are competing for air time! The key is for you to control the pace of the conversation. Don’t rush to answer, pause to think and really consider how you will respond. Get to the point quickly and succinctly. In a panel interview, it’s not uncommon that another question will be coming your way before you’ve finished answering the last one.
There also may be times when you feel that you have been cut short. Immediately assess whether what you have left to say is critical. If not, let it go. If it is important, politely say “before I answer your question, I’d like to share a final thought on the last’, and then complete your previous response.
Be prepared for follow-up questions
Due to the format of a panel interview, your answer will evoke other questions from the panel. To avoid coming up short on content, make sure you’re armed with multiple examples and stories that will explain your background and experience.
A way of preparing for this could be to ask some friends to host a mock panel interview. Encourage them to ask more probing questions. This will help to improve the quality and depth of your answers and also build your confidence.
The job needs to be right for you too!
Prepare your own meaningful questions. Not only will you gain valuable insights that will help you decide whether the job is right for you if offered, it will show the company that you have done your homework and research too.
Last impressions are as important as the first - Just like any interview, you should always thank your interviewers for their time. Using the interviewer’s names and thanking them individually is vital. If appropriate, ask for their business cards so that you can follow up with a personalised thank you email to them individually. This is also a great opportunity to follow up any information you might have for a question an individual asked you.
Yes, facing a panel interview can be scary, intimidating, even terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be if you prepare well and practice your interview responses. If you have prepared well, you can turn what may be perceived to be an interrogation into a rewarding and positive experience and it can take you one step closer to the job of your dreams!