In your next job search, you are likely to find yourself in a panel interview scenario. Instead of facing a single interviewer, you will meet with several people at once, each with their own questions and purposes. An interview panel will likely consist of representatives from human resources, management, and the employee peer group for the position.
Panel interviews place candidates under greater scrutiny, resulting in a more carefully vetted hire and one who can thrive under pressure. They allow for follow-up questions asked by people with specific areas of expertise. In this environment, the right candidates can fully showcase their depth of knowledge to those best qualified to judge it. Ill-prepared candidates often flounder in this environment, which is why the interview is often dreaded, with the panel compared to a firing squad.
There are other practical reasons why employers conduct panel interviews. Often, it is the most convenient and time-effective method for screening many candidates. It can shorten the hiring process from months to weeks, or weeks to days, so expect this style of interview and prepare for it. The following tips will help to make the panel interview an advantage for you over lesser prepared competitors:
Conduct your standard research. With multiple people grilling you at once, it is even more important to do your homework on the employer. Carefully review the job posting, research the company on LinkedIn and other social media platforms as well as the company’s website. Search for recent news items and media appearances from their leaders. Go into your interview with a top-down understanding of the vision the company has, and how this vision is likely to affect your potential department and work.
Be engaging and conversational. Feeling inhibited by the panel interview format signals weakness under pressure. Staying composed and engaging with everyone in the room is a way to show panelists that you work well under pressure. Remember and use each of the interviewers’ names as you address them. Make eye contact with each one as you answer questions, refer back to previous questions to show command of the day’s topics, and calibrate your answers as you go to what you learn from the panelists’ responses. Be thoughtful and contemplative in your answers, but don’t take too long. If the group dynamic feels more like a conversation than an interrogation, you know things are going well.
Overcome the objections of the most challenging panelist. Most interviewees show the stress they feel by seeking comfort from the panelist offering the most positive responses. Distinguish yourself by paying more attention to the naysayer in the room who seems to need more convincing that you are the right person for the job. Focus a little more intently on that person’s agenda and concerns. By winning over the toughest member of the group, you will not only appear unflappable, but you will likely win over the panelist who carries the most influence in the hiring process.
Be poised and never let them see you sweat. In a panel interview, someone is always the “heavy,” the one who will hit you with a zinger of a question that most candidates can’t answer, or who will challenge answers that others accept. You may face pressure from multiple interviewers, but don’t get flustered or defensive. Prepare your answers to the toughest questions you are likely to face — which may be about gaps in your skills or your resume timeline, or even a termination — and deliver them with confidence. Speak at a normal volume and pace, and pause to gauge the responses. Listen actively when the panelists talk and take notes. Keep in mind your non-verbal cues as well. Make sure your posture is straight and your body language conveys that you are interested, but not wound too tight.
Once you have mastered the art of the panel interview, you will find that it presents an opportunity to distinguish yourself among qualified candidates who may not be as prepared for this challenge. Relish the opportunity and seize the moment!
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