How to Ace a Panel Interview

A panel interview is often part of the interviewing process. For starters, they save the company time. With everyone seeing you at once, interviewers have the ability to compare notes and quickly make a decision. They also give the interviewers an opportunity to see how you interact with the team and to make a determination about fit. I talk more about the key to getting hired and how employers determine if you’re a good fit in another post which you can come back to read about here.

From a candidate’s perspective, panel interviews can be very challenging.  How do you stand out at your job interview? How do you keep as many as 5 or 6 people interested in what you have to say?  How do you address everyone so no one feels ignored?  How do you handle the rapid fire of questions both clearly and concisely?

Get to know your interviewers

In advance of your interview, it is all right to ask who will be on the panel. You will want to research each interviewer, so they seem less like strangers when you walk in the room. Learn their names, what they have in common, what makes them important to the process and what they might care about. Knowing this information will make it easier to establish a personal connection. This will also help you prepare questions that focus on each person’s skill and expertise.

Take notes

This will give you a moment or two to formulate an answer to a particularly tough question. One trick is to quickly jot down everyone’s name in the order they are seated.  This way you can include the person’s name when you begin to answer their question.

Address the person asking the question

You can only answer one question at a time.  Primarily, address your answer to the person asking the question, while making eye contact with the rest of the panel.  This will also make the panel format seem less intimidating.

Introduce yourself to each interviewer

Go up to each person to introduce yourself.   Offer a firm handshake, a smile and let them know you are happy to meet them.   This may seem a little awkward, but a quick “hi everyone” doesn’t make the best first impression. If you repeat their name out loud, after they tell it to you, it might help you remember. As much as possible, place your attention on connecting with each individual on a professional level.

Take extra copies of your resume

Don’t assume everyone has read or even seen your resume. Take extra copies and let the panel know you have extra copies if anyone would like to see one. Your resume communicates a lot to the reader. Make sure you’re saying the right thing and read up ahead of time to follow the steps I set out in this resume writing tips activity here.

Don’t fill the dead spots

Often during a panel interview, there will be moments of silence as the interviewers decide who will go next. Don’t rush in to fill the void.  Just sit quietly and wait for the next question.

Identify the key decision maker

All panel members are not created equal. If possible, identify the key decision maker. This is the person you’ll want to make eye contact with somewhat more often than the other panel members. You don’t want to ignore the others, but this is the person you’ll most want to impress. More often than not, this person will be the hiring manager.

Do your homework

You can’t hide during a panel interview.  It is more critical than ever that you have done your homework and know as much as you can about the industry, the culture, the problems and opportunities the organization is facing and where they are headed.  This puts you in a better position to not only answer questions but to also ask questions.  The more you can turn this into a conversation, the better.

Follow up matters

Someone once asked me if they needed to send a thank you note to each member of the panel.  The answer is an absolute yes.   Ask each interviewer for a business card or ask your recruiter for email addresses. Make the notes personalized to each person – something they shared, a question they asked.  And, don’t send the same email to everyone! If you can’t get email addresses, send one note to the main point of contact and ask that he/she share it with the group.

Panel interviews can seem intimidating, but with the right amount of preparation, they can be easily managed.  Just stay in the moment and remember you can only answer one question at a time.

 

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