Conducting a Successful Panel Interview

Preparing for a Panel interview?

At first, a panel job interview might sound intimidating. But with the right prep work and by modifying your communication during the interview, you’ll be able to increase your chances for a successful interview.

Our friends at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge have compiled a list of things for you to do and keep in mind

12 Tips for Success

  • Find out who will be on the interview panel. Ask the recruiter (or hiring manager) for the names and titles of everyone who will be on the panel. This will help you gain a better understanding of what will be important to each person.
  • Brainstorm the questions each person might ask. Based on their role in the company, think through the types of questions they might ask you during the interview. Then, practice your answers.
  • Introduce yourself to each person. When you show up for the panel interview, approach each person and introduce yourself while shaking his or her hand. Ask for a business card from everyone, so you can place these in front of you in the order in which they’re sitting. If they don’t have business cards with them, write down their names on a piece of paper (in the order in which they’re sitting) and have this in front of you during the interview. Ask if you can take notes during the panel interview but do so sparingly if you do.
  • Modify your communication style. In an individual interview, you would respond to questions by answering the person directly. But in a panel interview, you need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the panel during your comments. Use people’s names when answering—this allows you to honor the person who asked the question. Remember to personalize your answer to the panelist’s area of interest.
  • While fielding questions, make it a point to relax, smile, and open your gaze to the others in the room. Avoid staring at a single person. Even if a single member of the group asks you a question, look around at the others while you answer it. Doing so will help you project a confident image and build rapport with the entire pane
  • Expect to repeat yourself. While one of your interviewers might take your answer the first time, you can almost expect someone else to either ask for clarification — or ask it again, later in the interview. Why? Because, just like our verbal abilities, many of us have different listening styles. What is clear to one panel participant may need further explanation for another person. In addition, each panelist comes to a group interview with a different agenda. You may also find yourself repeating information from earlier interviews. This is perfectly normal in the context of a multi-interview hiring process, so avoid coming across as impatient or noting that you’ve answered this query before.
  • Demonstrate that you’re making connections during the conversation. Instead of just answering each person’s question, see if you can make connections and demonstrate your active listening skills. Cross-reference a question with another one asked previously by a different panelist. An example – “I am glad to expand on my earlier response to Ruth’s concern on…”  This strategy allows you to reinforce strong elements from a previous answer, showcases active listening skills and pulls all members into the conversation to listen to you with attention. Sometimes, panelists might work off a list of common or standardized questions –the key is to pull the common threads from your answers together so that you are showing consistency across your answers.
  • Find out who you’ll need to impress the most. Within most panel interviews, it becomes obvious very quickly who’s on your side, and who still hasn’t made up her or her mind yet. While it may be comforting to direct your answers and gaze toward the interviewer who seems more open to your responses, you’re better off tackling the naysayer first. Why? Because winning over the person most likely to reject you shows that you have the ability to read the audience, as well as problem-solve on your feet. Most employers are looking for leaders that will challenge issues head-on, ask numerous questions, and hone in on the thorniest problems first. If you respond well to someone that throws challenges your way, you’ll come across as an unflappable professional ready to take on the demands of the job. In addition, most panel interviewers convene after a group interview to discuss the candidate and their impressions. If you’ve won over the toughest member of the group, the others may likely throw their support behind him or her.
  • Engage even the silent ones. Don’t play to any one person on the panel. It’s sometimes the quiet note-takers that have high influence. Use silence. Sometimes looking down and taking a moment to answer the question is the best strategy. Sometimes smiling, nodding and laughing with the panel or a panel member at an awkward moment makes you seem more human.
  • Be prepared for at least one zinger question. Interviewers tend to feel more comfortable (and perhaps bold) in a group. Therefore, you can almost count on being asked a question that might not be posed to you in a one-on-one situation. Of course, you’ll want to prepare for your interview by pulling out three to five “power stories” that demonstrate your abilities to perform the job. Arming yourself with these anecdotes will give you the ability to answer numerous behavioral style questions common to both single- and multi-interviewer situations.
  • Modify how you ask questions at the end of the interview. Just like you would for an individual interview, come prepared with your list of potential questions to ask at the end of the interview. Then, see if you can relate any of your questions back to what was discussed during the panel interview. Have a question to ask each interviewer.
  • Thank all participants promptly. At the conclusion of your group interview, thank everyone personally, and gather business cards if you didn’t already do so. Then, as you’re sitting in your car post-interview, write thank-you notes immediately and bring them back in for drop-off to the receptionist. Follow-up with each person. You’ll gain the advantage of having the interview fresh in your mind, and will score points for your promptness and attention to professional courtesy.

In summary, a panel interview is nothing to dread, especially since it offers an opportunity to establish rapport with your potential new co-workers and bosses. Arm yourself with a stack of success stories, answers to tough questions, thank-you notes, and a smile, and you’ll be on your way to a faster job offer.