People have called panel interviews inquisitions, running the gauntlet and endurance tests. Remaining calm and focused are key to having a successful panel interview. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to prepare for a panel interview.
With every job interview you start with digging into the job description. How does your background match what they are looking for. What are the gaps and how will you respond to them? Research the company and the backgrounds of everyone that will be on your panel. Know the job, the company and the backgrounds of the employees you will meet with, and any interview will go much better.
Notes and Resumes
Usually any note taking should happen immediately after the interview while it is still fresh in your mind. In the case of how to prepare for a panel interview, bringing a notebook into the interview makes more sense. It gives you a chance to write down everyone’s name in order of where they sit. The pressure of meeting multiple people can lead to ‘blanking out’ on someone’s name, with notes in front of you that won’t happen. With multiple people you should ask more questions than in a one-on-one interview and having a notebook with those questions in it can be a very helpful prompt. Remember maintaining eye contact 90% of the time is critical, so keep the note taking to a minimum. To be safe, bring a copy of your resume for each person in case it is needed.
Shake hands with every panel member, make eye contact and use their name, if possible. Practice great body language – good posture and keeping your hands and feet still. Knowing their backgrounds before the interview means you can build rapport referencing something you have in common, or something they might find particularly interesting about you.
You’ve prepared answers to all of the common interview questions. Now you need to be aware of your non-verbal communication as well as your verbal. Make initial eye contact with the person who asked the question and then include other panel members in your answer by scanning to another face and pausing briefly while answering. Return to the person who asked the question as you are finishing up.
Don’t play favorites when answering questions as you can’t know for sure who is the final decision-maker. Try to get into a conversation when you prepare for a panel interview versus a question and answer format. Most successful interviews are conversational in tone versus an interrogation.
Ask meaningful questions that tie back into some of the position critical questions they asked. Genuine curiosity always comes through better than rote questions. Ask them if there is any area of your background or fit for the position that they still have concerns or questions about.
Shake hands with each interviewer using their name as much as possible. Getting a business card is always useful if it doesn’t seem too rote or pushy. Express your thanks for their time and follow-up with an email thank you note. A snail mail thank you is too slow. If you have communicated with some of the panel members via text, a text thank you might even be the most appropriate. Reference some part of the interview that applies to each of them in their note, but keep it short and reiterate your interest in the position.
Why a Panel Interview?
Sometimes companies do a panel interview because it is just a practical and convenient way to schedule multiple people to talk with you. For sales candidates a panel interview can mimic the job requirements better than individual interviews. Companies may use them to see how you respond to group situations, work with others, navigate internal conflict or just balance handling different personality types. Always remember, though, if they didn’t think you were qualified for the role or have strong potential as a candidate they wouldn’t’ waste the time of so many people. The panel interview can be an affirmation of your strong candidacy.