While landing an in-person interview for your dream job feels amazing at first — especially if you made it through the initial hurdle of speaking with a human resource manager or doing a phone interview — it won’t be long until your nerves start to get the best of you.
Now, imagine that instead of being interviewed by just one person for a regular job interview, you find out that three, four or even five of your potential future colleagues are going to be firing questions at you. Your palms are going to be sweating before you even get inside the door!
The panel interview, which basically means that a job seeker or candidate for a given position is being asked questions by several interviewers at the same time, is gaining popularity among companies that want to speed up the hiring process and make interviews more efficient. A screening interviewing, usually the first step in the hiring process, probably won't be a panel interview; it will most likely be conducted on the phone by an HR specialist or one hiring manager.
In some cases, you may face a peer panel interview, which involves a group of employees at a similar level to the position for which you're applying. A peer interview can help you better understand the company and help the interviewers gain insight into your background and skills.
And it makes sense—conducting this type of interview is a great way for a larger group of people at a company to get to know an interviewee in a limited period of time. But to the job seeker, a panel-style interview can be pretty intimidating and bring on feelings of pressure and anxiety, especially because many of us are only accustomed to the one-on-one interview format.
While surviving a panel interview certainly comes with its own challenges and it might feel a bit like you’re walking into a firing squad, a little bit of preparation can go a long way in helping you not only survive but thrive in this interview setting. Here are some tips to help you rock your next panel interview and land your dream job.
While you definitely want to do research on the company itself as you would for any individual interview, you’ll also want to research the interviewers themselves—all of them. Well before the day that you’re interviewing, find out who will be sitting on your panel and gather a little bit of information about each panel member.
Check out the company’s website to find your interviewers’ biographies or search for them on LinkedIn. Before the interview, try to memorize one key point about each panel member that you can bring up during the discussion or ask about — it will set you apart from the other candidates.
For example, perhaps one of your panelists worked on a big project that interests you—ask him or her the greatest lesson learned from that particular project. Another panelist made a major industry switch or career move before landing in their current role? Ask about how he/she successfully navigated that transition.
And don’t feel like you have to memorize each of your interviewer’s entire life stories—one or two key bits of information that you can ask a question about is enough to show you did your homework and are truly interested in your interviewers.
Because panel interviews can feel more stressful than an individual interview, it is important to feel as self-assured and prepared as possible when you walk into that room. Body language is key; projecting a calm, poised demeanor is often as important as the actual answers you give to the interviewers’ questions. And the more preparation you can do ahead of time, the more confident you will feel and come across.
Brainstorm possible interview questions you might be asked and practice your answers. It might be helpful to write your answers out and read them out loud in a mirror. You can also try to search for reviews or experiences other interviewees have shared about the recruitment process with your company, on sites like Fairygodboss.
Finally, if you’re able, consider assembling a few friends together for a “mock interview.” Have them fire questions away at you and practice answering them exactly how you would during the real interview.
While it’s tempting to focus your attention on the interviewer asking you the question, be sure to work the room like this: Start out by making eye contact with the interviewer who asked you the question, but look at the other panelists too as you talk and elaborate on your answer.
You can also draw in others in the room with body language. Rather than turning your body toward the person asking you the question, keep your body in a neutral position at first and then turn it slightly toward each interviewer as you make eye contact.
It is so important for the other panelists to feel included and that you are there having a conversation with all of them, rather than just the panelist who asked you a question. If possible, refer back to something one of the panelists said earlier as a way to bring them into the discussion even more. This will show your interviewers you are paying attention and engage them more in the interview.
When you’re interviewing, using your interviewers’ names in conversation is a great way to get their attention, strengthen your connection, and set yourself apart from any other job candidate. People like hearing their name spoken because it makes them feel recognized and important.
While you don’t want to use their names in every sentence you say, try to use each panelist’s name 2-3 times throughout the interview, including at the end when you shake hands and say “Thank you ______,” to each panelist.
If you can’t get the names of your interviewers prior to the interview, write them down as soon as you get introduced. You can even draw a seating chart so you don’t get the names mixed up and can address each panelist properly.
People process information differently from each other, and frankly, there might be times when some of your panelists are paying less attention than they should. When that happens, you’ll often get the same version of a question you answered previously and have to repeat yourself.
The key is to avoid getting flustered and definitely do not point out that you were asked the question (or a similar question) already. Stay calm and simply answer the question again.
Some of the other panelists might notice the question is a repeat and joke around that their fellow panelist might have zoned out when you answered the first time. If that happens, smile and tell them you don’t mind elaborating on what you said earlier.
When you get to the end of the interview and one of the panelists asks if you have any questions, in addition to one or two general questions that you ask of the entire group, ask something specific of each panelist.
You can even prepare these questions ahead of time when you research the interviewers’ backgrounds, or you can make up the question on the spot based on something they said during the interview. Closing the interview this way will make each panelist feel valued and that your conversation was time well spent.
Rather than send one thank you note to the person who set up your interview or one e-mail with all the panelists copied, send individual thank you notes to each interviewer. Be sure to thank them for their time and mention something they said during the interview that you found especially interesting or helpful.
If you can, throw in a compliment or show you’re impressed by something the interviewer did or said. Here’s an example of a note you might send:
“Dear [Name of interviewer],
Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. I really enjoyed learning more about [Company] and what the role of [Title you interviewed for] entails.
And thank you for being so candid about your recent career move and explaining how you navigated your transition from the political world to the corporate sector. I agree that being flexible and open is key to mastering any big transition, and it seems like you have been very successful so far.
Please do not hesitate to reach out should you have any additional questions for me. Thank you again.
While these days, e-mail thank you notes are increasingly expected and customary, if your company’s culture seems especially conservative, you might consider sending a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours of the interview.
If you’re in a position to conduct a panel interview, follow these steps:
Determine who will be asking which questions. Make it clear who the “leader” of the interview will be—usually the hiring manager or person who will be the candidate’s manager. The other participants should ask other questions about the candidate’s experience that are relevant to their own roles at the company. For example, when interviewing a prospective copywriter, a designer might ask questions related to overall ad concept and design.
Make sure everyone feels at ease and can see one other. This can help panel members gauge each other’s reactions as well as the candidate’s.
Determine and outline how you’re going to conduct the interview. Make sure everyone has information on the candidate, such as her cover letter and resume, to help you guide their questions.
Establish a time to meet and go over the candidate’s responses and qualifications after the interview. Make sure everyone is able to offer input.
As a manager, your panel experience won’t be too different from that of other candidates, although it’s possible that people who might report to you might sit in on the panel as well, which can add some pressure.
Some questions you might expect as a manager candidate include:
• What’s your management style?
• Describe a time you’ve had to deal with a difficult employee.
• How do you motivate your employees?
• What’s one mistake you’ve made as a manager and how did you handle it?
There are several pros and cons to participating in a panel interview as a prospective employee. One advantage is that you’ll get a better sense of the company culture since you’ll meet some of your future colleagues and hear many different perspectives.
The panel interview might also make the interview process a little shorter since rather than facing several rounds of interviews, you’re meeting with several interviewers at once. You may also find that multiple people making the decision, rather than one or a couple, can work to your advantage.
Of course, there are also some drawbacks. It can be intimidating to face a large group of interviewers. You may also hear some repeat questions if one interviewer wasn’t paying attention, which can be confusing and difficult to know how to answer. (If this happens, politely repeat your answer.) It can add some pressure to the experience to know you have to respond to several different people’s concerns and interests as well.
It’s normal to feel a certain amount of pressure and nervousness during the interview process, especially with a panel interview. But don’t forget that you landed the interview in the first place for a reason—because something about your background and qualifications stood out and impressed the hiring committee.
Remember that before you walk through the door for an instant confidence booster. And with a little bit of preparation and by following the tips above, you can knock the panel interview out of the park and land the dream job you deserve!
Looking to ace all aspects of your interview, not just the end? Check out our comprehensive interview guide. We cover everything from what to wear, when to show up, to how to follow up (and everything in between!)
Dr. Brittany L. Stalsburg is a researcher, strategist, and professional writer. She is the owner of BLS Research & Consulting, a full-service opinion research and communications consulting firm based in East Haven, Connecticut. Brittany holds a PhD in political science from Rutgers University.
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