How To Handle A Panel Interview

Congratulations! Your persistence and well crafted resume has opened the corporate doors for an initial job interview with a representative from the Human Resources department. You have already performed your research and due diligence on the company and now prepared to allow your personality, confidence, and experience help you to impress your interviewer. After a highly positive and encouraging initial screening process, you receive an invitation for a follow-up interview. A panel interview to meet several members of the company.

You now have the opportunity that you’ve been preparing for; to inspire the interviewer with the innate skills, talent, and resourcefulness that will help make a successful company even more successful! It is your shining moment!

A Disarming Revelation

You arrive in advance of your scheduled time, well groomed, portfolio in-hand, ready to meet your interviewer. After a few minutes, you are cordially greeted by a company representative and subsequently escorted into a spacious corporate conference room. You will be participating in a ‘panel’ interview with six or eight employees representing several relevant multi-disciplinary sectors from within the corporation.

As a candidate, you had no visibility that you were entering an environment where you will be barraged and grilled by a myriad of employees with diverse personalities and roles for your follow-up interview. Stunned, stressed, and intimidated, this is not the type of intimate one-on-one interview you expected. Your choice is either to compose yourself and embrace the challenge at hand or, remain anxious and negatively convey your stress and dazed emotional state to members of the team. The prudent and professional course is to adapt, gain control of the situation, and forge ahead with confidence.

Why a ‘Panel’ Interview?

Today’s challenging economic climate demands a high degree of agility, composure, and straightforward thinking at all levels. Corporate openings are thin, consequently, companies are far more discriminating today when screening and interviewing potential candidates. Companies scrutinize, and place significant importance on the ability of an individual to effectively interface with other team members as a potential trustworthy and professional colleague.

Employers want to hire candidates who are positive, enthusiastic, strong communicators who inspire their colleagues. Additionally, employers seek candidates who can effectively confront stressful situations (such as a panel interview) with self-confidence, poise, exhibiting a well balance demeanor and level temperament. Although the situation is somewhat disarming, if you were well prepared for the personal, ‘one-on-one’ interview, you will rise to this new challenge.

The Benefits for the Candidate

Although weighted in the company’s favor, the panel interview is also of significant benefit for the interviewee. Prior to all participants settling in, you have a unique opportunity to introduce yourself and be greeted by each of your future team members. Representing a cross section of selected departments from within the company, you will gain insight into the caliber, demeanor, and attributes of the employee the company recruits.

Intuitively, you also gain a first-hand assessment as to how the team interacts with each other, and more importantly, how you will fit into the team. During this introductory phase, you may even encounter one or two ‘coaches’ on the team who may tactfully share helpful and inspiring tips to place you at ease. Invariably, several participants may also have been subjected to a similar gauntlet. An added benefit for the candidate is that a key decision maker is typically present. As such, you have a platform to impress this individual with your research, expertise, and thoughtful questions.

The Corporate Benefits

From a corporate perspective, time is a precious commodity in a tough economic climate when staffing is thin. Meeting concurrently with multiple staff members (and potential colleagues), is a big time-saver for everybody. It is far more cost effective as opposed to organizing multiple meetings and interview visits. It’s also easier to gain general consensus on a candidate with one interview session as opposed to multiple individual sessions.

The panel interview is an excellent litmus test to determine how well the candidate will conduct himself or herself under a stressful environment. Unlike a standard interview, a group questioning forum can engender a level of stress that reveals hidden characteristics and idiosyncrasies which may not emerge in a typical one-on-one setting (comparable to Captain Queeg in the Herman Wouk novel – “The Caine Mutiny”). Employers are curious if you possess the requisite skills, disposition, and spirit to mesh and execute your responsibilities with other team members under varying business climates.

Getting Through a Panel Interview

It is difficult to build rapport with each member during a panel interview; especially in a large conference room that is neither warm nor friendly. Consequently, introductions are vital to creating the right first impression. The following are a few helpful pointers to help get you through a panel interview:

Know Your Interviewers – Record the name of each panel member, their seating position, title, and area of responsibility (especially the most senior representative).

Your ‘Elevator’ Speech – Regardless of the type of interview, prepare and make sure to provide a brief synopsis of yourself to an interviewer. This includes your experience, specific areas of expertise, key achievements, growth, and accolades.

Take Notes – Record key elements or comments to respond to later in the meeting if appropriate. It’s also an excellent ‘delay’ tactic should you elect to respond to a specific or tough question later in the interview.

One Question at a Time – Remain calm. Concentrate, and answer each question one-at-a-time. Answer in a thoroughly focused and thoughtful manner; as though you were participating in a ‘one-on-one’ interview. As such, you help maintain the decorum for the interview.

Maintain Eye Contact – Help establish a rapport with the panel member asking you the question with solid ‘eye contact’, and by referencing their name. Feel free to momentarily glance at other members when responding, however, always return with full eye contact to the member asking the question.

The ‘Group Instinct’ – Try not to let your guard down. As a member of a group, interviewers tend to be more direct and forthright. There’s a natural curiosity to uncover what kind of person you really are (beyond your expertise). Never get too personal about yourself and your shortcomings!

Ask Relevant, Thoughtful Questions – Candidates are often judged as much by the relevance and intelligence of their questions as by their responses. Your questions should reflect the due diligence and research which you have performed on the company. Try to ask at least one introspective question for each panel member. It’s your turn to gain insight into the company and specific impressions from the panel.

Closing the Panel Interview – Toward the end of the interview, typically the most senior representative will thank you for your time and for being so patient and tolerate during a rather stressful session. At this moment, you should inquire to determine if there’s any additional information that the team requires. Scan each member for a response. If they don’t require any further information express your gratitude for their time and for considering you for the position.

Don’t’ Forget a Follow-up ‘Thank You’ Note to each team member. Do not send out a ‘generic’ note to each member.

In Summary

Typically, if a follow-up up interview will be structured as a ‘panel’ session candidates are advised. Unfortunately, an HR representative, or your initial interview contact, may not be aware of such circumstances until it’s too late. No one will be at ease in an atmosphere where you are getting a barrage of questions from every direction. The fact is, a candidate should never walk into an interview ‘cold’. You’ve worked hard to reach this point. Make sure that as a candidate you are ready regardless of the change of circumstances and venue.

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