Congratulations! You scored the interview. But, wait, what? A panel interview? If your heart starts pumping and your palms start sweating at the thought, relax. You’ve got this.
Panel interviews involve interviewing with a group instead of the traditional one-on-one scenario. The panel may be a combination of those to whom you would report and those in which you would have regular interactions.
Panel interviews are used for several reasons. Sometimes they just want to make you sweat. They want to see how you handle stress. Other times, it is more efficient. Having a single panel interview streamlines the hiring process.
But there is one key reason a company might use a panel interview – to observe your reactions and interactions with the team. They want to know how you would mesh with your co-workers who have varying personalities and communication styles. They are looking to see how you can adapt and fit in with the current team as well as the company culture.
It may seem unnerving at first, but you can build rapport with more than one person at a time. The key to success in a panel interview is connection and it is easier than you think. Here are a few essential tips to help you connect appropriately with your interviewers.
Know Who Will be in the Room
Know the names and the titles of those who will be sitting in on your panel interview. You can then review their online bio to gain insight into their role within the organization. The company website is a helpful resource. Because your interviewers will come from different roles in the organization, each one will consider your responses from their unique perspective.
Prepare More Than You Would for A Regular Interview
A panel interview can feel more stressful than an individual interview. Preparation and practice will help you feel more confident and self-assured from the moment you walk into the room. Research as much as you can about the current team and company culture. Arm yourself with examples, anecdotes, and stories to highlight your achievements. Multiple panelists means multiple viewpoints so what placates one interviewer’s question may spark additional questions from the others. Do your research up front. You may be able to Google what other applicants have been asked in similar interviews with the company. Common interview questions can also be found online. Take the time to prepare responses to each one. One key tip is to formulate a few answers based upon how those in the room might be interested in hearing them.
Have a Great Intro and Use Their Names:
Approach each person and introduce yourself while shaking their hand. Remember names. This is where your online research comes in handy. If there is a picture on their online bio, you should be able to remember their names more easily. When answering their questions, strengthen your connection by using their names – several times. People like hearing their name because it makes them feel recognized and important. While you don’t want to use their names in every sentence, try to use each interviewer’s name 2-3 times during the interview.
Spread Your Attention Around
Everyone on the panel may have a vote on whether you join the team, so do not respond only to senior-level members. Everyone gets equal attention. When answering questions, direct your initial answer to the person who asked the question and as you continue to elaborate, give attention to the other interviewers. Watch your body language and shift your shoulders accordingly so that you are facing the individual as you speak. Continue to move your attention from person to person to create a conversational atmosphere.
Prepare for at Least One Zinger Question
For some reason interviewers on a panel often feel more comfortable asking bold questions. If this happens, you will be fine. Be calm and poised. Don’t get rattled. Demonstrate your abilities to perform the job by preparing anecdotes of your past achievements. These prepared stories will help you with the behavioral-type of interviewing. You know – the ones where it starts out like, “Tell me about a time where…”
Leave on a High Note
As you are leaving, shake each panelist’s hand and thank them individually (another time to use their names) for taking time out of their schedule to meet. Follow up your interview by sending each person a personalized ‘thank you’ email. Try to customize it by addressing any specific concern or use it to elaborate on a question that you feel you could have answered better.
Do your best to build a connection with as many people in the panel interview as possible. View it like a dialogue instead of the back and forth question and answer interrogation session. Find common areas of interest, share your stories, blend in your questions instead of waiting until the end and you will look like a pro.
And, here’s one last tip. While a panel interview may be stressful, it is a fantastic way to help you decide whether you want the job. Just as they are observing you, you should be observing them. How do they interact with the boss? How does the boss interact with them? Is there an underlying theme to the questions you are being asked? If you pay close attention, you will see the company culture up close and personal. You may or may not like what you see. In the end, you win.