By Mike Simpson
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Admit it, deep down inside you’ve always wanted to be a celebrity.
There’s a definite allure to stardom and some people will do anything to achieve their 15 minutes of fame, and it’s easy to see why. In the right context, being the center of attention is the best feeling in the world.
There’s no bigger ego boost than the one you can get when you swagger into a room full of confidence and know everyone’s eye is on you for all the right reasons…
How do you feel when you’re in that situation?
Now let’s say instead of being a star, you’re a job seeker, and instead of adoring fans you find yourself walking into a room of professionals who have gathered together to conduct an interview…your interview.
Suddenly being the center of attention doesn’t seem so great any more, does it?
How do we fix that? How do we get you your superstar mojo back? By teaching you how to ace any panel interview!
Let’s start with the basics, beginning with defining exactly what a panel interview is.
What is a Panel Interview?
A panel interview is one in which you, the interviewee, are brought in to interview with a group of individuals from the company.
Now before we go any further, try not to get panel interviews confused with a group interview. A group interview is where you are interviewed alongside several other potential candidates for the same position, whereas in a panel interview, the opposite is true.
In general*, instead of being surrounded by other job seekers, it’s just you…all by yourself…facing not only the hiring manager, but also potential coworkers and professional peers as well as managers, supervisors, and other upper level individuals.
*It is possible to have a group interview in front of a panel, but it is not very common. If you do face this, you’ll want to combine the tips we give you in this article with tips we give you in our Group Interview Article.
Anyway, for the purposes of this article, a panel interview is all about you. You are the sole focus of the interview and the interviewers spend the time asking you questions and getting to know you.
No pressure, right?
You know what other types of uncomfortable situations involve one person against a large group of individuals? Firing squads and inquisitions.
If you find yourself heading into a panel interview unprepared it can feel a lot like walking into an inquisition, which is why it’s so important to learn the basics before you ever set foot into that room.
Why Are Panel Interviews Used?
Panel interviews are used for a number of reasons, starting off with the fact that a panel interview is an easy way for a group of people to get to know you quickly.
One single panel interview can take the place of multiple individual interviews and can help streamline the hiring process which in turn can save the company both time and money.
For this reason panel interviews are commonly used in small business where they might not have the luxury of time or money for a long drawn out interview process.
A panel interview is also an opportunity for the interviewers to observe you in a group setting and see how you not only interact with different personality types and communication styles, but how you handle stress.
Non-profit organizations, academic institutions and some government entities like using panel interviews for this reason.
Finally, panel interviews are also helpful when a corporation requires a consensus among several individuals when hiring for a specific position. Rather than having an individual meet one on one, a panel interview allows a group to quickly come to a consensus.
Panel interviews are common when hiring high level executives and a board or committee is required to approve the decision.
What To Bring To Your Panel Interview
Now that we’ve figured out just what a panel interview is and both who and why they’re popular with certain hiring managers, let’s talk about what you’ll need to bring with you to survive the process, and prove to the entire room that you’re the Perfect Candidate!
Bring with me?! As in gifts? Do I need to bring a muffin basket? Will that help me get hired?
No. Leave the muffin basket behind.
We’re not talking physically bringing anything with you (although you should always have fresh copies of your resume and business cards with you).
We’re talking about the skills you’re going to need to develop in order to master the panel interview.
4 Panel Interview Skills You Should Master
1. ABILITY TO REMEMBER NAMES
You’re meeting a lot of important people very quickly and it’s easy to forget names.
The only thing worse than not knowing someone’s name is calling them the wrong name!
A simple way to fix that problem is to bring a pen and piece of paper with you and to quickly jot down a seating chart along with names of who is interviewing you.
Not only will you be able to answer their questions with a personalized answer (“Well, Bob, in my last job…”) but it will also make writing those personalized thank you notes afterwards just that much easier!
No matter how much research you do ahead of time, it’s easy to get flustered when facing so many strangers, especially when they’re asking you questions.
You have to make sure you’re focusing on the task at hand, not just the situation you’re in.
Remember this: the ultimate goal of any panel interview is to find the right person for the job and your goal is to prove to the panelist that that person is you!
Rather than allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed by their scrutiny, use it an opportunity to showcase your flexibility and stress management skills.
While it might seem like you’re answering the same questions over and over again (and there will be repetition) keep in mind that different people have different ways of processing information and listening.
Additionally, a panel is often made up of individuals from different departments and management levels, so each person is going to have a different take away from your response based on their area of focus.
Instead of just saying the same thing over and over again, vary your responses and tailor them to the individual asking you. Not only will it make your answers more specifically targeted, but it can provide you with the unique opportunity to showcase your knowledge and expertise in ways you wouldn’t get in a traditional interview format.
3. GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
While you might feel like you’re a bug under a magnifying glass during your interview, the last thing you want to do is to act like one.
Make eye contact with everyone on the panel and be sure to address your responses both individually and to the group as a whole.
Along with eye contact comes body language. Make sure you’re physically projecting confidence.
Hunching over in your chair, wrapping your arms around your body, or bouncing nervously might be how you deal with the stress of the situation, but they are also all nervous tics that a potential employer could mistake as signs you don’t want to be there…and that could hurt your chances of getting the job.
4. STRESS MANAGEMENT AND THOUGHTFULNESS
Panel interviews have a reputation of feeling a bit like being in front of a firing squad.
Because you are being interviewed by a number of people and they’re all competing with each other in trying to get their questions answered within a limited amount of time, it can be a little overwhelming.
While you might be facing a lot of questions all at once in a panel interview, there’s no prize for answering them the fastest. In a way it’s up to you to control the speed of the interview.
Take your time to formulate your responses (but don’t take too much time!). You’re not there to impress them with your speed, you’re there to impress them with your knowledge and skills.
Before you answer any question, take a breath and tailor what you’re about to say!
Keep your answers brief and focused.
How To Prepare For a Panel Interview
BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION
A panel interview is just like any other interview in that you should prepare for it beforehand. One way to alleviate the pressure and stress that comes with a panel interview is to know ahead of time just who is interviewing you.
In a perfect world you would know ahead of time who is interviewing you, giving you an opportunity to look up exactly who they are and their role within the company, making it just that much easier to tailor your responses to their specific questions.
Of course, not every hiring manager is going to let you know ahead of time that you’re coming in for a panel interview, but if you’ve done your research and looked into who works at the company, you should know ahead of time just who could potentially be there.
Another pre-interview task you should tackle is really drilling down on the job description and requirements. Make sure you know those inside and out.
Not only will it help keep you focused, but it can also help you anticipate any potential questions that might come up in the interview and allow you to practice your answers and tailor your responses.
The less surprised you are when you walk into a panel interview, the smoother the process will go, and that starts with you doing your pre-interview research before you even walk into the room.
TURN THE TABLES
Finally, by doing your research ahead of time, you’ll also be better prepared to ask them questions!
Always keep in mind, a panel interview isn’t just a time for a company to get to know you, it’s also a time for you to get to know them!
Make sure you prepare your own meaningful questions.
Not only will you gain valuable insights that will help you decide if this is the right job for you if offered, it will show the company that you’ve done your research and taken that extra step.
If you need some help on figuring out just what questions to ask, click here to read more about the Top Fourteen Questions to ask in an interview.
Common Panel Interview Mistakes
Being interviewed under any circumstance can be a stressful experience, and when you’re in a panel interview, that stress is multiplied by the number of people asking you questions. This added stress means it’s even easier to slip up and make mistakes including:
NOT BEING PREPARED
You’re a student of the Interview Guys, which means you’re never unprepared. We’re going to just go ahead and assume no matter what, you’re doing all your pre-interview prep and that this doesn’t apply to you at all.
NOT BEING NEUTRAL
It’s human nature to want to be liked, and for some people that can mean gravitating towards specific personality types and finding other types difficult to deal with. In a panel interview situation, it’s a good idea to remain as neutral and friendly to every person in the room.
If you’re in a situation where there are clear personality dynamics among the panelists, resist trying to fit in by emulating what they’re doing. The last thing you want to do is buddy up to the wrong person.
NOT BEING CALM
It’s a natural reaction to lash out when you feel cornered, but the last place you want to do this is in a panel interview.
Facing a squad of potential hires who are firing questions at you can feel a bit like an attack, but you have to make sure no matter what that you control your emotions and consider your answers before you say them.
Odds are whoever is interviewing you is intentionally trying to rile you up so they can see how you react. Stay calm, cool, and collected…and don’t forget to say please and thank you!
NOT BEING YOURSELF
You always want to present your best self when going in for an interview, but you also want to make sure you’re presenting your authentic self as well.
Going into an interview and putting forth a personality that isn’t your actual own personality is a dangerous game to play, and can ultimately end up biting you in the end. An employer wants to know the person they’re interviewing and the person they’re hiring are the same person.
Pretending to be someone you’re not might impress them in the short run, but sustaining that personality day after day (potentially for years) isn’t realistic.
Changing who you are in order to impress a panel might seem like a good idea at the time, but in the long run, you’re only hurting yourself.
Top 5 Panel Interview Tips
Here are five panel interview tips that will help move you to the front of the hiring line.
1) Get to Know Your Interviewers
This step starts in prep. Before you shake a single hand in that interview room, it’s a good idea to know ahead of time who you’re meeting.
If at all possible, ask at the time you’re invited to the interview if they can provide you with the names of all the people who will be interviewing you. Keep in mind that the panel will always be subject to last minute changes and don’t be surprised if there are substitutions or additions, but it’s still nice to go in with a good idea of who might be there.
Once you find out who is interviewing you, do your research. Look them up both on the company website and through LinkedIn. Learn a little about them and their history with the company and career overall.
Don’t “over-stalk” them…you want to impress them with your attention to detail but you don’t want to concern them with obsessive digging or revealing too much knowledge about personal details.
Having a little background information on each person can also help you break the ice, especially if there is common ground…and that can help make the entire process feel less like an interrogation and more like a friendly conversation between friends…and potential coworkers!
2) Bring Enough for the Entire Class…Er, Panel…
As a student of the Interview Guys, you should already know you should bring along a fresh copy of your resume and business card, and going to a panel interview simply means bringing more copies.
Ask ahead of time how many people will be interviewing you and make sure you have enough so each person can have one. It’s a good idea to bring more than you think you’ll need as there’s always the possibility for last minute additions and changes to your panel.
Giving each panelist a copy of your resume and having extras shows them that not only are you prepared, but that you’ve taken into consideration the possibility for change and that you’re adaptable.
3) Involve the Entire Panel In Your Interview
When answering questions, don’t simply address the individual who asked the question. Make sure you’re including the whole panel in your response. Make eye contact with each person as you talk.
Including the names of individuals is also an important part of making sure you’re involving the entire panel. Always start out and finish your answers by directing them at the person who asked you, but be sure to also make eye contact with everyone else on the panel.
Not only does making eye contact keep everyone in the panel engaged in what you’re saying, it helps to show that you’re confident in your answers and comfortable in the situation.
Involving the entire panel in your interview also means sending each panelist a personalized thank you note…so don’t forget to get everyone’s name!
4) Be a Team Player
Often a panel interview includes individuals who, if you’re hired, are potential teammates and coworkers. Start laying the groundwork early for a successful team culture by being cooperative from the very beginning.
Be observant during your interview and take notice of how everyone interacts with each other. Not only will it help you tailor your responses, seeing how the panel get along with each other can be a great way for you to get an inside look at the overall dynamics you’ll be entering into if you’re hired.
Do the panelists get along and work well together? Is there a lot of cooperation or is there conflict?
An interview is a two way street; not only is the company looking at hiring you, it gives you an opportunity to get a closer look at them and help you decide if you want to take the job if it’s offered.
5) Tell Everyone “Thank-You”… Twice
Just like every interview, you should always wrap up by telling everyone thank you for taking the time to meet with you and a panel interview is no different.
As you’re leaving, shake each panelists hand and thank them individually for taking the time to meet with them. Now is also the time to ask for business cards. Collecting these will help ensure that you have the exact correct spelling for each person’s name.
Follow up your interview by sending each person a personalized thank you note expressing your appreciation for the opportunity. The thank you note is also a great time to address any follow up information you might have for a question an individual asked you.
3 Common Panel Interview Questions (and Answers)
The easiest way to get over any potential nerves that come with facing a panel interview is to hold your own mock interview beforehand.
Asking friends to pretend to be panelists is a great way to practice your answers ahead of time. Have your mock interviewers listen to your answers and then ask them for their individual perspectives on what you said.
Because a panel interview involves multiple individuals, each with a unique view of the position you are applying for, the questions most commonly asked deal more with how you think and react to situations rather than straight forward factual responses.
Here are three great potential panel interview questions you can practice with, as well as example answers to help you build your own responses.
Can you tell us about a time you experienced conflict within a team and how you handled that?
I find the best way to deal with conflict is to be proactive about the situation rather than reactive. It’s always a good idea to deal with a problem while it’s still fresh and new rather than ignoring it in the hopes it will resolve itself or go away. Let me give you a good example.
On my last job I had two members of my team who didn’t see exactly eye to eye on a certain subject and as a result, had difficulty working together. Both were exceptional employees and losing either one would have been a major blow to the project we had been assigned.
The first thing I did meet with them individually as I wanted to make sure I was getting both sides of the story. After hearing them both out, I realized that the best way to ensure the continuing cohesiveness of the team was to come up with a compromise between the two individuals.
I again sat them both down individually and explained to them that while neither party was completely in the right, neither was completely in the wrong either and that the majority of their conflict arose from individual perspective.
Rather than taking one side over the other, I helped them to find a common neutral middle ground. We reworked the structure of the team and the schedule in a way that made it possible for us to all continue to work together.
By coming to an agreeable compromise, we were able to resolve the conflict in such a way that the integrity of the team was maintained. It wasn’t easy, but I was proud of the fact that I not only managed to balance two very different personalities but also managed to keep the team intact and focused.
How do you handle criticism?
Early on in my career I looked at criticism as a mark of my failures and my inadequacy as an employee. I took the criticism very personally and was often resentful of my supervisors. Luckily I landed in a job with a manager who was incredibly in tune with her employees.
After one instance where a project I had been working on received some critical feedback, she pulled me aside to explain that it wasn’t personal. She taught me that criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that by pointing out weaknesses in my project my supervisors were actually trying to help me improve my designs.
Nobody wants their employees to fail! It was a tough lesson, but one I took to heart. Now as a supervisor myself, I try to always make sure that my criticism is constructive and use it as a learning opportunity for those I oversee.
This position requires you to keep track of multiple projects. How do you keep yourself organized and on task?
I am a list maker. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from crossing tasks off my to-do list. To that end, I keep an electronic organizer on my phone that is synched up with my computer and digital calendar.
Every task I’m responsible for is entered into my program, given a priority level and a due date. The best part of this entire system is the fact that I can set alarms and reminders. By assigning priority levels and alerts, I’m able to complete tasks in the most efficient order possible.
I can know, at a glance, what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done. I start out each day with my list and every night mark off what has been completed.
Putting It All Together
To someone facing a panel interview for the very first time, it can be an intimidating and terrifying experience…but it doesn’t have to be. By doing proper prep work and practicing your potential interview responses, you can transform any panel interview from what feels like an interrogation into a positive, rewarding experience…and hopefully the next step towards the job of your dreams.
So, remember, the next time you walk into a room for an interview and see a whole group of people lined up ready to ask you questions, yes…it really is all about you…in the best possible way.
As always, good luck!