How To Nail a Panel Interview (Questions and Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

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?

Powerful, right!?

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.

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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.

We agree!

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!

focus2. FOCUS

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.

pressure13. 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 Properly

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