Panel interviews are notoriously stressful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ace it! With thoughtful preparation and a few key interview techniques you can get through the panel interview with flying colors – and a lot less stress.
Panel interviews can feel like one-on-one interviews on steroids. Our blog Pro Tips for Nailing Your In-Person Inteview explains the essentials of your personal appearance, body language, voice modulation and other parts of the interview process. You’ll definitely want to check that out to lay the groundwork for a panel interview.
The stress and anxiety of having two or more sets of eyes on you as you explain your accomplishments, work style, and goals simulates a real work situation and your interviewers will be watching how well you handle yourself. Your goal for the panel interview is to appear calm, maintain a balanced demeanor, and handle conflict with ease.
The more poised and prepared you are, the more likely you’ll connect with your interviewers and make a positive impression. Here are my tips for panel interview success:
Thorough and smart preparation is your best defense against nerves. The more you prepare, the calmer you will feel searching for answers to the many questions the panelists will throw at you. When you know what to expect, the feelings of anxiety will lessen. Here are some key things you can prepare for ahead of time:
Know The Audience: Research and memorize the names and roles of each person in the room. A panel can be anywhere from 2-10 people. Knowing their names, titles and responsibilities beforehand will help you understand what their purpose is for being in the room and how you may want to relate to each person individually. To do your research, look each person up on LinkedIn and the company website (if they’re on it) to learn their major responsibilities, tenure with the company, and a personal fact that will help you connect with that person. You may also want to run a google search to see if anything else pops up (e.g. they have a Facebook page with a picture of their family, their times are listed from a recent marathon they ran, etc).
Typical Questions: By the time you’ve reached the panel interview, you will likely have answered many of the same questions a few times over. Don’t let that fluster you. Be prepared to answer those questions again for the group.
You can expect the panel to ask behavioral and situational questions, so practice those on your own and in front of a panel made up of your family or friends. Role-playing in front of a “practice panel” will get you used to making eye contact with everyone while answering the questions.
Prepare Examples: Come prepared with many achievements in your professional life to illustrate a point. A variety of examples from many different situations will show a breadth of experience and impress the panel. With each of these, be sure to sum them up with what you learned from the experience and what you’d do the same or differently if faced with the same situation again. This shows your ability to learn, grow and adapt while in the thick of things.
Expect To Be Rattled: Panel interviews can feel like you’re “on the hot seat” – and you kind of are. They’ll want to see how you operate in a group dynamic and how well you stay engaged with each person in the group. But simply knowing this, and expecting it, can help you mentally prepare for it. In the interview, you can expect:
• Fast-paced questions
• Follow-up questions
• Cross talk
• Side conversations
• Long pauses
• Possible disagreements
• Similar questions with different angles
• Competing questions (remember, everyone wants to get their questions in the allotted time)
• Phone or video participants
• Notes being passed
• Big smiles
• No expression at all
It can be overwhelming to shine through all that.
In order to do so, ground yourself before the meeting with a few deep breaths to call in your ability to focus. Taking notes is another useful strategy. You can simply ask, “Do you mind if I jot down some notes?” Almost no one objects.
Also, use the power of the pause. Take a second to collect your thoughts. You can use phrases like, “I’d be happy to talk a little about that,” or “Let me think about the best place to start with my answer.” These short phrases can buy you a few seconds to collect your thoughts and answer calmly.
Ask your practice panel to give you some rapid-fire questions with follow up questions. You’ll notice that you rarely have time to complete an answer, which is normal. Make sure you answer the question as completely as you can without a meandering start. If you feel you really need to make a strong point, it’s fine to say, “Before we move on, I want to give you one final thought about ____.”
Ask Good Questions: Prepare insightful questions for the panel. Like any other interview, this is your opportunity to learn more about the company and culture from people who may become your closest colleagues. Prepare 2-3 questions for each person that shows them you understand what they do and also help you to see what it would be like to work side by side with them.
Make The Right Impression
When you are in the room with the panel, it can feel unsettling. All eyes are on you and you don’t want to disappoint. There are several things you need to do make a positive impression:
Introduce Yourself: If you have the opportunity, introduce yourself to everyone in the room. If possible, shake everyone’s hand to make a personal connection.
Make Proper Eye Contact: Eye contact is probably the most difficult skill to master. Too much or too little is awkward. Keep eye contact at the “just right” level by making most of the contact with the person who asked the question, and taking short breaks to look at the others in the room. Not everyone will be looking up or at you all the time, but for those that are looking at you, make contact when you can.
Positive Body Language: Just like in the one-on-one interview, body language counts for a lot. Review the do’s and don’ts of this post to put your best foot forward. Project a confidence and interest to impress the panel.
Show Some Warmth: Make sure you smile and acknowledge people during the interview. When you are listening to questions, you can make eye contact, give a small smile, and nod to show you are engaged. Using humor is definitely encouraged, so feel free to show that you can be lighthearted and laugh. However, steer clear of using sarcasm that could show negativity, judgment of others, or skepticism.
Keep Your Focus: It’s possible you will lose track of the question, the point you are trying to make, or even the person who asked the question if you are not intensely focused. To prepare for this, plan ahead for how you’ll want to handle this situation. Some people start their answers by paraphrasing he question in order to help them remember it. Others use their notes to stay on track. Whatever works for you is fine, but definitely have a plan.
Write a thank-you note to each person on the interview panel, if possible. Giving each note a personal touch, such as a key point you wanted to make or fact you found interesting that came from the interview, will make you stand out as an excellent candidate.
Panel interviews are notoriously stressful, but they’re also a way for you to see how your future colleagues work and talk in a group setting. So, keep in mind this is a unique moment when you get to observe them. Are these people you want to work with? How do they interact with each other and how do they treat you?
Every interview is an opportunity for you to shine, but it’s also an opportunity for you to vet the people, company, and job itself. If you dread the panel interview, it’s likely your anxiety will show. If you embrace the experience to sit it a room with several future colleagues, you’re likely to seem more confident and prepared, and will make the right impression.
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Julia Holian of Holian Associates is a Career Strategist and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals pinpoint what that want to do with their career, then showcase their talents in order to move up in their chosen field or re-enter the job market. Julia leverages her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients navigate the nuances of asking for new projects or a promotion, networking, interviewing, creating a job search plan, negotiating compensation, and successfully assimilating into a new role. Learn more about Julia on our website and at www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian.