by James Micklewright
Many companies and organisations, particularly the public sector like to bring a range of participants from different departments to participate in a panel interview selection process.
Organisations use this process to speed up the hiring process and see how candidates react in a group setting.
This all may sound daunting but to be successful in panel interviews, all you need to do is to slightly modify your preparation as well as your communication style during the actual interview.
As for any interview, ask the recruiter or hiring manager for the names and titles of everyone who will be on the panel. This information will help you gain a better understanding of what will be important to each person. Typically, your panel of interviewers will represent multiple areas of the company or organisation so that each person will consider you through a different lens.
Based on their role in the company, think through the types of questions they might ask you during the interview. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job as a marketing manager and you find out that one person on the panel is a sales manager, prepare questions he or she might ask and practice the answers.
As you would at any social occasion, approach each person and introduce yourself while shaking his or her hand and if possible remembering his or her name and where they are sitting. In this way, you will know to whom you are addressing as you answer questions.
Engaging the Group
Once you have a solid understanding of who is in the room, you can build rapport by connecting with the interviewers, both as individuals and as a group.
To do this, answer each question directly, but then elaborate further by adding points to address the perspectives of the other interviewers. By taking a role-specific question and moulding it to apply to each person on the panel, you’ve strengthened your rapport with the entire group instead of just the person who asked the question.
In an individual interview, you respond to questions by answering the person directly. But in a panel interview, you need to be careful not to exclude the rest of the panel during your comments. When responding, direct your initial answer to the person who asked the question, but as you continue to elaborate and provide examples, address the other interviewers. Don’t just make eye contact but shift your shoulders so that you’re squarely facing everyone. Even if they look down to take notes, continue to move your gaze from interviewer to interviewer to establish a more conversational atmosphere.
At some point during the interview as you sit facing the panel, you may feel like the interviewers are asking questions faster than you can fully answer the previous one. The reason is that each interviewer wants to get his or her questions answered but must compete with the other panellists for air time.
To succeed in this interview format, you must control the pace of the conversation. Don’t rush your answers; when asked a question, pause for a second to consider what you want to say before responding. But make sure you answer briefly and get to the point quickly—in a panel interview, you will probably get asked another question before you’ve fully responded to the last.
If an interviewer cuts you off to ask an unrelated question and you haven’t finished your thought, immediately assess whether what you had left to say is critical for the interviewers to know. If it’s not, then let it go. If it is important information to share, then politely say, “Before I answer your question, I’d like to share a final thought on the last,” and then complete your previous response.
This fast-paced type of interview usually evokes more follow-up questions than usual. Multiple panellists mean multiple perspectives and what satisfies one interviewer’s question may spark additional inquiries from others. To avoid coming up short on content, make sure you’re armed with multiple examples and anecdotes to explain your background and experience.
You can prepare for this by recruiting some friends to host a mock panel interview. Go through some typical interview Q&A, but encourage your pretend panel to dig into your answers by asking extensive follow-up questions. This tactic will not only improve the quality and depth of your responses, but it’ll also help you get more comfortable with the panel interview format.
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