You’ve just heard from a potential employer that you made it to the next round of interviews. Then, you find out that it’s going to be a panel interview. Anticipating a group interview is certain to provoke anxiety, even in a seasoned professional. Being interviewed by a group isn’t easy – but you can be successful if you take the time to do some extra preparation.
Organizations use panel interviews for a variety of reasons, none of which are to see you fail or put you in an uncomfortable situation. Panel interviews enable hiring managers to observe how you interact with a team or work with a board or board committee and learn about your cross-functional experience. And at a practical level, panel interviews accelerate the recruitment process so an organization can fill key positions faster.
Interviewing with a group can benefit you, too. Meeting with a panel gives you the opportunity to observe the company culture and interact with key employees, which are valuable when evaluating your next career move. Panel interviews can also help you determine if the job, people and company fit you.
Preparing for a group interview takes more time and thought than for a one-on-one interview, as there are different dynamics to consider when meeting multiple people simultaneously.
Panel Interview Strategies
- Know the interviewers’ details.
Most companies will send you details of the panel interview participants, but if not, ask for the name, title and department of each interviewer so you can get a sense of the mix of people with whom you’ll be meeting. Reviewing basic information about the panel members will give you an idea of what they may be interested in knowing about you based on their organizational function. This will help you think about questions they might ask, so you can develop appropriate responses, as well as questions you’ll want to ask them based on their roles.
- Customize responses for the audience.
You should always be prepared to speak about everything on your resume to show the value and results you provide and how you approach your responsibilities. For a panel interview, modify examples of your experience to include how they relate to the business functions represented by the panel members. For example, if you are a project manager and one of the panel interview members is a controller, talk about how you stayed within budget, or ways that you saved the company money when you led a project.
- Rehearse how you will introduce yourself.
Write a short introduction (a few sentences) that you can deliver at the beginning of the interview if asked to say something about yourself to the group. Tell them who you are by describing your expertise, specialties and strengths. If possible, mention that you have experience working with the functions of the panel members. Practice out loud by yourself and then with a friend or family member. Listen critically to make sure your message is clear and that you deliver it confidently.
- Bring your communication “A” game.
Your communication skills will be on display, considered by the panel as an indication of your experience working in a team/project environment. Think ahead and practice how you can use different communication skills as tools in the interview to demonstrate your ease in a group, and your ability to persuade, lead and cultivate relationships.
When you answer questions, direct your answer to the person who asked it, but add details that will appeal to other interviewers.
Use your body language to draw in all the people on the panel. Make everyone feel included by pivoting your upper body and making eye contact to physically engage other panel members, even if you are not answering their question.
Pay close attention to what the interviewers say, how they ask questions or react to something you or someone else said. Picking up on contextual clues will help you to think on your feet and customize answers to each person and the group.
- Prepare questions to ask the whole group.
Be ready to ask questions of each interviewer to demonstrate your interest in the job. Also prepare questions for the whole panel because their answers can provide you with insight to help you make an informed decision about the role and the organization. When you ask a group question, listen to what they are saying and take note of how they respond. Do their answers contradict or complement each other? Do they listen to their colleagues’ responses or interrupt them? Observing their interactions can uncover indicators of cooperation or tension in the department or across functions.
- Send customized thank you notes to everyone.
Plan to send brief, personalized thank you emails to all of the interviewers, making sure that the messages are slightly different – they might share the emails with each other. Thank each person for their time, express your interest in the job and the organization and remind them of, or add details to, something that you discussed. It is best to send thank you notes within 24 hours of the interview when you are still “top-of-mind.”
Advanced preparation is key to succeeding in a panel interview, so investing the time to plan and practice is necessary. It will give you the confidence needed to make a great impression on everyone in the room, which will help you rise to be the top candidate for the job.