How to ace a panel interview
Panel interviews are increasingly common — but they can feel a bit like performing in front of Olympic judges.
A panel interview is a formal job interview arrangement where, instead of one hiring manager asking questions, there are several people simultaneously interviewing a job candidate. That could mean a rep for Human Resources, a senior manager, and your potential boss-to-be, for instance.
While this style of job interview can be more efficient for both sides, there’s definitely a lot of stress involved. So how do you keep your cool when multiple people are firing questions at you from across a table?
Career coaches say there are a few key things to keep in mind.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Lee Weisser, senior career counsellor at Careers By Design, says the more you know about someone interviewing you, the better. She recommends asking the names of all the panel members and doing some background research by looking them up on LinkedIn.
That way you can learn about their current roles and work experience, and get a sense of anything you may have in common — like shared interests, or the same alma mater. It’s a good way to figure out ways you can stand out and personalize your answers, Weisser says.
You also want to do your homework so you know what each panelist is hoping to gain from the interview, says Mark Franklin, practice leader of CareerCycles and co-founder of One Life Tools.
“An HR person on the panel may be more concerned with questions about fit, while a technical manager may be more concerned with your technical skills,” he says.
Pay attention to the whole panel
There’s no question — facing a panel interview can be overwhelming. But experts say it’s important to maximize your face time with all the panelists.
“Make eye contact with the person who’s asking the question first, then move along and try to glance at each person,” suggests Weisser. At the end of your answer, circle back and make eye contact one more time with the panelist who asked the question, she adds.
Franklin agrees that job candidates should give equal attention to all the panelists. “Person A may be asking the question, but Person B and C will be interested in the answer,” he says.
Stay calm and collect your thoughts
So what do you do if you’re feeling a bit frazzled by the rapid-fire questions from multiple people? It’s important to stay calm and collected, Franklin says, and that can mean slowing down, glancing up to the ceiling for a moment, or simply asking to collect your thoughts.
Sarah Vermunt, founder of career coaching company Careergasm and author of Careergasm: Find Your Way to Feel-Good Work, recommends bringing a water bottle or pen to the interview. Whenever you spot the object out of the corner of your eye — it’s a chance to look away from the panelists, and gives you a visual cue to take a deep breath and stay calm.
She also says it’s important to just relax and be yourself. “If you’re in a panel situation and you’re trying to calculate how to impress each individual, you’re not listening to the questions, you’re not actually calming down enough to provide good answers,” she says.
Follow up — with every panelist
And the bottom line after a panel interview? Follow-up with each panelist, either with a thank-you card or email.
Franklin recommends finding out the contact information for the individuals who interviewed you — you can usually just ask HR — or, instead, you can send one message to your main contact and ask them to pass it on.
Either way, don’t skip the “thank you.”
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