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Surviving panel interviews


The words “panel interview” can drive fear into most experienced interviewer’s heart. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Panel interviews really aren’t about facing a firing squad; and they actually have a lot of positive aspects to them that can work in your favour.  As with all other types of interviews, it is all about being prepared.

How panel interviews are different

Panel interviews are normally made up of 2 or more people. There will generally be one person “leading” the interview but everyone is important, and you need to engage with them as such.

There will often be representatives from different lines of the business. These are the people you probably will interact with daily, should you get the position. For example, if you’re interviewing for a Project Engineer position; you may meet with the Project Manager, HR Manager, Head of the Accounting department, and Team Lead from the Engineering department.

Because everyone in panel interviews comes from different backgrounds and roles, they will each interpret your answers differently. This is not a bad thing, as it gives each of them an opportunity to address areas that are crucial for your interaction with them and their team. This means that the style of questions you receive from each person will probably differ. You can also expect that they will each be interested in different aspects of your skills.

While all of this can sound incredibly intimidating, know that panel interviews will have the same elements as any other interview you have done before. They will just have more people in them.

Positive aspects of panel interviews

For one, it saves both yourself and the company time. Instead of coming back 3 separate times, you are able to meet with everyone at once. Because all the decision makers will have met with you, they will be able to come together to make a much quicker choice on who to hire. Reducing the time between interviews and hiring is a win for all.

Panel interviews will also give you a better opportunity to gauge if the company will be the right cultural fit for you. You will have the unique opportunity to have your same question answered by a variety of departments. Each will have a different answer, which will provide you with a much wider view of the company as a whole, compared to only hearing from one person.

Another aspect is that panel interviews often give you the opportunity to go into more details or explain your points further. As you will be asked multiple questions from different perspectives, you will find opportunities to expand on what you have already said. This will provide a much broader and clearer picture of your abilities for the panel.

Bear in mind that you don’t know what other positions anyone in your panel interview may be hiring for. While you are interviewing for that Project Engineer role, they could also be looking for a Project Manager. While you may not fit exactly what they are looking for in one role, you may actually be a perfect match for another.

Tips for doing well in panel interviews

Get to know everyone in advance

The easiest way to do this is to ask who will be in the interview with you. This gives you the opportunity to memorise their names and the departments they are in. Furthermore, you can go onto LinkedIn and look up their details to see what they are doing in their roles. Just as researching the company in advance will give you a competitive edge, so will knowing more about your interviewer’s work history.

Don’t overdo it, though. Having background information can help panel interviews feel more like a conversation. Knowing everything about their social media is a step too far. Impress with your knowledge, not concern with your familiarity of personal details.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

If you have never had a panel interview before, assemble some friends and practise mock panel interviews. Get them to ask you questions about your role as if they were a hiring manager in the department they actually work in. This will help them ask you questions that are pertinent to that type of department. Ask them to dig deeper with extensive follow up questions. Your friends and family will not be afraid to put you on the spot; use this to improve your depth and quality of answers.

Make a list of questions to ask. Through the course of your interview you will get a sense of who will be the best person to direct your questions to. They will be able to give you the answers you need, and it will prove that you were paying attention during the interview. You will want to be able to ask Jim in Accounts “I spoke about resolving situations when projects were over budget. Jim, what are you finding is the biggest area of improvement you would like to see made between projects and accounting?”

Introducing yourself

When you arrive for your interview, make sure to introduce yourself and shake hands with everyone. This will give you the opportunity to put a face to a name. If you get business cards, put them in front of you, in the order that everyone is seated. This will help you address everyone by name – which is a huge sign of respect and recognition – throughout your interview.

Be aware of how you divide your attention

Each person in the panel is an individual, and as such they each deserve the same amount of attention. Maintain eye contact with the person while they are asking you a question, but when you answer make sure to look at everyone equally. Firstly, it makes you look confident and in control. Secondly, you may not think so, but it will be glaringly obvious to the panel if you are directing the majority of your answers at one person. You want to remain visibly neutral. Don’t let them read into your actions. Doing so allows their unconscious bias to get in your way of a positive result.

You will also be able to tell who is “on your side” and who isn’t. Focus a little more attention on winning those people over first. Make them the first person you look at when you start answering a question. They will notice you address them first and will be flattered that you are making that additional effort for them. Small effort, significant outcome.

Saying thank you

At the end of the interview, thank the whole panel for taking the time to meet with you and for answering all your questions. Be sincere. Ask if there is anyone that you should reach out to, should you have any more questions.

As you are leaving, shake each person’s hand and thank them again. If you haven’t yet received their business cards, now will be the time to ask for them. If they don’t have any on hand, make sure to get their correctly spelled contact information from the reception desk on your way out. You will need it later.

Follow up with a thank-you note, hand written if at all possible. Make each one personalised. They may have the same core message, but you will want to make them as specific to each panelist as possible.

You may even want to sit in your car post interview and take the time to write the cards there and then. Drop them back at the reception desk and ask for them to be passed to the panel that day. This is your last chance to stand out from the rest of the applicants, so make it count!

Final thoughts

Panel interviews are not auditions for Britain’s Got Talent. Remember that those on the other side of the table from you are people too. They are looking for someone who is a great fit with their company. You are looking for a company that will fit well with you. No need to be afraid; instead, leverage the benefits of panel interviews for your own success.

Energy Resourcing often facilitates panel interviews between our clients and candidates. As we recruit both locally and internationally, we know that an “one size fits all” interview mentality is unrealistic. We help our candidates be as prepared as possible for all types of interviews. Be it telephone interviews, video interviews, panel interviews, behavioural interviews or case interviews – we have you covered!

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