How to Have a Successful Panel Interview
Tips to Prepare for an Often Overwhelming Interview
Instead of the standard one-on-one conversation with a single person, a panel interview is with several people, all at the same time. Instead of being asked questions by one interviewer, you’ll be meeting with a group of interviewers each with their own questions about your credentials.
People who've attended this type of interview often describe it in negative terms, such as the "firing squad" vibe and "endurance test" - referring to qualities that can make panel interviews intimidating.
Why Do Employers Hold Panel Interviews?
Remember how we mentioned that panel interviews can be intimidating? Well, for some employees that's one reason to use this type of interview: it allows the company to get a realistic preview of how candidates perform under stressful, tough conditions.
For some jobs — sales, for instance — the skills and attitude required to perform well during a panel interview mimic the job requirements. You’ll be selling your credentials to the panel, rather than to a customer. Panel interviews can also reveal how candidates respond to group situations, work with others, navigate internal conflict, or balance handling of different personality types.
Panel interviews aren't always done as an evaluation: often, it's the most practical and convenient way for employers to schedule interviews.
Rather than requiring candidates come in for several interviews, panel interviews can be a more efficient option, allowing the hiring company to save time and quickly make decisions, instead of spreading the process over several weeks (or months!).
As well as panel interviews, some employees may opt for a group interview, where one interviewer may speak to several candidates at once, or, several interviewers may interview a group of candidates. While this can be efficient and time-saving for the employer, for candidates, this type of interview demands confidence and self-assertion.
Keep all of these potential motivations for a panel interview in mind as you prepare — and remember as well that interviewers want you to succeed. After all, if they didn't think you were qualified for the role and a strong potential candidate, they wouldn't waste the time of everyone participating in the panel.
Preparing for a Panel Interview
As with any interview, preparation and practice instill confidence and make the process easier. So, put aside your anxiety! Review the strategies and tips below so that you feel confident and perform well during your panel interview.
Preparing for a panel interview is not so different from getting ready for a standard interview: You should do your homework on the company, carefully review the job posting, and practice answers to common interview questions as well as industry- and career-specific ones. Going into the panel interview, be ready to speak about your major accomplishments and describe each job on your resume.
Finally, instead of looking into the background of only one interviewer, investigate the professional experience of all the people who will be talking to you (if you know who you will be meeting with).
Knowing which people are in the interview room, and what their job titles and responsibilities are, can provide a sense of where the job you’re interviewing for fits within the company. Make sure you have a copy of your resume for everyone who will be at the panel interview (and maybe bring a few extra, just in case).
During the Panel Interview
Follow these strategies and tips for success during the panel interview.
Read the room and engage with everyone: Start by introducing yourself; shake hands with everyone in the room. Engage with the entire room — don’t play favorites when answering questions. Remember, you don’t necessarily know who has the most decision-making power about hiring, so aim to respond to everyone who asks you a question with a thorough and thoughtful answer, regardless of job title or the way people present themselves.
Make eye contact: look at everyone as you answer questions, instead of focusing solely on the person who asked the question. Calibrate your responses to the group's reactions. Of course, sometimes one interviewer will respond positively to one of your answers, while another won't.
Don't get rattled! Just work to win over everyone as best as you can.
Aim for a conversational feel: It’s not essential for a successful interview, but one typical sign that an interview is going well is that it feels more like a conversation than an interrogation. When you break from of the back-and-forth volley of question and response, it’s a sign that you’re really connecting with interviewers. In a panel interview, it can be particularly hard to get out of this pattern.
Try acknowledging previous questioners in your answers by saying things like “As Bob mentioned earlier, getting the whole team involved is really vital" or “As we agreed before, XY is vital to sales.” This is a nice way to let people know you were listening carefully and make the interview feel more conversational.
Be patient: Some panels are finely-calibrated machines, with each person responsible for asking one kind of question. Yet it's also possible that you'll wind up with a panel on which several people ask you a similar question. Don't get frustrated or snippy! Simply restate your answer using different phrasing. Think of this as an opportunity to pile on even more detail and insight.
Review commonly asked panel interview questions and answers, so you know what to expect and how to respond.
After the Panel Interview
Once you've made it through the panel interview, it’s time for thank-you notes: You can send a group thank-you note to everyone at the panel if you don't have contact information for each participant, but ideally you'd send a note to each interviewer individually.
The notes can have similar themes, but aim to make them as specific to each person as possible. Here's more information on how to write a strong thank-you note, and examples of job interview thank-you notes that will help you to get hired.