With all eyes on you, panel interviews can be the most stressful even for qualified job seekers.
Sadly, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for this “interview trend” to end because panel interviews are here to stay, and unfortunately, will continue in popularity.
Job seekers tend to HATE, HATE, HATE panel interviews for many reasons, such as:
First, job seekers feel outnumbered, making the interview process exceptionally stressless for introverts.
Second, too many employer reps (aka interviewers) asking questions of candidates can make the process for job seekers feel more like an interrogation. Questions can range from the basic (e.g., tell me about yourself) to more advanced questions.
Third, have you ever simultaneously spoken to as many as 3-6 people at one time? Maintaining eye contact 50% of the time when speaking is optimal; however, this can be easier said than done.
Rapid eye movement can make a person come across as “shifty” or an inability to maintain focus. Side effects that most job seekers want to avoid.
In our minds, we tend to vision panelists in a straight line; however, this isn’t always true. Panelists can be around an elongated conference table or scattered in various chairs around a quaint office environment.
Fourth, let’s not overlook the relevance of your answers. More panelists mean each has their hiring agendas, adding a layer of complexity when you prep answers to potential interview questions.
[Related Article: How to Answer These 5 Weird Interview Questions]
Why Employers Use Panel Interviews
You might think employers only use panel interviews to inflict torture.
Yeah, maybe. 🙂
However, there’s more basic logic to these interviews.
With employers looking for more ways to become and remain recruitment efficient, getting the “hiring heads” in one room to interview back-to-back candidates is a step towards that efficiency.
Interviewing procedures should be modified so that all those involved in the hiring decision can meet, question, and later discuss resumes and narrow down their top picks.
[Related Article: In-Depth List of Interview Questions Broken Down by Job Title]
Internal efficiency isn’t the only reason for panel interviews.
This interview forum enables employers to quickly identify and weed out those candidates who potentially could buckle under pressure.
When employers are LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT PERSON who can handle a challenging client, a demanding boss, or looming deadlines, a panel interview can help identify candidates who can’t keep their composure.
However, employers need to be cautious too because panel interviews can scare away great candidates.
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For example, candidates tend to dislike “employer games.” And, therefore, panel interviews can backfire for employers when not handled properly.
Also, there are times when a dominant personality in the room (AKA “type A” personality) hijacks the process and becomes the primary interviewer.
Other hiring staff in the room can find themselves wondering why they bothered to attend when their specific interview questions go unanswered.
[Related Article: 10 Strategies to a Successful Job Interview]
Be Prepared + Ask The Question
Alright, now let’s shift to what you should do next.
Not all employers will announce who and how many will be interviewing you. This is why you must take the initiative and ask.
Here’s a sample script you can use for interviews already scheduled:
“Good morning. My name is Scout Wallice. I’m scheduled for a job interview for the Software Developer job at your Columbus location on Monday the 18th. Can you tell me who I will be interviewing with?”
Let’s say that you have an interview scheduled, and the employer doesn’t have any more information to give you. You don’t know who you’re interviewing with. You don’t know how many will be in the room with you.
This is when assuming the worst (the panel interview) is in your near future is where you should be.
[Related Service: Need interview coaching to prep for that upcoming panel interview? Get help here.]
You’re about to find out that preparing for an interview with multiple people across you isn’t much different from there being just one.
Let me explain…
5 Tips To Help You Be WAY More Effective in a Panel Interview
1. Outline Your Key Talking Points & Bring to the Interview
Too many professionals just wing job interviews because they think they need to have all those interview answers stored in their heads.
Yeah … no.
Much as you’d prepare for any interview, bring a list of skills, accomplishments, project highlights, and other notables.
Your talking points should be outlined in a concise, yet be detailed enough.
Here’s an example of what your interviewing outline (aka cheat sheet) could look like for a sales executive:
- Multi-Territorial Oversight
- Distribution Channels/Resellers
- Go-To-Market Strategies/Market Launches
- Global & National Account Growth
- Product Category Expansions
- Company-Branded Products
- Saved top 5 clients an estimated $2.8M in lost revenue
- Introduced 2 company-branded product lines; gained $750K in sales/90 days
- Secured 3 major new client accounts (monthly revenue jumped 23%)
- Expanded first global sales into Latin-American markets; expected to bring $2.1M in over next 6 months alone (biggest success to date)
- Opened wholesale and resale channels (8 new/5 expansions)
- Focused on SaaS clients/financial services and insurance providers
- Trained on country customs/etiquette for doing business
- Work with international sales and marketing teams on market trends and buying trends
- Multilingual: French, Portuguese, and Spanish
It’s important to note that your interviewing cheat sheet will change for each interview. And, you will FOCUS ONLY on the most significant bits about you that are MOST RELEVANT to each hiring employer.
2. Take Names and Use Them
To help level the playing field, plan to start each panel interview with a straightforward question: “Before we get started, what are each of your names and jobs with the company?”
The best strategy is to write down the names and titles at the top of your interview cheat sheet. Don’t be afraid to ask for business cards from those in attendance. This is not taboo in any way.
Don’t overlook the importance of pre-investigations too.
LinkedIn in particular can offer you a plethora of information on a potential employer. For example, you can search for the names of Hiring Managers and Department Heads.
Once you’ve tracked them down, study their profile pictures so you can later associate the names with the faces. This little bit of extra homework on your part will help you feel much more comfortable during the interview.
Using people’s names during the interview will make you much more personable and relatable. Plus, there’s scientific proof that we respond when we hear our names, which is why those in sales do just that: use our names when they are trying to sell us something.
3. Tie Things Together With a Bow
Another great technique to utilize within a panel interview, or within any group setting, is to cross-reference the latest interview question with a previous one.
For example, if you answered a question earlier from Jane, and you can incorporate that answer into another question asked by Frank, you can start navigating a positive interview outcome.
An answer might be:
“I understand why you are asking about my acquisition skills, Frank. As Jane mentioned, acquisitions are a vital aspect to businesses your size, and without a trained and seasoned acquisitions specialist, your company costs can soar unnecessary. That’s why I’ve …” [this is where a previous acquisitions success you initiated would fit best]
Do you see where I’m going with this?
This answer is now tending to the concerns of two individuals on the panel, rather than one.
4. Take Purposeful Notes
During the hiring process, members of the panel will mention specifics that you would be best to remember for later use. For example, the names of other people in the company or specific project names.
Just as you jotted down the name of each panel member, make quick notes of each person’s concerns or specific questions.
You might be asking, why?
I’ll get to that in a moment.
Let’s say, as an example, that the department manager focused his interview questions on staff training/development.
Making a notation of this can work in your favor after the interview when writing that manager a thank-you note.
And, you can later use this information to your advantage during a second job interview.
Now it’s all making sense, right?
Remember I said above that you want to be relevant to each employer? Well, the same is true for each panelist in the interview. You’re best to shift your answers to address the concerns of each panelist.
5. Have Coffee With Someone JUST BEFORE Your Next Interview
I could waste your time talking about how best to make eye contact or to remind you to sit up straight in your next interview.
But, you’re a grown-up. You know this.
You may not know is the importance of priming yourself and your brain before any vital meeting/job interview.
This is especially important for introverts who struggle with public speaking or a multi-attendee job interview.
The simple act of sitting down with a friend or colleague to talk about the hiring company, your current job, your career focus, and so on, can boost your performance during an interview.
Competent professionals know the importance of:
- Getting those vocal cords warmed up
- Being self-affirmed to reduce stress/anxiety
- Visualizing yourself succeeding
Sitting down with someone to help you focus serves as a primer, which can help you stave off self-doubt, jitters, and the like, later in the interview.
Pretty cool, right?