Panel interviews help organisations streamline their recruitment process and gives key team members a chance to see how prospective candidates perform under pressure. If you’ve been invited to a panel interview and the idea of being grilled by an audience fills you with dread, this article will tell you how to prepare for a successful performance.
1. Research the company
Before you interview with an organisation, you’ll need to know what they are about and why you want to join them. At least one person is going to ask you the latter. Therefore, your response should demonstrate an understanding of their core values, their mission statement and their target market. Don’t forget to relate these back to your own skills and experience. Look for clues in the ‘about’ section of their website or LinkedIn company page. You can also use Google’s dedicated ‘News’ search function to look up any recent press coverage they’ve received.
2. Understand the role and its wider function
If you’re interviewing with a panel it’s because there is more than one person with a vested interest in the function of your role. Go back and check the job description to find out who will you be working with and who you will report to. By researching associated roles, you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and communicate how you plan to support them.
3. Become the ideal candidate
Review the job spec again, but this time, highlight the qualities of their ideal candidate. Prepare four or five anecdotes that illustrate your proficiency in each of the required skills or show the attributes they’re looking for.
For example, when interviewing for a software development role, it will be useful to have a story about a time when you used your computer coding skills to improve an organisational process. Or, if the job spec emphasises particular soft skills – like communication or team working – a story about how you used your negotiation skills to resolve an office conflict will definitely come in handy.
4. Know what you’re up against
You’ll be more confident in any interview situation if you know what to expect. You may have an HR contact already and it’s worth getting in touch to ask who might be on your interview panel. Usually, they’ll be able to give you a list of names. But if not, do a bit of digging to find out who your potential managers or subordinates might be by searching for employee bios online or looking the company up on LinkedIn.
If you’re applying for a systems architect role, for example, the IT manager is a likely to attend your interview alongside a member of the development team.
5. Research your panellists
Once you have an idea who your panellists might be, it’s time to research each person and the function of their role. Personal LinkedIn profiles are a great source of information about an individual’s career history, professional achievements and current responsibilities. How long have they worked for the company? What does their role involve? Do you share a common interest or mutual connection? Finding common ground with your interviewers can help you forge a personal connection in a short space of time – and make sure you’re remembered.
6. Assess Individual concerns
Each panellist will be approaching the interview with their own set of priorities and concerns. Looking at the hiring process from their perspective will help you to anticipate likely questions. For example, the HR manager thinks about how you will ‘fit in’ to the team so might ask about your soft skills. Whereas, your IT manager may be more interested in your technical abilities and have more specific questions about your skill set.
7. Make your introductions count
If you’ve done your research, you’ll arrive at your interview armed with the names and job titles of each panellist. But remember, even if you’re at the second stage of interview, not everyone has met you before! Take a moment to introduce yourself to each person – make eye contact, shake their hand and find out their name and their role (even if you already know!). Don’t forget to thank each panellist for taking the time out of their day to interview you.
8. Address the panel
In a panel interview setting, it can be tempting to concentrate all your attention on the most senior person in the room. But directing every response to the primary decision maker, regardless of who asked the question, will quickly sour the atmosphere. Each person on the panel is there for a reason and their opinion counts – whether or not they will be making the final call.
Your response to one person’s question may also be relevant to another panellist. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to highlight your transferable skills. When you’re asked a question, hold eye-contact with the person doing the asking but as you reply, direct your response to the entire group and shift your eye-contact between panellists accordingly.
9. Keep your answers short and sweet
A panel interview is made up of a group of people who are all fighting to get their questions answered. Your time is limited so answer each question as informatively but as succinctly as you can. Don’t brag or try to work in irrelevant achievements – if it doesn’t directly relate to the question you’ve been asked, leave it out.
10. Be prepared for follow-up questions
Panel interviews, by their nature, are notorious for generating follow-up questions. Unlike a one-to-one interview, a panel involves several people with different interests – so expect your response to one person to provoke an additional – and possibly tangential – question from another.
Don’t let these ‘curve-balls’ catch you out. Take a deep breath and consider each question carefully. If you don’t understand what’s being asked, ask for clarification. Taking the time to think before you give an answer will show that you’re confident under pressure but also, that your responses aren’t rehearsed.
11. Prepare for the awkward questions
It’s easy to get defensive in front of a crowd. But don’t let questions about gaps in your employment history, periods of unemployment or unplanned career moves throw you off. Prepare a positive, straightforward response to any tricky questions and practice until you can deliver them naturally. Keep your answers short and to the point – otherwise, you could end up saying more than you wanted to.
12. Close and follow up
Remember to acknowledge each person individually and thank them for their time before you leave the interview. Take the opportunity to pick up a business card from each panellist if you can. It’s a good idea to follow up with everyone individually, later in the day. A brief email will be enough to reinforce those connections you made during the interview, without being overbearing.
A panel interview can shake even the most self-assured candidate. But try to remember that everyone in the room wants to find the right person for the job. With the correct preparation and a little informed guesswork, you can turn your worst nightmare into an opportunity to outshine your competitors and secure your next career move.
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