How to keep your cool and ace a panel interview
Follow these tactics to stay composed, no matter how many interviewers you face.
Of all the steps involved in your quest to find a job, the job interview is likely the most stressful. What could be more unnerving than sitting in front of a stranger grilling you about your qualifications? Answer: a bunch of strangers grilling you. That’s more or less what happens during a panel interview (also called a board interview), when several employees from a company come together as a group to audition a candidate.
Typically formal and organized, this interview format is often used in academia and government or for high-level executives. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a panel interview for other positions in a company.
Picture yourself sitting at a table of people, waiting for the assembled panel to pile on the interview questions. Sounds like a pleasure cruise, right?
Don’t freak out just yet. Though being quizzed by a panel can be challenging, it can also be a blessing. After all, you'd probably have to talk to each of these people at some point during the interview process. By sitting before a panel, instead of meeting with folks one-on-one, you get it over with all at once. Better yet, with a little preparation, you can conquer the panel interview and leave everyone impressed with your answers.
What’s the benefit of a panel interview?
It’s important to consider why employers conduct panel interviews. When all the decision makers are in the same room and share the same experience with you, they can make more unified and informed choices.
“[A panel interview] allows various representatives of the business to reach a consensus before making a hiring decision,” says Pamela Skillings, career coach and co-founder of New York–based Big Interview, an online job interview–training platform. Panel interviews also save companies time, she adds.
Moreover, panel interviews may align better with a company’s values and culture than traditional one-on-one interviews. “Our panel interviews are intended to be fun and engaging, similar to what team members can expect to experience once they join the team,” says Monica Digilio, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Caesars Entertainment, which has been conducting panel interviews for more than 10 years for guest-facing positions, such as cashiers, table games dealers, and beverage servers. If you can comfortably tackle the panel interview, you can likely succeed at the job.
Know who you'll be meeting
Doing your homework for a panel interview entails researching the people you’re going to be facing in the room, says Michelle Merritt, CEO of Merrfeld Resumes and Coaching in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The recruiter setting up your job interview can provide you with the names and job titles of the panelists. Once you have this information, you can find out more about each person by seeing if there’s anything about them on the company website, notably the “About Us” page. Also have a look at the panelists’ social media profiles for insights. “If someone uses Twitter to talk about the latest engineering technology, that can be a good talking point during the job interview,” Merritt says.
Knowing the job titles of the panelists can give you clues as to what kinds of questions you can expect, which in turn helps you prepare your answers. Remember, each person has his own agenda or department’s interest at heart.
For example, the HR representative will be checking to make sure you're a good culture fit; the hiring manager will ask about your technical skills and business know-how; and the person from accounting will want to know if you're savvy enough to operate a business budget.
Engage the silent ones
“Perhaps the biggest pitfall of all during panel interviews is the temptation to play to one panel member,” Skillings says. Indeed, focusing your attention on one or two interviewers can backfire, especially if you ignore the silent panelists. Why? “Sometimes, it’s the quiet panel members, the ones who are silently watching and taking notes, that have the most hiring influence,” Skillings explains. Therefore, have questions prepared for each interviewer so that you can bring any mum panelists into the conversation.
Avoid job-specific jargon
Be mindful that your panel may be composed of employees from different divisions of the company or organization, and they may not all be acquainted with the lingo used in your position. Keep in mind who's asking the question and respond accordingly. If you’re a nurse, for instance, there might be medical terms you use that someone from HR wouldn’t understand. Keep your answers simple and concise and relevant to the person asking the questions.
Send personalized thank-you notes
One way to set yourself apart from other job candidates is by sending each panelist a handwritten thank-you note. Merritt suggests writing thank-you letters immediately after the interview, “while the information is still fresh in your mind.” Notes should be tailored to each person, so, mention something specific that came up during the interview (e.g., “I enjoyed learning about why you joined the company”).
Send the letters that day to ensure they arrive before the committee decides whom to hire. If you’ve prepared well, that person is going to be you!
Sharpen your interviewing skills
Panel interviews can be stressful, but the right kind of interview practice and preparation will pay off big-time. Want some more tips to help you nail the screening process? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get interview insights, career advice, and job search tips sent directly to your inbox to help you become a top-shelf candidate and leave a positive, lasting impression on every employer you meet.