4 Ways to Ace Your Panel Interview

August 8th, 2013 | Articles, Interviewing | No Comments »

panel interview

You did it! Your application piqued the right interest, your first interview got the company hooked, and now, the only thing between you and that sweet, sweet new job is a…PANEL INTERVIEW (cue the sinister fiddles). Nobody expects a panel interview, so when it happens, some job seekers get all bent out of shape. Imaginations run wild as people conjure up images of a crimson robed panel of inquisitors who use surprise and fear to demoralize you before delivering the final no. But it’s not truly as bad as all that.

In reality, the panel interview can be just like any other, if you approach it the right way. There are certainly different tactics that apply when facing the gaze of more than one interviewer’s eyes, but at its core, the panel interview isn’t any different from the single person alternative. So, to help you adjust, here are a few ways to ace your panel interview.

1.) Do Some Sleuth Work

To start, whenever you are asked to interview for a position, find out who will be conducting it. The worst possible way to begin an interview is to walk into a room or log into a video chat session where there are way more than the one person you expected. That type of surprise hits like a quick blow to the solar plexus and leaves you winded when you should be sprinting forward.

So, once you have your list of names, take them to the Internet. Visit the company’s website or LinkedIn page and gather as much information as you can. If you know in what capacity you will be working with each individual person, you can better tailor your responses and questions to align with their disciplines and unique perspectives.

2.) Turn On the Charm Machine

As with any interview, you need to have the aura of walking confidence. Before you take a seat, approach each person, make friendly eye contact, shake his or her hand, and exchange names. When you sit down, quickly look at each person and at least mentally repeat each name. (Personally, I say their names out loud while looking at them and follow up with a little joke about a big crowd. It helps to break the ice). By knowing their names, you demonstrate from the start that these people matter to you, a point which should become obvious throughout your panel interview.

Make a conscious effort to treat the interview like a friendly conversation among a group of your colleagues. That means, divvying up your eye contact between everyone present. Of course, you should always give the largest portion of your attention to whomever’s question you are answering but you don’t want to give the unrelenting stare of a famished raptor waiting for its prey to keel over (it’s a bit unnerving).

Also, as you answer each question, make sure to repeat the speaker’s name in your response. This may sound elementary but it can achieve a great deal. It shows that you’re serious about getting to know them, it shows you can pay attention during uncertain situations, and for you, it helps to engrain their names in your memory from day one.

3.) Win Over the Critic

Unless you’re some wunderkind with hypnotic charm, there will normally be someone on the panel who isn’t head over heels for you at the start. You need to win this person’s approval more than anyone else. Now, that doesn’t mean you should neglect every other panel member. You simply have to knock all of your responses to that lone dissenter out of the park. This is where your prior research online comes in handy.

If you know that person’s focus, you can determine which technical and soft skills you will have to highlight as you respond to that person’s line of questioning. When you have the floor to ask questions, direct certain ones toward that person. For example:

“What attributes will the right person for this position have?”
“What common mistakes have caught up new employees in the past?”

You need to know this person’s potential objections so you can address them in front of the group and dispel any misplaced lack of confidence in your abilities.

4.) Say Thank You. Repeatedly.

Thank them on your way out. Thank them each with personalized letters sent within 48 hours of the interview. When you get the job, thank them again for helping you to reach your career goals. Your gratitude should be given freely from the start because it will go a long way to building up the rapport needed to sustain you during those early weeks.

Those are the tricks to a panel interview, plain and simple. If you prepare in the right ways, it will feel less like an inquisition and more like orientation.

by James Walsh

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