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A Guide to Handling Panel Interviews
What if you arrive to find not one – but two or more people waiting to interview you? Here’s how to navigate panel interviews.
As if locking you up in a room with one interviewer isn’t nerve-wracking enough, there’s a good chance that you may end up facing two or more interviewers at the same time.
From a recruiter's perspective, panel interviews help save time: instead of getting each interviewer to see you one-on-one, they can now all sit in and find out more about you. Panel interviews also give employers a chance to see how you perform under pressure.
Fret not, they can often be a positive experience, as it’s usually easier to relax around a group of people – even if they are recruiters! There’s more room and opportunities for chats or discussions, and you’ll also have the chance to hear a range of personal views if you have any questions to ask.
What to expect from panel interviews
Panel interviews will typically involve anywhere from three to eight interviewers (usually three for graduate interviews). They will likely consist of a mix of HR personnel, business managers, and some departmental specialists.
On the whole, panel interviews are conducted almost similarly to competence-based interviews. Interviewers will ask questions expecting you to include previous experiences as concrete examples, such as anecdotes from projects, internships, or events that you’ve been involved in.
That said, expect the session to be more rigorous and meticulous than individual interviews – you will be juggling questions from multiple sources, after all.
How to respond to panel interviewers
- Who will be on the panel?
You may be informed in advance who will be on your panel, but if not, make an effort to find out. Try asking recruiters for the names and titles of those who will be attending, and do a little research on them. This will give you a better insight into what each interviewer may be looking for.
The panel may also include a person whom you’ll be working with closely. If you can identify them, do your best to establish rapport with them – but don’t go over-the-top! Genuine attention and steady eye contact will work well enough.
- Who should I look at?
Eye contact can be a tricky thing during panel interviews, but one good method is to direct eye contact according to the person who asks you a question.
When you’re answering questions, look directly at the person asking the question, but as you finish, remember to glance over at the other panel members as well. This way, no one will be left out, and you can be sure that you’re giving everyone an equal amount of attention.
It also shows that you have good meeting skills – a vital trait if your job calls for direct client contact.
You can also address them by name when you speak to them, but be sure to get the right name! One little trick to help you with this is to get their name cards at the beginning of the session, and then arranging them in front of you according to the interviewers’ sitting arrangement.
- What do I do if one member of the panel looks bored?
Don’t panic! Each member on your panel will have different interests, so it’s likely that not everyone may be interested by every single thing that you say. For instance, a technical question asked by a specialist is unlikely to interest an HR manager, so just focus on the specialist instead.
- What if someone starts scribbling notes?
Again, don’t panic. Think about it – the panel members will have to keep some sort of record about what’s going on since they need to discuss their decisions later, so it’s not at all unusual for them to jot things down. Rest assured that they’re not writing hate letters about you – really.
- What if they ask the same question twice?
That’s probably a simple mistake on a panel member’s part. Perhaps they forgot your response, or weren’t paying attention earlier. Your interviewers may also be struggling to keep track, after all.
Whatever the case, don’t second-guess yourself, and always keep to the same version of your story. In fact, why not take this as a chance to provide any other new information that you might have missed out during your first answer?
That aside, treat the rest of the interview the way you would an individual interview. Come prepared with questions if you have them, and always, always, remember to follow up with each panel member.
Get their emails if you don’t have their name cards, and send them each a personalised thank-you email afterwards to express your gratitude for their time.