It can be an intimidating prospect; an interview with not just one, but three or maybe even five or more higher ups at the hiring company.
An efficient and less time-consuming method of interviewing, the panel interview eliminates the need to call you back more than once to meet with other employees or hiring managers.
The main objective, however, is to be sure you can work well with all of the key people involved in the day-to-day work for the job you want — including members of the management team, coworkers, and professionals from departments with which you would be working closely (for example, technology, legal, product management).
So how should you alter your approach to impress more than one person when you’ve become accustomed to one-on-one conversation tactics and direct eye-contact? Here are some guidelines to follow to help you ace that panel interview.
Don’t get ambushed.
You’ll likely get advance notice that you’ll be interviewing with multiple people, but who will those people be? You’re well within your rights (and the realm of politeness) to inquire as to who will be at your interview. The CEO? The VP? Or several middle managers?
That’s not to say someone lower down the ladder is less important to impress, but if you feel you might be nervous around a bigwig, it’s good to know who you’ll be dealing with. Understanding the roles of your interviewers will help you to anticipate questions as well. For example, if you know that a senior marketing manager will be sitting in, that’s a clue that you might be asked about your experience collaborating with the marketing department.
You’ve already researched the company, so now it’s time to dig a little deeper. What are these interviewers known for? Has anyone recently spearheaded an important or popular project? Have any of them been featured in the media recently? Having your wits about you is important enough, but showing the panel that you’ve done the necessary legwork on each of them (without getting creepy, no Facebook requests!) shows your diligence and professionalism, as well as preparedness.
Each person on the panel has a reason for being there. You’ll likely encounter someone from human resources, a line manager, and perhaps even some technical experts. Do not focus on any one individual, even if they are doing most of the talking. Everyone is there to see how you’ll fit into their work life, and the working lives of all of the employees in general. If you deduce you’ll be working directly with one member of the panel, and decide to ignore the rest in his or her favor, you’ve already defeated the purpose of this kind of interview.
As with any interview, being honest and engaging is key. Spend a few moments, when it’s your turn to speak, making eye-contact with each interviewer. Include everyone in the conversation. They will take notice of this and note your interpersonal communication skills.
Taking surreptitious notes can be a good tactic in any interview, but with a panel interview, it may be a must. You’ll be dealing with more than one person’s comments and questions, and it’s understandable that you won’t be able to keep everything in your head. Once you arrive and are escorted into the interview room, ask if it’s okay for you to take notes. The panel will likely be fine with it, but will also be impressed at your interest in what they have to say.
Just be careful not to get so caught up in your note-taking that it distracts from your rapport with the interviewers. Your main focus should be on the conversation, not on your notepad.
Another obvious interview tip is to always ask questions, but in this case, be sure to aim them at the right person. Remembering who your direct manager will be, and asking relevant questions directly to him or her will display your comprehension of the situation, and show that the group has not confused you. Your note taking will assist in this.
Before you leave, try to get each person’s business card, and/or note each name.
Always send a thank you note, but in the case of a panel interview, you’ve got a few to send. Each person present, even if they didn’t ask any questions, should receive a thanks from you.
If your notes and memory make it possible, make each one a little personal (i.e.- referencing a story told or question asked during the interview specific to that person). This is likely to be taken as a sign that you were paying attention, and that you’ve got the skills to recall details.
It’s been said before that the panel interview can be the most intimidating, what with the wall of unfamiliar faces on one side and you alone on the other. Treat this as a group of individuals, and potential co-workers, and you’ll impress upon them your interest and qualifications for the job at hand.