Few things can frighten a candidate quite like the words "panel interview". A typical panel interview has three interviewers and one candidate. Of course, there can be other variations, but it is nearly always one candidate in front of multiple interviewers, which is why it can sometimes feel like standing before a firing squad.
Performing well in a panel interview is a little different from performing well in a regular, one-on-one, interview. Here are six keys to remember:
- Greet all of the panel members individually and get each of their names. Using the interviewers' names is much more important in a panel interview. You may need to reference something one of the panel members said. That's easy to do if you say something like, "Similarly to what Robert had mentioned earlier about process improvement...". Sometimes, you are given the names of the people that will be interviewing you. And sometimes there is a last minute substitution so be sure you know exactly who you're interviewing with.
- You should expect to get some very tough questions. The most challenging interview questions I have ever been asked have all been in panel interviews. Sometimes, the interviewers want to impress their colleagues, or there can be political undertones you may not be privy to . Some interviewers (wrongly) equate the success of an interview with how much they make the candidate squirm. Don't get blindsided by a difficult question.
- There is usually one person on the panel that has the greatest influence. Sometimes it's the hiring manager, but other times it's not as clear. If you are being prepared by a recruiter, or have a contact at the company, ask them about the relationships between the panel members and if there is one particular person you need to impress more than others.
- Answer each question to the entire panel and not just the individual that asked the question. Make eye contact with all of the interviewers during each question. It is vital that the panel members feel connected to you. Don't try the trick of only looking at a person's face when they've looked down at their notes. If you do that throughout the interview, each of them may feel that you couldn't make eye contact with just them.
- Enthusiasm is important in any interview, but it is much more important in a panel interview. There is always a chance that one of the panel members can become distracted (another reason for #4). Show your personality, and keep your energy level high throughout the interview.
- When it's your turn to ask questions, be very specific about of whom you are asking. If you mean to ask the question of just one of the candidates, ask them specifically by using their name. If you want to ask all of them, you may want to ask, "I'm interested in hearing from each of you about...".
Of course, as with any interview, you should follow up with each of the interviewers individually to thank them for the interview.