How to Prepare for a Panel Interview

In recent interview preparation sessions with my clients, a majority of questions have come up around handling questions from a panel. As we discussed concerns, I compiled observations on what helped my clients and what they generously shared with me after successfully navigating panel interviews. Here are the top observations from our shared story:

Understand the Purpose of a Panel Interview:

  • These are considered time-efficient, allowing employers to determine how the candidate interacts with a diverse range of individuals, especially when the position reports to multiple supervisors and/or relates to diverse functional areas within the organization.
  • These are also seen to provide valid information because a number of opinions and views are taken into consideration when making the hiring decision.
  • Many times these are considered to be more rigorous, more culturally fair and more detailed because a candidate faces questions from experts from different parts of the organization, reflecting the varied interests of each panel member.
  • There is a significant difference between a panel interview process and a group interview process. Specifically, group interviews might be conducted by your potential subordinates to look for supervisory style fit.

So, how will you prepare?

Who is on the Panel?

  • Research job functions as it relates to the overall organizational mission and specifically your role.  Use LinkedIn, the organizational chart, networks and even the HR contact to ask questions about your panel members.
  • Understand clearly how your role will make the individual panelist’s job better by conducting research on how what you will do will help that person shine more in their function.  Identify from the job description, how closely your role will intersect with that person’s function. Specifically, prepare by switching places with that person’s role—if you were to look at your future role with a different pair of lenses, what would you see?
  • Prepare stellar stories that have common elements to address issues common across all functional areas as well as that might address specific issues with laser-like focus to that particular department.

Rapport Building:

  • Research profiles via LinkedIn/organizational chart/Bios PRIOR to the interview.  Pick a detail that might be interesting to bring up in your introduction, as appropriate.
  • Engage with EACH member of the panel, during the introductions phase. Make eye contact, say their name aloud and repeat briefly their functional role; make this introduction count without rushing through it –focus completely on this one individual before greeting the next person.
  • Before the interview begins and people get seated, write down their names according to where they sit (the assumption here is you have asked permission to take notes through the interview) – this reinforces your memory and allows you to use their names through the interview process.

Answering Questions:

  • TELL A STORY – challenge—action—result—LINK to the position deliverables.
  • Make initial eye contact with the person who asks you a question first and then, include others in your answer by scanning faces before returning to the person who asked the interview question.
  • Use people’s names when answering—this allows you to honor the person who asked the question.  Remember to make your answer relevant to the different organizational roles.  It is critical to personalize your answer to the panelist’s area of interest.  Consider the perspective of the panelist asking you the question.
  • Cross-reference a question with another one asked previously by a different panelist.  An example – “I am glad to expand on my earlier response to Ruth’s concern on…”  This strategy allows you to reinforce strong elements from a previous answer, showcases active listening skills and pulls all members into the conversation to listen to you with attention.
  • Sometimes, panelists might work off a list of common or standardized questions –the key is to pull the common threads from your answers together so that you are showing consistency across your answers.

Much of the Preparation is the Same as One-to-One:

  • Research – always critical
  • Stellar story telling – engages people and makes them curious about you
  • Active listening – encourages dialogue
  • Asking meaningful questions – showcases interest and high level preparation
  • Asking for the job – helps you leave with the opportunity to address concerns—ask that question—do they have concerns at this point in the conversation?
  • Courteous follow-up – personalize your comments to EACH panelist –refer to their area of interest/function and make your thank-you relevant to their role

My take on this – you are in a sweet spot because this process is an opportunity to get a “helicopter view” of the organizational culture and dynamics. It is an outstanding opportunity to create visibility and credibility on a macro level. Why not enjoy the process?

What has been your experience with panel interviews? Let us know in the comments below!

By Sunitha Narayanan

Sunitha Narayanan is a certified career coach with a passion for connecting people and their talents to life and work opportunities. She is a co-active coach, empowering her clients to believe in their dreams, set actionable goals and actively create joy in their work lives. She is with Promark Company, a Career Partners International firm that offers executive coaching, leadership development and outplacement services. Learn about her interests by visiting her LinkedIn profile.