In my role as a career transition coach as a career coach and mentor, I’m often helping people in career transition gear themselves up for job searching and interviews. For some, an interview hasn’t been attended for many years, or a panel interview is a new experience. As you rise in seniority or apply for roles in particular types of organisations, a panel interview – where there are several people present at the interview, tends to become a more common occurrence.
As usual, personal life experiences teach us a lot, as well as hopefully learning from the experiences (good and bad) and advice of others. My first few panel interviews were not successful, but I learned a lot from those experiences. Here are four pointers for having a much better chance of success at a panel interview, even if it’s your first time.
1. Know the interview format – is it a panel?
My very first attempt at a panel interview in my early 20’s was a failed one, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know it was a panel until I was actually in the interview! I knew only one of the participants I had liaised with by name and had to try and remember the others after only a brief introduction and feeling nervous. The unusual thing about it also, was that the interview took place around an office coffee table – three interviewers and myself, so it seemed almost casual. Yet, as the questions began to fly with barely a moment to finish one response before the next question was delivered, I just remember that I was glad when it was all over! It was very good practice however, and became a turning point for the more successful panel interviews to come, later in my career.
When you are invited to interview, ask what the format will be (ie scenario/role play, group interview, panel interview). The more information you have, the better you can prepare for it.
If it is a panel, you are quite within your rights to ask who will be sitting on the panel – their names and titles. You can then research more background on the organisation’s website, by web search and LinkedIn. You can sign out of LinkedIn and view people’s public profiles if you do not wish to register as having looked them up. I think that it shows that you are doing your research, and that’s a good thing, particularly if you feel you are a strong applicant and your own LinkedIn profile reflects that.
You will find out affiliations, connections and all sorts of information that can help you to prepare for the people you are likely to encounter and the particular questions they may be inclined to ask according to their role, expertise or perceived agenda.
In preparing for a panel interview, you have double the research. Thoroughly researching the company, industry, and the role is vital. As well as the representatives on the panel. For more detail on preparing yourself for interview (and your work search strategy overall) check out the Work Search Success Program.
3. “Panel Pin Ups”
It can be daunting enough having an interview, but with several people eyeballing and questioning you, it takes focus. Anything you can do to feel a little more comfortable will produce much better results for you.
For one panel interview with three panel members, I did some research on the individual panel members and even managed to find headshot photos of them. I printed these out, wrote their names underneath and put them on my pinup board in my home office (ahem, you may of course not choose to do this in the cubicle or office of your current employer!), along with the logo of the organisation. This all served to help me to visualize being there and speaking with these people. And, when I did meet the panel members for the first time, they didn’t feel like strangers to me. And the outcome…? Success! I now coach my clients to do this and they often report that it helps to familiarise them with the people they will be meeting, making them less anxious and better prepared as a result.
Interviewing with a panel for the first time can seem a bit daunting, particularly depending upon the seating arrangements. Often, everyone is seated around a large table. Some organisations (particularly, institutions) will have a panel set up where everyone is seated along a long table and you are the lone interviewee on the other side. The worst one of these I experienced – there were no less than six people on one side, and my lone self, on the other. It felt more like an inquisition…the only things they had forgotten were the spotlight and dental implements! (with apologies to dentists…).
In short, you are preparing for a performance.
If you are able to rehearse beforehand with family members or friends, that may help you to picture the scene. Your pre-prepared anticipated interview questions can be given to each panel member to ask in succession. Sometimes the panel members don’t think to allow much breathing space between their questions, so it can be better to practice with rapid fire, rather than be surprised about this at interview, if it does happen to occur.
It is useful to rehearse responding to the questioner, but also “sharing” your eye contact with the other panel members, so that you are including them in your response. This is especially important if one person is conducting the majority of the interview with the others acting mostly as observers. You can also practice resting your hands in your lap (try not to fidget, as the other panel members will notice this).
Like any performance, a few nerves can give you a kick of adrenalin that will hopefully help you perform at your best. If anxiety tends to get the better of you and you feel that you need some help in this area, check out Steve Wells and his resources at EFT Downunder before stepping onto the panel interview “stage”.
Go well – or, in theatre parlance, “break a leg!”