Tips on Surviving the Panel Interview

This man seems to have aced his panel interview
This man seems to have aced his panel interview

Traditionally, if one is interviewed for a job it was usually a one-on-one interview conducted by the supervisor of the position being filled. For higher level management positions the organization might conduct panel interviews, consisting of three or five middle or higher level managers who would make the hiring decision, either through scoring each interview or by a simple vote.

Today panel interviews are used more frequently and not just to fill high level positions but also positions at the middle and entry levels. Despite being more costly in staff time and more difficult to schedule than one-on-one interviews, panel interviews are increasing in their use simply because organizations have found they are perceived by the applicants and by the courts as more fair and valid as a selection tool than the one-on-one interview.

For the job applicant or interviewee, the panel interview is a double edged sword. On the one hand it offers a number of advantages:

· The panel interview is often more fair to the job applicant than the one-on-one interview because you have several minds looking at the candidate rather than just one. If one panelist is unfair in his questioning or evaluation, the other panelists can check that unfairness.

· The applicant is less liable to be asked blatantly illegal questions, such as asking a woman if she intends to have children. Where an interviewer may be inclined to ask such questions when alone with the interviewee, he will be less inclined to do so in a panel.

· Because most panel interviews are structured, each interviewee gets pretty much the same treatment and consideration, whereas in one-on-one interviews those candidates that are more attractive to or favored by the interviewer may be given longer interviews.

On the other hand, the panel interview can have a number of distinct disadvantages for the interviewee:

· Many one-on-one interviewers do not know how to conduct effective job interviews. This lack of skill does not improve when interviewers are in a panel. It means the poor interviewee is confronted with stupid questions from three or five people instead of just from one.

· While some panel interviews are structured and planned out, many are not. Panelists fly by the seat of their pants, asking questions in a helter-skelter fashion, showing little or no preparation and sometimes repeating the same question asked by another panelist because they were not listening.

· Applying many of the techniques for effective one-on-one interviewing is more difficult to apply in panel interviews because you are dealing with more than one personality.

Despite the difficulties and special challenges posed by the panel interview for many interviewees, there is no reason why a job applicant’s performance in a panel interview cannot be just as effective as it would be in a one-on-one interview-if the right techniques and approaches are used. The following are some tips to help anyone be more successful in a panel interview:

· Keep your cool. All job interviews are stressful for the job applicant, but many liken a panel interview to going before a senate investigative committee to defend themselves. There is no reason to go into a panic because the interview is with a panel any more than it would be with one person.

· Do all of the same things you were taught to do in a one-on-one interview-exude self confidence, smile, give firm handshakes, show openness and maintain good eye contact, except do it for three or five people instead of just one.

· If you are a candidate from inside the organization and are not the first person to be interviewed, talk to the people who have been interviewed and try to find out the questions that were asked. If the panel interview is structured it may ask the same basic questions to each interviewee. This will give you a heads-up and allow you to better prepare your answers. If you are an applicant from the outside, this will probably not be possible.

· In answering the question from one panelist, direct your attention to all of the panelists evenly, not just to the panelist who asked the question. This tends to keep all of the panelists attentive to your answer.

· Do not become distracted or threatened by seeing the panelists taking notes while you are answering questions. Especially if the panel will reach their selection decision by scoring the responses of each applicant to the questions, they will take notes of the applicant’s responses while he is making them. This makes eye contact difficult and gives the interviewee the impression that he is not being listened to. Answer the question as if each panelist is looking at you and sitting on the edge of their seats taking in your answer.

· If a panelist asks you a question which has already been asked by another, do not show your impatience or frustration by saying things like, “As I said before-“ or “I guess I did not make myself clear before-“. Answer the question as if it has not been asked before. Give more information and additional examples than you gave the first time.

· Apply the techniques of assertive interviewing (see my hub on Assertive Interviewing) the same as you would in a one-on-one interview. In fact, assertive interviewing is actually easier in panel interviews because the interviewers talk less and simply ask questions, so the interviewee can control the interview more easily.

· Do ask questions, even if you are not given the opportunity to do so. In fact, questions are more necessary in a panel interview than many one-on-one interviews because panelist talk less and give out less information about the job and the organization. Ask questions about the job, about the organization, about what kind of candidate they are looking for and when they expect to make a selection decision. Do not ask about salary, benefits and upward mobility.

Following the right techniques and approaches there is no reason why one’s performance in a panel interview cannot be as good as or even better than in a one-on-one interview. Plus the interviewee should take solace in the fact that he will probably have a fairer chance to get the job after a panel interview.

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