How to handle a panel interview

You’ve just heard that you’re about to be interviewed by a panel rather than a single hiring manager and have gone into absolute panic mode. Whether you’ve never faced a panel before or have had a bad experience in the past, try to stay calm. There’s no reason why you can’t impress several people rather than one. Having said that, you will need to modify your interview preparation and communication style. Here are a few pointers that will help you do just that.

  • Do your research. It’s fine to ask the HR department or hiring manager for the names and job titles of everyone on the panel. This will help you work out what is important for each panel member. Are they in finance, sales, editorial, IT or HR, for example?
  • Anticipate the questions. Have a think about what each panel member might want to ask you based on their job title. For example, if someone works in sales they may ask about your sales experience and figures, while an HR representative may want to know about your sickness record, relationships with team members or any training you have undertaken in your current role. Practise these questions with a friend.
  • Introduce yourself to each panel member. When you enter the interview room, take time to shake hands with every panel member and give your name each time. It may help to ask for a business card for each of them so you can position them in a way that reminds you who you are speaking to when you answer a question. Alternatively, you can jot this information down on a piece of paper to achieve the same objective.
  • Be inclusive. It’s a good idea to look at the person asking the question as you start to reply, but remember to make eye contact with all panel members throughout so that no one feels excluded or overlooked. Where appropriate, address them by name, for example ‘…when Richard asked about my qualifications, it reminded me that…’
  • Demonstrate your listening skills. It may be possible to make connections between the questions you are being asked, even if they are asked by different people. For example, if Tom asks you what your strengths are and Rebecca later asks you why you think you’re a good fit for the role, you can explain that the strengths you gave demonstrate this. This shows that you are listening carefully and joining up the dots, giving practical examples of your skills, experience and personality type.
  • Don’t get distracted. It’s likely that one person will ask a question and the others will watch for a reaction and scribble down notes. Don’t try to anticipate what they’re jotting down and whether or not it’s favourable. Instead, keep your mind focused and give the best answers possible.
  • Ask your own questions carefully. Try to address your questions to the most relevant panel member, but again don’t exclude anyone. For example, if you want to know about flexible working hours or who you would report to, the HR manager might be the best person to answer, but if you have a question about databases, the IT manager is in the best position to handle your question.

While panel job interviews may sound intimidating, if you prepare well there is no reason why you can’t make it a success. In some instances it actually takes the pressure off you because there are more people in the room and they may make more effort to put you at ease. 

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Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor regularly who contributes to Premier. Find out more at joyofediting.co.uk and find her on Twitter @joyous25

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