A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.
How to Answer Questions in Panel Job Interviews
You've gotten that call, and you're scheduled for an interview. With a group of people, not just one person. Yikes!
First, panel interviews are the norm these days. Most managers don't want to interview one-on-one; by having others in the room, they have proof that all was handled fairly in the event they get a complaint from someone not chosen. Second, many positions involve working with a team or collaborating with others in the organization. By including several of the stake-holders, companies have a better chance of finding the right fit when they hire new employees.
Stop chewing your nails and don't despair. Panel interviews are not as bad as they sound, and they can actually work to your advantage (more on that in a bit). First, though, here are some tips to help you get ready for the big day:
Be Sure to Research Prospective Employers
Research the company, and find out as much as you can about the interview panel. The HR Director or whomever arranged for the interview should be able to tell you the name, title and position of those you'll meet with. Don't fret about asking for this - it will demonstrate that you're professional and you know your way around the business world.
Why do you need names and titles at this point? For one thing, you can ask about pronunciation ahead of time and practice rolling names off your tongue smoothly. In addition, you'll go into the interview with more confidence, and you'll be prepared to greet each person by name when introduced. Finally, you'll probably be too focused on other things when you get to the interview; this way, you'll have the names on hand for follow-up notes afterward.
When You Get There
1. Arrive ahead of time, but not too far in advance. If there's an Admin Assistant outside the interview room, introduce yourself and get their contact information - you may need it later.
2. Take a few minutes for a last-minute makeup and hair check in the restroom. Look for stray hairs or dust on your jacket, check for hanging threads and tidy up anything else that can distract from YOU during the interview. Remember - your outfit is just packaging; you're selling yourself, not your wardrobe.
3. Turn off the cell phone! Do this before you enter the room, or even before you enter the building. A ringing or buzzing cell phone can subtract points from your interview. No, there won't be an actually slot for those points on the interview sheet; instead, the interviewers may reduce some of your scores due to the unprofessional incident of your best friend calling at the wrong time.
4. No gum! Gum should never, ever be seen at an interview!
5. If you're wearing anything jangling or distracting, take it off. It's better to arrive with no jewelry than to jingle-jangle all through the interview. You might adore those earrings, but if the interview panel keeps getting distracted by what you're wearing, they're less likely to notice how great you are for the job.
6. Take a deep breath and relax —you're going to do great when you get into that room.
How to Act During the Interview
Be sure to engage everyone in the room, even if they're not speaking or participate less than others. Each person is there for a reason (even if you can't figure it out yet). Perhaps the hiring manager needed at least one or two colleagues to be there, but they don't plan to ask questions. Usually, you'll know the basic role each person has, but if not, acknowledge and involve everyone in the room as you answer questions. Here's how:
- Smile, smile, smile! Look each person in the eyes several times and smile.
- Generally, the panel will pass questions around the table. Start your answer by addressing the person who asked, but make eye contact with everyone else during your answer. This will invest everyone in your answers, not just the person asking the question.
- Be sure to answer every element in the question. For example, "Tell about a time you managed a large project to successful completion," your answer needs to mention a project, that it was large (briefly tell how & why), that you completed it and that it was successful. The scoring sheet your interviewers are using will probably have points for all four elements in the answer. It's even more important to cover all the points in a panel interview than in a one-on-one setting, because while one person can get sidetracked or wowed by your personality, individuals in group interviews who are on the listening end are more likely to notice gaps in your answer.
- If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification. This is not only fine to do, it can add points; it shows you're smart enough to parse out the details and make certain you understood correctly. You can either ask them to read it again, or repeat some of the context to them and make certain you got it right. They'll be looking for answers to what they asked, not answers to what you think you heard.
- Weave information about your research on the firm or the interview panel into your questions. If you're interviewing for an accounting position and the corporate lawyer is in the room, acknowledge how important you know ethical accounting is to the legal department. If you're in PR and the sales manager is present, mention how you like to work closely with that department to ensure you're supporting their needs.
- Make your answers brief but complete. The panel has probably been interviewing other candidates for hours, and may well have several days ahead of more interviews. The longer your answers are, the more they'll tune out.
Always Write a Follow-Up Letter After Every Interview
What to Do After an Interview
- Do your follow-up work! Thank you letters after an interview are indeed a courtesy, but they stand out. If the panel is on the fence about two candidates, and you're one of the two, the letter can push you over to their side of the fence and land you a job offer.
- If you can expand on one of your interview answers, use the follow-up letter to add those details. You can include urls, a report you've done (if it's brief), reference letters or anything else that can make a case for them to hire you.
- Email letters are okay, but not always the best option in each case. Get a feel for the culture of the organization and the 'paradigm' of the interview panel. If it's a high-tech firm, an email will probably be fine (in fact, it will be appreciated more than paper in many instances). If it's a law firm, you might have a better edge with a paper letter. Use good stock and make certain your ink cartridge is fresh.
- Copy everyone on the interview panel! This shows appreciation for their time during the interview, and gives you a chance to forge those relationships while you're at it. You might be working with this team one day, remember?
- If time is limited, consider hand-carrying your letter to the firm. Give the copies to the Admin you met earlier and ask her to get them to each person (names on separate envelopes, of course).
- You can write short personal notes on each letter if you wish—handwritten notes to Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones show you remember each person individually and offer the chance to add individual comments.
Be Prepared for the Waiting Game
Don't be discouraged if you haven't heard any news within a week or so. Too many people underestimate the time it takes to screen, interview, review the panel's scores and make a hiring decision. The panel may need to meet as a group to decide; it's hard to get several managers in one room at the same time, so the process isn't a quick one.
If you haven't heard within two weeks (or a few days after they claim they'll "have an answer"), it's fine to call whomever contacted you for the interview and check on the status of the position.
There are hundreds of jobs out there, and as you know, there are often many applicants for each job. Always remember—getting an interview is a sign that one of those jobs is yours!
What Do You Think?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on June 23, 2012:
Hi, Dwachira - I'm glad you found some helpful tips for your next interview! It's all too easy to get nervous and feel you could have dine better. Thanks for reading, voting and sharing!
Danson Wachira from Nairobi, Kenya on June 23, 2012:
I have freaked in a number of interviews and i wish i had such good and useful tips as these ones before. Thanks Marcy Goodfleisch for such good tips. Voted up, useful and shared.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on April 29, 2012:
Hi, Htodd - I know what you mean; they be very intimidating. Interviews with just one or two people are stressful enough! Thanks for reading and commenting; I hope you found some helpful ideas here.
htodd from United States on April 29, 2012:
Interesting ..Sometimes it is tough to face panel interviews
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on January 23, 2012:
I'll be thinking of you, Eddie - I know you can do it! Get a few friends together for some practice interviewing and coaching if you have time. People love to help out on that sort of thing, and it will brush up the skills for everyone involved. You're right to prepare for the panel setting; it's the most common format now. The biggest one I've ever faced was about nine people, but they're usually much smaller.
Eddie Carrara from New Hampshire on January 23, 2012:
I'm making a career change after 25 years, I have never changed jobs and have never been in an interview with a panel, but I think it's going to happen very soon. My fear is my mind is going to go blank during the interview so I have written down some common questions and have written out the answers so I can burn them into my memory. Thanks for the tips Marcy, voted up and useful :)
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on January 23, 2012:
That's a great tip, Kathleen! You're right - it shows the panel that you're aware of everyone on it. Some people are too shy to participate in the interview; you're suggestion pulls them into the process. Thanks for commenting!
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on January 23, 2012:
I've worked for a couple of boards of directors (which is as close to a gang bang as you will ever experience in the professional world!) One thing I learned to do at the interview was to ask a question of the one member who asked me nothing. I think it shows you are paying attention and know how to engage people. Good hub.