A panel interview consists, as you might imagine, of a group of interviewers instead of a single person. It requires a special set of skills when you get into the meeting.
You should be aware that each of the panel members may have a separate and specific agenda during the interview. A technical manager may be there to verify technical job skills, while a senior executive may be looking for a fit with the corporate culture. A Human Resources representative may be tasked with making sure the panel stays on message and follows procedures. Panels sometimes include peers working with the position, and they will certainly be sizing up a candidate to see what he or she would be like as part of the team. All these roles and expectations (none of which will necessarily be explicit in the introductions) can put a lot of pressure on a candidate.
Preparing for the Panel Interview
As we said in Part 1, you should never be surprised by a panel interview; it’s one of the questions you can ask when scheduling. A well-organized company will make sure that each panel member has a copy of your resume, but it’s always a good idea to bring another few copies with you. Panel interviews will usually be more formal than a single interviewer format; the panel will generally take turns asking structured questions and will take good notes. Sometimes, panelists will also jump in with follow up questions and comments; try to remember (or analyze) each member’s perspective or role when answering. Respond to technical questions with technical answers, for example, and when in doubt, ask what the panelist is looking for. “Do you want to hear the details of the survey, or the methodology we used to design it?”
It can be stressful to keep track of people and the questions, and some companies actually play this up during the interview. If they know that the position will be under fire from customers or working in high pressure situations often, they may deliberately want to see how you perform when things get tense.
You’ll occasionally find a panel member that seems critical, even hostile, as you answer questions. That may be a sign that he has a preferred candidate (who is not you) or it may be an indication of disagreement or tension with another panel member. It may also be a sign that the panel member is not feeling that his concerns are being heard in this process. Try to draw him out when you get a chance to ask questions at the end of the interview. Make good eye contact and ask him what he thinks is the most important quality to look for in a candidate for this job. When you respond, validate his point of view and try to talk about how you might meet his criteria or concerns. It takes courage to seek out dialogue with the toughest panel member; at the very least, you’ll earn his respect, if not his vote for the job.