Panel Interviews: 5 Tips for Success
For anxious job applicants, nothing is more intimidating than a panel interview. If the prospect of being interrogated by a line up of complete strangers makes you want to run and hide, take heart. An invitation to attend a panel interview indicates you are a top candidate. Since panel interviews are usually the final step in the recruitment process, you’re probably one of less than five finalists. In reality, you have an excellent chance of getting the job. The following tips will help you survive and succeed your next panel interview.
Tip #1 - Do Your Research
A quick phone call to your recruiter will give you all the background you need for your panel interview. You should ask:
- Who will be on the panel? Find out the name of each Interviewer. Check the company website for photos of each person. You’ll feel less intimidated if you walk into the interview room already being able to put faces to names. It’s not easy to remember new names under pressure. A little research makes it one less thing to worry about.
- What positions do the panelists hold? By knowing what job positions panelists hold, you’ll get a feel for the kinds of questions they will ask. The most common scenario is to be interviewed by three people. The first is your line manager, the second is a co-worker and the third is an HR representative. Each person will ask different questions relating to their field of expertise.
- How long will the interview last? Panel interviews are often longer than one-to-one interviews, simply because there are more people, more questions and more conversations. Make certain you’re well prepared for the length of the interview. If you can avoid it, don’t schedule appointments after the interview. It’s important you don’t appear rushed or distracted.
Tip #2 - Face Your Fears
In reality, the questions and answers in a panel interview are no different to an individual interview. So why do panel interviews make people feel excessively nervous? The key difference is the number of people. Nobody wants to be judged or embarrassed in front of other people. It’s the same fear we face before public speaking. It’s the fear of being vulnerable. These tips will help you overcome those fears:
- Take a step back - Don’t allow yourself to indulge in fearful emotion. Consider the worst that could happen. Will you freeze up, not being able to speak? Will you look like a fool and embarrass yourself? Will you fail? At the end of the day if you don’t succeed, you’ll be able to pick yourself up and move on to the next job application. Taking a pragmatic view helps you remain calm and focused.
- Be enthusiastic - Answer interview questions with healthy enthusiasm. Convey your excitement at the prospect of the new job. A positive, energetic attitude gives you confidence and helps suppress fear.
- Know your stuff - If you’re asked “Can you tell me about your winning proposal in 2002?”, you want to know exactly what the interviewer is talking about! It would be extremely embarrassing if you couldn’t respond. No doubt you will be asked questions about your resume and cover letter. Make sure you’re intimately familiar with details such as job titles, dates, duties, past projects and achievements.
- Talk the talk - Avoid embarrassment by familiarising yourself with industry jargon. Check out the company’s website and industry magazines for clues. If there is terminology you’re not familiar with, learn what it means and how to use it in context.
- Use notes for backup - It’s perfectly acceptable to take your own notes into a panel interview. Write down your own set of questions to ask the panelists. You can also take reminder notes to prompt you should you get really stuck for words. Keep in mind your notes should be for emergency use only. If you find yourself unable to answer a question, tongue-tied or overwhelmed, a quick glance at your notes can help you refocus. Don’t refer to notes unless you really need to. Sometimes, just knowing they’re there helps you feel relaxed.
Tip #3 - Make Eye Contact
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of panel interviews is paying sufficient attention to multiple people at the same time. The more panelists, the more difficult this becomes. To make each interviewer feel respected, be sure to make eye contact with everyone. Always focus on the person who is asking the question. Acknowledge their question with a small nod before beginning your answer. When giving longer answers, take time to scan the interview panel, making natural eye contact with each interviewer.
Tip #4 - Expect Pressure
Not all panel interviews are designed to be high pressure, but you should prepare just in case. If you’re being interviewed for a high stress position, the interview may be designed to test how well you handle stressful situations. Fortunately, most panel interviews are simply a matter of company convenience, not an attempt to destroy you! In fact, companies often try to make you feel comfortable. If you find yourself informally seated at a round table instead of directly opposite the panel, you can bet the recruiters are doing their best to help you relax. If you begin to feel anxious or pressured, take a slow, deep breath and allow yourself a moment to collect your thoughts.
Tip #5 - Prepare by Rehearsing
In addition to following standard job interview preparation tips, prepare yourself further by rehearsing anticipated conversations. Practice both the questions you will ask and your answers to common job interview questions. Rehearse out loud and pay attention to speaking slowly and clearly. The more you practice, the more fluent and confident you will become.
View panel interviews as a positive opportunity. Appreciate you will be evaluated fairly, not subject to only one point of view. Remain calm, be honest and answer questions as best you can. If you’re still feeling anxious, try imagining you’re not being interviewed at all! Why not consider yourself one of the panelists? After all, you should be assessing the company as much as they are assessing you.
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