Had a call for a panel or group interview recently? While you might be thrilled to make it to this stage of the hiring process, the mere thought of fielding not one, but a whole team of interviewers can be enough to put your stomach in knots.
However, the reason most employers conduct panel interviews isn’t to intimidate you; rather, it’s a time-saving way to meet with people that will likely interact with you in the new job, and gather their impressions all at once.
So, when you stride into that group interview, remember that the team is there to learn about you and your value-add, NOT to interrogate you or make you uncomfortable.
These 5 tips can help you feel more in control of the process while facing a group of interviewers—with a professional, enthusiastic demeanor that helps win the job:
1. Direct your attention to each person on the panel.
Upon starting the interview, get each person’s name (and ask for their business card or jot down the name), and then look at each person as you introduce yourself. This will help to break the ice and establish a connection to all of your interviewers.
While fielding questions, avoid staring at a single person (nothing makes you look more “frozen” than doing this!). Instead, make it a point to relax, smile, and open your gaze to the others in the room.
Even if a single member of the group asks you a particular question, look around at the others while you answer it. Doing so will help you project a confident image and build rapport with the entire panel.
2. Expect to repeat yourself.
While one of your interviewers might take your answer the first time, you can almost expect someone else to either ask for clarification—or ask it again, later in the interview.
Why? Because, just like our verbal abilities, many of us have different listening styles. What is clear to one panel participant may need further explanation for another person.
In addition, each panelist comes to a group interview with a different agenda. You can expect a prospective peer to be interested in your technical or analytical skills, for example, while the boss might be more curious about why your last job was so short in length.
You may also find yourself repeating information from earlier interviews. This is perfectly normal in the context of a multi-interview hiring process, so avoid coming across as impatient or noting that you’ve answered this query before.
3. Find out who you’ll need to impress the most.
Within most panel interviews, it becomes obvious very quickly who’s on “your side,” and who still hasn’t made up her or her mind.
While it may be comforting to direct your answers and gaze toward the interviewer who seems more open to your responses, you’re better off tackling the naysayer first.
Why? Because winning over the person most likely to reject you shows that you have the ability to read the audience, as well as problem-solve on your feet.
Most employers are looking for leaders that will challenge issues head-on, ask numerous questions, and hone in on the thorniest problems first. If you respond well to someone that throws challenges your way, you’ll come across as an unflappable professional ready to take on the demands of the job.
In addition, most panel interviewers convene after a group interview to discuss the candidate and their impressions. If you’ve won over the toughest member of the group, the others may likely throw their support behind him or her.
4. Be prepared for at least one zinger question.
Interviewers, like anyone else, tend to feel more comfortable (and perhaps bold) in a group. Therefore, you can almost count on being asked a question that might not be posed to you in a one-on-one situation.
Of course, you’ll want to prepare for your interview by pulling out 3-5 “power stories” that demonstrate your abilities to perform the job. Arming yourself with these anecdotes will give you the ability to answer numerous behavioral-style questions common to both single- and multi-interviewer situations.
But if there’s any question or situation that you would feel awkward explaining, prepare and practice a set of answers to it prior to your panel interview!
This way, you won’t feel a sense of dread when the question finally comes up, and you’ll be better able to handle any curveballs thrown your way.
5. Thank all participants promptly.
At the conclusion of your group interview, thank everyone personally, and gather business cards if you didn’t already do so.
Then, as you’re sitting in your car post-interview, write thank-you notes immediately and bring them back in for drop-off to the receptionist.
You’ll gain the advantage of having the interview fresh in your mind, and will score points for your promptness and attention to professional courtesy.
In summary, a panel interview is nothing to dread, especially since it offers an opportunity to establish rapport with your potential new co-workers and bosses. Arm yourself with a stack of success stories, answers to tough questions, thank-you notes, and a smile, and you’ll be on your way to a faster job offer.
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