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How to Survive Panel Job Interviews
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How to Survive Panel Job Interviews

Heather Yamada Hosley, Gawker Media

Image from Hamza Butt / flickr.

A one-on-one job interview is stressful enough, add to that three to five other people all sitting across from you and firing questions your way and you have some people's worst nightmare. It's no one's idea of a good time, but with a little preparation and practice, you come across as a confident, excellent candidate despite the intimidating format.

Why Panel Interviews Are Used

Often, companies use panel interviews to get a wider perspective on you as a candidate. They want evaluations from those who work above the role you're interviewing for as well as those who work with that role. Some examples of who might be on a panel:

  • Hiring manager
  • Head of the team or department (sometimes this might even be a Vice President or CEO)
  • A teammate who you'd work with frequently
  • Someone who can evaluate technical skills needed for the role
  • Someone who is looking for culture fit (might be another teammate or a representative from HR)

Depending on the company's approach, they might have the panelists ask you the same set of questions as other candidates or they might allow the panelists to decide on the questions themselves. Either way, you should be prepared to answer a mix of technical, skill, and situation or behavioral questions.

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While facing a row of people all tasked with analyzing your every word can be stressful, Hannah Morgan, job search strategist and founder of CareerSherpa.net , focuses on the shared goal between you and the panelists:

As with any job interview, you should use that time and access to the people who have an inside view of the company to figure out if you would be successful there.

Handle the Panel Like a Pro

Ask your HR contact ahead of time who you'll be interviewing with and whether those interviews will be one-on-one or panel style. This way, you won't be surprised or thrown off when you walk in and see a group waiting to talk to you. If you want to go the extra mile, look up each person on LinkedIn or the company's site to see what their role is and figure out how that might relate to the job you're interviewing for. You'll get a better sense of who might ask which types of questions as well as any shared connections you have with them.

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During the interview, you might be tempted to focus on those who are reacting to you warmly or who are enthusiastic about your answers, but Morgan mentions that you should focus your attention on everyone in the room. Those who seem more distant or not convinced you're a fit are the ones you need to win over during your interview. While answering one person's questions, you can make eye contact with others on the panel to gauge how they're responding to your answer.

Taking notes during the interview may be helpful for you to remember who said what or who you might want to follow up with, but make sure to acknowledge this at the start of the interview with something like, "I hope you don't mind if I take a few notes."

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Pay attention to your body language during the interview, you don't want to seem closed off to some panel members because you're facing away from them or not looking at them while you speak.

Wrap Up on a Good Note

As with any interview, you should try to end things on a positive note by thanking each individual for their time, shaking their hand firmly, and smiling warmly. You can also go the extra mile by sending a follow up thank you note. Morgan recommends either sending personalized notes to each panelist (don't send a form note, they may compare them) or a note to the hiring manager that mentions each panelist so the manager can pass on your thoughts as appropriate.

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