Making Sure You're Ready for a Panel Interview

by Matt Kirkman

Panel Interview

When you’re considering the different types of job interviews, the dreaded panel interview seems to be the one that most candidates are keen to avoid. But when you know what to expect and you’re properly prepared, there’s no reason why they should be any worse than the other interviews you might have to face. If anything, a panel interview could actually improve your chances of getting a position, as it gives you the chance to meet all of the decision-makers at the same time and convince them that you are the best candidate for the job. Here’s what you need to understand if you’re facing a panel interview and want to make sure you perform well.

Why Employers Use Panel Interviews

There could be a number of reasons why a company may choose to use panel interviews as part of their selection process, but you can rest assured that wanting to make your interview as difficult and stressful as possible isn’t one of them. Panel interviews are often used for recruitment in government or academic organizations, where it seems the vast majority of decisions are made by a committee, and they may also be used for recruiting very senior positions.

A panel interview is one of the simplest ways for a number of people to have an input into the recruitment and selection process. This might be because they all have an interest in the position being recruited, or it might be that the role is such an important position that the opinions of several senior personnel will help to ensure the right appointment. Either way, you should simply consider a panel interview as the most effective way for you to meet all the relevant people at once, instead of individually, and it should be no harder than a standard interview if you’re properly prepared.

Before Your Panel Interview

A panel interview simply refers to the fact that there is going to be more than one person present, so when it comes to preparing for your meeting, you need to understand exactly what type of questions you’re likely to be facing. A panel interview tends to be quite a formal affair and it’s likely that all the candidates will be asked the same, or similar, questions. These might be behavioral interview questions, questions that are meant to examine your technical skills, or just a detailed examination of your professional experience to date, but it’s important that you find out so you can prepare appropriately.

If getting a better understanding of the type of question you’re going to be asked isn’t possible, finding out exactly who will be on the panel and what their roles are can help. It requires a little generalization, but this should give you an idea of the kind of questions they are going to be asking. For example, a Personnel Manager is likely to ask the kind of behavioral questions that will assess your level of proficiency in various competencies, and a Sales Director might want to examine your performance against targets and how you go about generating new business. It’s important to make sure you’re fully prepared for your panel interview and knowing who you will be meeting will help you to focus your preparation on the areas that are most likely to be examined.

During Your Panel Interview

Even though you may be meeting a number of people, one of the panel will probably take the lead in the interview, introducing the others and making sure they all get a chance to ask their questions. Don’t assume that means this is the most important individual on the panel, and spend all your time focused on impressing them. These interviews are often organized and lead by HR managers, and while their opinion is important, it’s unlikely that they will make the final decision.

With this in mind, another reason for finding out before hand who you will be meeting is so that you’ve got a better idea of what the individual agendas might be, and what each panel member is looking to get out of the meeting. For example, the line manager will probably want to make sure you’re the best candidate they can recruit into the role, while HR might be more interested in assessing whether or not you’re a good fit for the business. Recognizing the motivations of each of the panel members will help you provide the most appropriate answer to their questions.

Often the hardest part about panel interviews is understanding that the people you’re meeting may all have different agendas, but if you have a good understanding of what they are, and answer each individual's questions in way that gives them the information they want to hear, you stand the best chance of leaving the whole panel with a positive view of you as a candidate.

If you want to explore this topic further, see Panel Interview Mistakes to Avoid.

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