A Guide to Panel Interviews
Marcus Jobseeker has met the HR director, the hiring manager, and the VP. He thinks he did pretty well. But he is not taking anything for granted with this next, hopefully final round of interviews. A panel interview with about five people. How should Marcus prepare so he puts his best foot forward?
A panel interview is a regular interview expanded to include more people in each interview session. Companies like to organize panel interviews to get more people involved in the hiring process. They are looking for consensus from the team that has to work with the new person.
Don’t just assume everything will fall into place. Put in the work before, during, and after to sparkle at your next panel interview.
BEFORE THE PANEL INTERVIEW
Research & Prepare
Ask for a schedule of all the folks you will be speaking with. Some companies add people at the last minute and others plan everything to the last detail. Either way, the company is giving you an idea of how they typically operate. Take note.
Research participants on LinkedIn and Google. Look for hobbies, schools attended, places lived, places worked, and people or experiences you have in common. What can you talk about with each person? How can you engage these participants with questions and conversations that appeals to each of them?
Extend a LinkedIn invitation to each interviewer with a personalized note about how excited you are to meet him / her at the upcoming interview. This eases the way toward building a relationship.
Research company issues. What problems is the company trying to solve? If you can’t discover that in your research, then use your experience to consider what issues a company in that situation might be facing.
Know your stories. Based on this preparation, which stories will resonate with the people you are about to meet? Practice those stories in advance.
Arrange yourself in the room. Optimally place yourself at the end of the table so you have a clear view of everyone. Avoid sitting with people on either side of you. You don’t want to play interview ping pong, swinging your head around from side to side as you try to make eye contact. Put your back to the window if you are easily distracted.
Bring your business cards and exchange cards as you are introduced. This prompts folks to return to their offices to get their cards if they forgot. The business cards help you address thank-you cards accurately.
Arrange the business cards in front of you in a manner reflecting the way people are seated. With a quick glance you can be sure you are calling people by the right name. Alternately, write the names on a blank sheet of paper around a shape reflecting the table. Trust me, I learned this the hard way when I called an important person by the wrong name through an entire meeting.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
Make good eye contact with everyone but vary it. Don’t start making a predictable eye contact circuit.
Don’t ignore anyone. Sometimes the most influential person in the room won’t ask any questions. Find ways to connect with those who are quiet. As you respond to questions, make eye contact with the person asking the question and then direct your eye contact to everyone in the room to be sure you are spreading your love and attention.
Ask good questions. Go back to your research and be prepared with three or four questions you can ask that will engage the panelists. The better your questions, the more engaging the discussion will be.
AFTER YOU’RE DONE
Send personalized thank-you notes to each person on the panel, whether they said anything or not.
You might think this is a lot of work for a simple 30- to 60-minute panel interview. But I’ve seen perfectly good interviews scuttled because someone felt slighted or disrespected when a candidate did not make good eye contact. Do your homework and find ways to build relationships so the panelists find you irresistible! Job offers come from relationships!
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