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Preparing for a Panel Interview

Lesson 19 Module 6

What is a Panel Interview?

A panel job interview includes a group of people from within the employer typically consisting of between 2 and 5 people. It's usually made up of the Hiring Manager and key members of the manager's team. It can also include people from other parts of the organization that regularly interact with the position for which you're being interviewed.

Preparing for a panel interview is similar yet there are some differences from other interviews. There are some additional considerations you must prepare for. On a related note, ALWAYS ask the types of interviews the employer will use before you meet for an onsite interview. You want to be sure you're prepared.

This is an opportunity for the employer to observe you in a group setting and is often used especially when you will be presenting as part of your job, and/or working with groups of vendors or customers.

9 Tips for Acing Your Panel Interview

Click on each tip below for details.

Tip #1 - Finding out in advance who will be on the panel

Ask the person setting up your interview IF there will be a panel interview. If so, ask you will be on the panel. Learn as much about them as possible and the best place to do that is on LinkedIn. In some cases higher level people will have a bio on the company's website.
Find out what type of background these people have. What seems to be sweet spot of their expertise? Who are the more senior-level? Who would have the final hiring decision?
Regardless of organizational level, treat everyone the same,i.e. with respect. Remember they wouldn't be on the panel if their opinion and recommendations didn't carry weight!

Tip #2 - Meeting your interviewers

If possible, ask for business cards and place them in front of you in the same order these people face you, i.e. a seating chart. Regardless, get their names and at least write them in order in front of you. At the very least, remember their first names so you can address them by their name during the interview.

When you answer use their first names, but don't overdo it. Example, "Well Bill, the situation you describe..."

Be sure and have extra copies of your resume, one for each of the panelists. You can offer them a copy as the interview gets underway. 

Tip #3 - Practicing good body language

Practice good body language and eye contact. Be ready to maintain eye contact with the whole panel, with slightly more attention toward whomever asked the question you’re answering.

And practice your body language in general – eye contact, posture, keeping your hands and feet still (not tapping), etc.

Tip #4 - Answering questions

The best way to answer questions is using the STAR technique described in an earlier lesson. Keep in mind the 'clock watcher' and the 'clock builder' analogy because the panel is likely made up of both styles.

You want to strive for the 'Goldilocks' answer by giving just the right length of answer, yet being sure you include all of the SMART components within your answer.

Tip #5 - Asking questions

A critical part of being successful is coming to the interview with lots of high-quality questions. This should be a big part of your pre-interview preparation.

A good technique is to work your questions into the flow of the interview, but don't 'hijack' the interview or cause the interview to veer off the direction your interviewers want!

Bring a list of your questions, preferably in a notebook, just remember to ask the interviewer if it's OK to bring them.

During the interview, at the appropriate time, ask, "I brought a notebook with a few questions, I'd like to be sure I don't leave anything out, is is OK for me to refer to that now?"

A good number of questions would be in the 5 to 6 range. However, there is one question you MUST ask and it's best if you ask each panel member to comment on it.

It goes something like this, "If you hired me what would I have accomplished in the first year that would make you say you made a great hire?"

Tip #6 - Taking notes

In the notebook you bring with your questions, you can leave room to take a few notes for your questions. It's acceptable for you to use your notebook to jot down a few notes during your interview, however the accepted ratio of time spent taking notes is 10%. The other 90% of time should be spent making eye contact with your panel of interviewers.

It can include just a quick note like this: Steve asked about (topic of question) follow-up with him after the interview.

Tip #7 - Establishing rapport

Build as strong of a connection as possible with your interviewers. Remember to smile, maintain eye contact and always be respectful to everyone. Finding out before hand who will be on the panel goes a long ways toward helping you do this. It also includes knowing as much about the company as possible. Understanding the company's products, competitors and the industry, and current business always pays off.

Knowing something about your interviewers will potentially allow you to mix in relevant information during the course of your interview. For example, "Jennifer you asked about the Blue Ox project I led. I suspect it was similar to the Apex project you led while employed at the ABC company. At any rate...."

Don't however overuse this because it will be obvious and not work in your favor. You just want to let them know you've done your homework.

Tip #8 - Concluding the Interview

When the interview concludes be sure to thank them for the opportunity to be considered. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting everyone, and if appropriate pick out a particular moment/topic that you felt was particularly interesting and make a very BRIEF reference to it.

If you were unable to get business cards before the meeting, it's OK to ask if they have a business card available. Get them if possible and use that for the follow-up step. You might even want to write a brief note on the back about a question that person asked, or other relevant comment if you haven't already done so in your notes. That's also helpful in your follow-up thank-you note.

Be sure to end the interview with this question, "Who will be in touch with me regarding next steps, and when can I expect to hear feedback?”

Tip #9 - Sending your Thank-you follow-up

Send a thank-you note within 24 hours after the interview. Be sure to personalize every thank-you email.

Here is a good structure for your thank-you email.

Hello <Interviewer’s first name>,

I wanted to thank you for your time <earlier today/yesterday/Wednesday/etc>. I enjoyed meeting you and our discussion about <specific topic you discussed> and enjoyed learning more about the <Job Title> position overall.

It sounds like an exciting opportunity, and an opportunity I could succeed and excel in! I’m looking forward to hearing any updates you can share, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns in the meantime.

Thanks again for the great conversation <earlier today/yesterday/Wednesday/etc>.

Best Regards,

<Your Name>

<cell number>

Here is an optional idea: Include something to reaffirm that you’re confident you can perform well in this role and explain why. If They discussed a specific project, task or deliverable that particularly matches something you've done that's very comparable remind them about that.

For Example, "Jennifer you mentioned that you'd like to improve the customer experience in your online chat help feature and as I mentioned during our discussion that what I did here at the ABC company. The project I led improved our customer satisfaction score from 87% to it's current score of 98%. If you'd like to talk about this more in the meantime, don't hesitate to contact me."

Second optional idea: Want to make an even bigger impact? Use an influencer follow-up letter. This is discussed in a following lesson: Asking for the Job: Power Follow-up. Be sure to study that and download a template for this letter.

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