How To Ace Your Panel Interview: Tips And Examples

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 3, 2020

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If you’re wondering if there’s anything more stressful than a job interview, the answer is yes: a panel interview. There’s a reason these types of interviews earned the grim nickname “interview by firing squad.”

In this article, we’ll go over what panel interviews are, why companies use them, and general tips for acing your next panel interview. Take a deep breath – you’ve got this.

What Is a Panel Interview?

A panel interview is a job interview conducted by two or more interviewers at the same time. The interviewers will likely include a hiring manager, your future supervisor, an HR manager, a potential peer, and other department heads with whom you’d be working closely. All areas of the company with a vested interest in finding the best candidate for the job vacancy will be represented at a panel interview.

Everyone in the room has a say in who the company ultimately hires, but the hiring manager typically leads panel interviews. He or she will ask some preset interview questions and lead the discussion. Other panelists likely have predetermined questions as well, in addition to posing follow-up questions when one of your responses touches on their role.

Panel interviews typically last between 45-90 minutes, so be ready for a test of your stamina.

Why Do Organizations Conduct Panel Interviews?

Organizations conduct panel interviews to save time, come to a consensus, see how candidates perform in group settings, and test candidates’ ability to handle high-pressure situations.

  • Saves time. The most practical reason for an organization to conduct panel interviews is how much time it saves. Hiring managers typically hold multiple panel interviews in one day, and the panel decides by the end.

    The practicality of panel interviews is also nice for the candidate (although it may not feel like it). Instead of coming in multiple times and meeting one-on-one with various company members, you get all your interviewing finished in one session.

  • Consensus. When you have all the decision-makers together in a room, you reduce the risk of a bad hire. Each panelist will have a different perspective, and what satisfies one may spark follow-up questions in another. Panel interviews allow a representative from each relevant element of the company to have a say in what an ideal candidate looks like.

    Additionally, panel interviews allow both parties to gauge whether you’d make a good fit into the company culture.

  • Tests candidates’ teamwork. In a panel interview, you have to engage with various personalities and levels of expertise. Interviewers want to see that you’re just as capable of addressing an HR rep’s questions as you are answering technical queries from your potential team lead.

    By seeing how you interact with a group of potential colleagues, the panel members can assess how you’d fit into a team or collaborative effort.

  • Challenges candidates. It sounds kind of mean, but a significant reason organizations conduct panel interviewers is to apply maximum pressure to the candidates. After all, the job you’re applying for is bound to have stressful moments, and panelists want to see how you handle those moments.

    Job type you want
    Full Time
    Part Time
    Internship
    Temporary

    It also exposes how quickly a candidate can think on their feet and adapt to new situations.

While any organization may choose to conduct panel interviews, the most common industries for this type of interview are:

  • Academic institution

  • Government agencies

  • Nonprofit organizations

  • Consulting companies

  • Senior-level position (in many industries)

9 Panel Interview Tips

Panel interviews aren’t entirely distinct from regular one-on-one job interviews. That’s good news because you can use general interview tips to help you succeed at your panel interview. However, before the interview, study these tips so you can come prepared.

  1. Know your audience. As we’ve said, your panel will likely be made up of the following people: the hiring manager, an HR manager, team leads from relevant departments, and a potential peer. However, you should find out the specific people on the panel – just ask your company contact or recruiter beforehand.

    Once you know who’s invited to the party, research them. Memorize names and job titles for each interviewer, see what their LinkedIn pages look like, and find out any major initiatives or accomplishments they have under their belt. With this information, you’ll be able to speak directly to their experience and satisfy their perspective on what an ideal candidate looks like.

    The HR manager wants to make sure you’re a good fit in the company culture, the hiring manager wants to test your technical abilities, and a peer wants to see how you’d fit into their established team. Learn everyone’s name and role, and frequently use each panelist’s name to show you’re on the ball.

  2. Engage with all panel members equally. A common mistake panel interviewees make is only addressing the most senior person in the room. Just because a hiring manager leads the discussion, it doesn’t mean you should focus your responses solely on her.

    One of the best ways to show off your collaborative abilities is to involve every interviewer with every response you give. This can be as simple as ensuring that you give each panelist an equal amount of eye contact, even if it’s not their question you’re answering.

    Do not forget to engage any silent panel members. It’s often the one who sits quietly taking notes that has the most clout in the final hiring decision, so be sure to bring them into the conversation when appropriate (this is where your prior research comes in handy).

    An excellent way to involve everyone is first to answer a direct question and then anticipate what other department heads might want to know and address their perspectives. You can also ask questions throughout the interview instead of waiting until the end to keep engagement steady throughout.

  3. Bring enough materials for everyone. It’s likely that all the panelists will already have your resume on hand, but it can’t hurt to bring enough copies to hand out. Bring a stack of business cards and any other documents you feel might be relevant during the interview.

    It’s a straightforward way to make sure everyone in the room is up to speed on your background and credentials and will help avoid wasting time. It also showcases your abilities to prepare and think ahead.

  4. Pay attention to your body language. The most significant element of your body language to keep in mind is eye contact. It’s easy to remember this tip in a traditional, one-on-one interview, but panel interviews can fluster even the most seasoned interview veteran.

    As you answer an interviewer’s question, begin by maintaining eye contact with them. Then, start making eye contact with each panelist in turn, giving equal time to each. Don’t just swivel your head around like a bobblehead; shift your shoulders, and face each panelist squarely. In short, be attentive to nonverbal cues.

    Make sure to smile, sit up straight, and try to control any nervous ticks, like tapping your feet or a pen. For those without good body language habits, a panel interview can be incredibly nerve-racking, so consider performing a mock panel interview beforehand to practice.

  5. Be ready for follow-up questions. Even a regular job interview will likely include follow-up questions, but with a panel interview, you can expect follow-ups to take up a bigger chunk of time. Each panelist has their own perspective, and an answer you give to one may induce a follow-up question from another.

    Panel interviews are typically fast-paced, so you’ll want to match that efficiency by having as many stories as possible to back up your qualifications. Use the STAR method to keep your anecdotes short and to the point.

    Treat the panel interview as a conversation instead of a Q+A, and you’ll feel much more comfortable addressing each panelist’s perspective.

  6. Take notes. Panel interviews will likely cover much more ground than your typical job interview, and it can be tough to keep it all straight in your head without a notepad. Be sure to ask your interviewers if it’s okay to take notes (they’ll say yes 99% of the time, but it’s polite to ask).

    Don’t spend too much time writing, as you want to maintain eye contact as much as possible. However, you’re also here to learn more about the company and the role, so you’d be silly not to jot down this pertinent information.

    Taking notes can also help you formulate questions as you go, whether you ask them during the interview or after. Also, try to take personal notes on each interviewer, so you have some content ready when you’re writing each a personalized thank-you note.

  7. Ask questions. No interview is a one-way street, and panel interviews are no different. You’re there to find out if you want to work for this organization just as much as the interviewers are determining if they want you to work for them.

    Find out about opportunities for advancement and professional growth, as well as the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. Demonstrate your genuine interest with in-depth questions that help the interviewers see your thoughts on the position.

    Try to come up with one question per interviewer, so you have the chance to engage with each element of the hiring team, as well as some general questions.

  8. Stay calm. Easier said than done, we know. But in the heat of a panel interview, you may feel pressure to rush through answers and come off as flustered. Balance active listening with speaking, or you might completely miss the point of an interviewer’s question in your rush to get out a response.

    If you get stuck on a question, don’t lose your cool – just calmly state that you need time to consider the question and try to return to it later. A level approach like this will reflect better than a harried and confusing response.

    Take your time to formulate answers, but keep your responses as brief and fluff-free as possible. And when those follow-up questions start flooding in faster than you can keep up with, try to prioritize which elements of the question need addressing. You might not be able to respond as fully as you like to each query but focus on communicating the most pertinent information.

  9. Figure out follow-up. Don’t leave the room until you’re certain about when the organization will be in touch with the next steps. Otherwise, you might have to make some awkward inquiries later. You should also figure out who to contact with questions you think of after the interview.

    Ensure that you get every panelist’s contact information so that you can write each a personalized thank-you note post-interview. Use your notes to mention at least one unique interaction with each, to show you were fully engaged with the entire panel.

    Send thank-you emails as soon as possible because it’s likely the hiring committee will make a decision quickly.

Final Thoughts

There you have it – everything you need to know to ace your panel interview. We know that they’re an exceptionally brutal type of interview, but with these tips in mind, you’re sure to come out the other side with a job offer.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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