There are many steps in the journey to finding employment: preparing a resume and cover letter, identifying relevant opportunities, sending out job applications, going through multiple rounds of interviews, and finally, signing the coveted offer letter. While this process is largely the same globally, certain aspects may be different in the Canadian job market. For instance, in Canada, the interview process may take much longer than your home country and involve multiple rounds conducted over the phone, in-person, or virtually.
Interviews conducted in-person or virtually may be one-on-one or involve a panel of interviewers. Panel interviews are a cost-effective and efficient way for companies to speed up the interview process. It gives the interviewer a glimpse into how you interact with different personality types and communication styles and shows how you handle stress.
Panel interviews can feel nerve-wracking to many as the dynamics of this interview format are different from traditional one-on-one interviews. In this article, we will explore panel interviews in more depth and share a few tips to help you prepare for them and emerge successful.
What is a panel interview?
A panel interview consists of two or more interviewers who interview you at the same time. The panel usually has a mix of people from different functional groups, or it may include the hiring manager and a few team members. In most cases, panel members are from the teams you will be working with.
Note: Don’t confuse a panel interview with a group interview. The basic difference being – in a panel interview, you are the only candidate in the room, while in a group interview, there are multiple candidates.
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7 tips to prepare for a panel interview
1. Find out who’s on the panel and remember names
The first step to preparing for a panel interview is to gather information on the number of people interviewing you, including their names and titles. Generally, the panel of interviewers will represent different functions relevant to the role you’re interviewing for. Based on their functional expertise, each one of them will consider your resume and responses differently – this is why it is essential to find out who’s on the panel. You can ask for this information from the recruiter or your point of contact who scheduled the interview at the company.
If you’re unable to get the names prior to the interview, when you walk into the room, take a minute and introduce yourself to everyone, making sure to get their names and titles. In this scenario, it is a good idea to make a note of everyone’s names because you’ll need to remember and use them during the interview.
Tip: Taking notes is generally acceptable in an interview – not only to remember interviewer names but also to jot down important points and questions; just be sure to ask first.
2. Bring a resume copy for each person on the panel
Although some or all of the panel members may have a digital copy of your resume, it’s a good idea to bring a physical copy for each interviewer and also have a couple of extra copies in case someone unexpected joins the panel. It makes you look professional and well-prepared.
3. Connect with the interviewers, both as individuals and as a group
During the interview, it is important to build rapport with each panel member as well as the group as a whole.
Tip: To engage everyone with your responses, answer each question directly, but then elaborate further by addressing the perspectives of other interviewers.
While preparing for the interview, find common areas of interest with the panel members – this will help you decide on relevant examples and stories to share. Keep in mind that they are not just evaluating your experience and skills but also considering “cultural fit.”
Tip: Read How strong interpersonal skills can help you in your job search to learn more about refining your soft skills and fitting-in to the workplace.
4. Be mindful of your body language
As you continue to respond to questions, be aware of your body language. Don’t just focus on the most senior person at the table but acknowledge and make eye contact with everyone in the room. You can start by looking at and directing your initial answer to the interviewer who asked the question. As you continue to elaborate, remember to shift your gaze and address the other panel members; keep the vibe conversational.
Tip: Practice your body language – eye contact, body posture, hand movements, avoiding nervous activities like tapping your feet or drumming your fingers, etc. If you’re taking notes, remember the 90:10 rule; spend more than 90 per cent of your time looking at the interviewers and less than 10 per cent of your time looking down at your notes.
In a panel interview, with different questions from multiple people that can feel like a rapid fire round, it is very easy to get defensive – in words and actions. Try to control the pace and flow of conversation by not rushing your responses and taking the time to think before you speak. Be sure to keep your answers brief and to the point, as you will probably get asked another question before you’ve fully responded to the last. If an interviewer cuts you off to ask a new question and you have something important to say in context to the previous question, you can politely request to share a final thought before answering the new one.
5. Prepare for follow-up questions
A panel interview is usually fast-paced and prompts more than usual follow-up questions from the panelists. Don’t lose your cool, be patient and polite with your responses. To avoid sounding repetitive, be sure to have sufficient examples and anecdotes to better explain your background and experience.
Tip: Ask some of your friends to host a mock panel interview and encourage them to dive deeper into your responses by asking multiple follow-up questions. This will help you feel at ease during the actual interview.
6. Ask questions
Always keep in mind, an interview isn’t just a time for a company to get to know you. It’s also a time for you to get to know them. Regardless of the format, asking questions to interviewers demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to do your research and are truly interested in the role. So, go through the job description, refer to the company website, look up LinkedIn profiles of all the panel members and use that information to ask relevant questions.
Tip: If you’re wondering how many questions to ask – it’s a good idea to consider the number of people on the panel and then add one or two to that number. So, if you have three people on the panel, prepare four or five questions.
7. End the panel interview gracefully; send “thank you” notes
At the end of the interview, it is good practice to extend a firm handshake to each of the interviewers while making eye contact and thanking them for their time. And as with other interview settings, be sure to convey your gratitude by sending a personalized thank you note to each interviewer a day after the interview.
Before you leave the interview, do ask about who will be in touch with the next steps and when you could expect to hear back. This will help you determine when to follow-up and whom to reach out to if you have further questions.
Panel interviews can seem intimidating and make you very nervous. However, building a rapport with the interviewers and being thoroughly prepared to showcase your skills and experience with ample examples will enable you to ace the interview.