Asked&Answered: Preparing for a Panel Interview

Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly advice column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Career Services Consultant, answers reader questions. Have a pressing concern about your job (search)? Submit your question here.

Q: How should I prepare for a panel interview?

A: In general, preparing for a panel interview is the same as preparing for a one-on-one interview. Keep in mind that there will be some difference in how you behave during and after the interview.

meetingroom.jpgUsually, you won’t know ahead of time if you’ll be interviewed by a group; you can ask but the employer may or may not be willing or able to tell you.

Nevertheless you’ll want to do the usual research on the employer, have answers ready for questions you are likely to be asked, and do at least one mock interview beforehand where you don’t know in advance what the questions will be. If you can get two or more people to do the mock interview with you, that’s even better, as fielding career-related questions from multiple people will become more familiar to you. This can reduce nervousness when you are in front of a real-life panel.

Be prepared to discuss why you feel you are a strong candidate for the position. Review the job description right before the interview so what the employer is seeking is fresh in your mind.

If there is some way that you can find out who the panelists are (perhaps through someone in your network), look at their Linkedin profiles and elsewhere to learn more about them before you meet. If you don’t know their identities before the interview, try to write down their names and titles when you are introduced. Don’t worry too much if you can’t, though; you can always get the information later from the person who contacted you to set up the interview. (You’ll need that information later for your thank you notes. However you choose to send them, each person should get a brief individualized note or email of thanks.)

Have your origin story and “elevator speech” ready, as the information in them is likely to be asked of you in some way.

Nonverbal communication is important in any interview. As you answer each question, make eye contact with every person who on the panel, no matter which one asked the question. If you see someone frowning or looking confused, address that. You can say, “would you like more details about that?” or “do you have a question?” or something similar.

At some point, you are likely to be asked if you have any questions for the panel. If you don’t already know who the supervisor for the job is, be sure to find that out, but don’t assume that the boss is the only one you really need to win over. Remember that this will be a group decision, and however well things seem to be going, don’t let down your guard. You are being evaluated every moment you are there.

Remember, too, that you are there to gather information as well as provide it. It can help you to feel less nervous if you think of the interview as a conversation to determine mutual compatibility. Pay attention to how each panelist behaves and asks questions. Watch how they interact with each other. Observe that workplace and everyone you encounter carefully and note your gut reaction. If you are hired, these will be your new colleagues. Consider any red flags during the interview and take them into account when deciding to accept the position if it is offered.