Job Search Series – Nailing the Interview – Part 8 – The Panel Interview

Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.
~ H. Jackson Brown, Author, Life’s Little Instruction Book

Panel interviews have become popular with many companies because it involves various stakeholders in the hiring process for a particular position and often cuts down on or eliminates the need for successive interviews. The panel interview can save time and money for everyone involved, including the candidate.

Don’t be intimidated by panel interviews — they simply involve additional people to impress! If you think of a panel interview as a dance, as in Mr. Brown’s metaphor, you’ll want to fill your dance card with information about each interviewer before you arrive to maximize your opportunities for success. Just knowing that you will be attending a panel interview will help you to prepare and relieve some of your stress. And, if you have the interviewers’ information you’ll be able to greet them by name and make a good impression.

Use the techniques described in previous entries to prepare for the interview, combined with the following tactics to choreograph this somewhat challenging interview dance:

Be Prepared

When your initial interview is set up, ask if it will be with one interviewer or a panel. But, even if you’re told that you will be meeting with one interviewer, be prepared for the panel. I know of candidates who have been surprised upon arrival to their interviews to find that they were facing a panel.

Therefore, anticipate that there might be more than one interviewer – usually anywhere from two to five people, and arrive with additional copies of the documents you planned to bring to your interview (the exception would be your hard-copy portfolio, which can be passed around and, if necessary, copies requested).

When you are invited to interview, you may or may not be enlightened as to the format. You could inquire, but the manager might not know yet what the format will be. And, although you might be made aware beforehand that you’ll be interviewed by a panel instead of an individual you might not be told the names of all the interviewers, and it’s is a bit awkward to ask. Moreover, the interview organizer (the department head, hiring manager or an HR representative) might not know yet who those panel members will be.

When I was a hiring manager, sometimes I interviewed alone, occasionally inviting other staff members in on the spot to join the interview; other times I scheduled other managers who were available to co-interview with me.

Focus on Each Panel Member

When you are introduced to each member, listen to the pronunciation of each name, repeat it back to each one and ensure that you are pronouncing it correctly. Try to associate each name with its owner. Write down the names and pronunciations in parentheses next to the name on your note pad or on the backs of the members’ business cards.

Give each panel member your undivided attention, however briefly, at least once but as much as possible throughout the interview. Be sure to answer everyone’s questions to the best of your ability, and try to ask each panel member a question that pertains to his or her area(s) of expertise.

There are various configurations in which the panel members might be seated:

  • Everyone is gathered informally around a desk or conference table. This provides a more comfortable, relaxed and conversational atmosphere. But, it’s still an interview, so don’t let down your guard and continue to maintain a formal and professional attitude.
  • You are positioned across from the panel with the members seated side by side at a table facing you. This is obviously a more formal seating arrangement, either by design or habit. Don’t be intimidated; take a deep breath, relax (a bit), and smile. Even though they might look like a firing squad, they are not!
  • The group is seated in a circle or semi-circle either around a table or just in chairs, with you in the middle somewhere. This, too, can appear to be an informal arrangement, but although it seems cozy you should remain formal but friendly. And, in a circular configuration, remember to turn to the panel members seated next to you on the right and on the left. It’s surprising how easy it is to overlook the people who are seated right next to you!

Make Notes

Jot down the interviewers’ names and titles as they are provided (in case you are unable to obtain business cards for everyone later), key comments made and who made them and other thoughts you have during the interview. These notes will help you to formulate questions for the panel, your thank-you correspondence later and helpful information on the job should you be the successful candidate.

Obtain Business Cards / Verify Names

When the interview has concluded, thank each interviewer for her time and interest and mention any question or bit of information you found especially helpful or interesting. Ask each interviewer for her or his business card, or otherwise obtain the correct spelling of their names if you haven’t already obtained this information. If any or all leave the interview room before you have a chance to obtain such information (this could occur because they are rushing to another meeting or have an appointment), ask the coordinating interviewer, HR representative or the receptionist for their names, titles email addresses and locations to send snail mail. If you are unable to obtain the information, be gracious and accepting of this fact and don’t be annoying or pushy. You should be able to obtain the most important card, that of the person who coordinated the interview and / or was your main interviewer

Thank Each Member

The optimal approach following a panel interview is to send a thank-you to each member individually. This will be possible if you have been able to obtain everyone’s name, title and contact information. Customize each email or snail mail letter to the corresponding panel member; they might circulate your notes and will not be impressed with your lack of imagination if each note says exactly the same thing!

Join me next week for more details on post-interview thank-you correspondence!

Until next time,



Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s