You’ve just been told your interview won’t be a one-on-one or series of individual interviews, but a panel interview instead. Maybe it’s your first panel interview. Maybe they just freak you out and throw you off your game. It can be intimidating going before the “firing squad,” so to speak. But don’t be intimidated. Think of this as an opportunity to convince more decision makers of how good a fit you are. Get as many of them on your side as you can. It’s a much more efficient use of time!
But if the rapid fire scenario still frightens you and your nerves are daunted by the extra pressure, here are 7 strategies for how to prepare and sail through.
1. Do your homework.
Think about the preparation required for a normal interview, then multiply that by the number of people on the panel, at least. Figure out, first of all, who is going to be on your panel. You can ask the recruiter or hiring manager for names and titles; this is standard practice and will help you better assess what might be most important to each. Find out as much as you can about their roles, successes, career backgrounds. Think about the questions each one might be likely to ask and then prepare great answers.
Then, go through your resume to make sure you don’t need to explain away any gaps or oddities. And then rehearse. Have friends or family fire questions at you, so you can practice answering them, and addressing each questioner by name.
2. Look smart.
Show up 10 minutes early (you should do this anyway, but wasting four or 10 people’s time is much worse than just one). Wear something professional and make sure your appearance is well-groomed and neat. Consult the company’s dress policy and err on the side of caution. Try a dark, smart suit if in doubt.
Present yourself with confidence and keep your body language open. Don’t fidget. Sit up straight, smile, and don’t forget to breathe. Remember to make eye contact with questioners when answering. And then make sure your confidence level doesn’t spill over into arrogance.
3. Build rapport.
Once you get a sense of the room, start getting comfortable, and make sure everyone else is comfortable too. Answer each question directly to the person who asked it, but find a way to broaden out your answer at the end and address the group. Show how you can engage the room, build up a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. Put people (i.e. customers/coworkers) at ease. Remember to keep each member of the panel in mind with each answer. Don’t exclude the rest of the panel to answer one question too narrowly or directly.
4. Control the pace.
The rapid-fire situation only has to be overwhelming if you let it. Remember, you can control the pace of the conversation. You are well within your rights to pause before answering a question. Get to the point quickly, keep your answers brief, and don’t get bogged down. This will help you get your answers out before the next question comes your way.
If you get cut off before you finish, immediately ask yourself whether what you were going to say was important enough to persist. If not, move on. If yes, politely say you’d like to just share one final thought on the previous question, then move on.
5. Prepare for follow-ups.
Just as in a normal interview, you will probably get follow-up questions to your answers in a panel interview situation. Do your best to prepare for this as you usually would, taking into account ways you can broaden your follow-up answers to engage more of the group.
6. Make connections.
Whenever possible, connect your answers to other questions or other answers during the interview. This shows that you are constantly tracking the bigger picture, and making connections. Don’t underestimate how impressive comments that link back to other comments can be to the panel and its individual members.
7. Follow up.
Thank each member of the panel individually whenever possible, with a firm handshake, eye contact, and a genuine smile. Then send personalized thank you notes—preferably handwritten—to each, and promptly. Gather up as many business cards as possible—this will help with thank yous and with future networking.