You have made it through the initial telephone screen with the recruiter and the next step is to be interviewed by a panel. That can be nerve wracking and it seems like a lot of judging by 2-5 people at one time. For companies, it makes a lot of sense because it takes the least amount of time for them and for you it gets you in and out quickly. But, how do you remain calm and answer the questions in a way that keeps you in the running as a top candidate? My top 12 pointers are:
- Investigate interviewers. Learn as much as possible about each interviewer. Often, the panel consists of a human resources professional, your direct supervisor, others from the department or cross functional team leaders/members you may work with. Ask the person who is setting up the interview the names of the panel members and their functions. It is helpful to know if you are being evaluated by only the team whom you will be working with on a daily basis or whether it is a mix of department heads/members. For example, if you are being hired for a mergers and acquisitions project management role, you would have several stakeholders, e.g. finance, human resources, and legal. Then, use LinkedIn to read up on each person’s background … or if you have an inside track into the organization, try to uncover facts about their reputation and work style.
- Think of the questions that may be asked by the panel. Thoughtfully write out your answers and rehearse with a buddy or a coach.
- Memorize names. Addressing each person by their name is professional and indicates your respect for them. Be sure to list their names on your writing pad before you enter the room, just in case you have a memory lapse.
- Reduce nerves. Adrenalin and nerves come with the territory. Take 10 minutes before the interview to take deep breaths and visualize success. If you are by yourself in a holding area, you can pace back and forth or walk as it reduces anxiety and increases memory. Take a bottle of water into the room just in case they don’t have beverages.
- Take notes. Bring your writing pad to jot down key points you want to follow-up on. Just be sure to ask permission to take notes. Everyone always says yes and it indicates you want to be thorough.
- Tell us about yourself. Be prepared to go into your short synopsis of your work history and the skills that you bring to the organization. Not more than two minutes as they have your resume in front of them. This is the icebreaker before they start asking questions.
- Include equal eye contact. Often interviewees look at only the person who has asked them a question. This is a mistake. Each question needs to take into account each stakeholder’s frame of reference and how it relates to the working relationship you will have with their group. This makes it more conversational instead of rapid question-response to one interviewer at a time. Make eye contact with the person who asked the question first, then shift eye contact and your body towards the panel member when you talk about their specific area of expertise. This makes it feel like you are interested in building a relationship with each panel member versus deferring to one person at a time.
- Make connections. For each question, think how it can be answered representing the different constituents on the panel. Reference previous questions that help make your point or allow you to follow-up with a question.
- Watch body language. If you see arms crossed or no eye contact, this is a person you need to win over. Focus some of your questions to them or talk about their point of view. All the panel members will appreciate your influencing skills when they see this person shed their resistance.
- Ask questions. It is the kiss of death to have no questions for the panel. Clarifying questions relative to “what does success look like to them after you’ve been on board 90 days?” “What do they view as immediate challenges to address?” Any questions relative to culture you want to uncover are appropriate. One of my favorites to uncover culture is “why do you think people stay with the company?” The obvious last question is “What is the timeline for selection?”
- Express interest in the position. So many times, I have interviewed candidates and wondered whether the person was actually interested in the job. A short and simple statement works best: “based upon what I have heard from each of you, I am very interested in the position and would be thrilled to be working with you.” Be sure to make this your final comment to the group before you leave. Then, as you head for the door, address each by name, thank them, and shake hands firmly.
- Follow-up. Thank you notes to all the panel members is a must. Be sure to get their business card or contact information from the person coordinating the panel interview.
Remember, panel members are looking for candidates who stand up under pressure, are articulate, display an interest in other’s agendas, and will make a difference in their organization. At the end of the day, they will queston: are you a good fit for them? Do you have the hard and soft skills needed to solve their problems? Will you mesh with the culture? Will you build a lasting relationship with your stakeholders? Use the panel to your advantage to win multiple votes to get the job. Finally, ask yourself … is this organization the right fit for you?
To Your Career Success,