The Complete Guide to Panel Interviews
Contributor Elizabeth Magill gives you the inside scoop on how to prepare for a successful panel interview.
If the fear and anxiety of one-on-one interviews make you break out into a cold sweat, you may entertain thoughts of heading for the hills when a prospective employer mentions that you’ll be interviewing with a full panel of people … yes, all at once.
Some job candidates compare a panel interview to a firing squad. Others may even think it’s a little unfair.
Regardless of what camp you’re in, many companies view this is a golden opportunity to see how job candidates react “under fire.”
With the right preparation though, you can come into the panel interview so ready in mind, body, and attitude that the panel conducting the interview never sees you sweat. This ultimate guide on how to ace the panel interview will help you do just that — stay calm and cool when the heat is on.
What is a Panel Interview?
Panel interviews are interviews at which multiple interviewers are present. Panels typically consist of two to five people, though in some instances there may be more. There’s often one person who “leads” the interview, though all who are present are important.
For the employer, there are distinct advantages in conducting panel interviews. It boils down to the philosophy that the involvement of multiple interviewers increases the accuracy of assessing a candidate’s match for the position.
There can also be surprising advantages for you, the interviewee. Panel interviews give you a chance to clarify points or explain your expertise in more detail. With multiple questions from different perspectives, you have added opportunities to discuss knowledge, skills, and experience that otherwise wouldn’t come to light.
Why do Companies Use Panel Interviews?
The main reason that companies like panel interviews are that it allows various representatives of the hiring organization, business, or agency to reach a consensus before making a hiring decision.
Panel interviews also save time for the organization. The company can schedule one interview instead of coordinating several different one-on-one meetings.
What are Panel Interviewers Looking For?
Naturally, different organizations prefer panel interviews for different reasons. For example, the University of Delaware offers an excellent explanation of what many employers want to learn about candidates with panel interviews, which includes the following:
- Reactions to the stress of “rapid fire” questioning
- Interaction with all panel members
- Style of communication with people in different positions within the organization
- Flexibility in communication
- Ability to build rapport
Beyond that, panelists will be looking for the same things that the typical one-on-one interviewer looks for:
- Can you do the job? Focus on your experience and training
- Are you a good fit? Focus on work style and personality fit with the organization culture
- Are you a smart risk? Focus on any red flags or risk factors
What Industries and Positions Use Panel Interviews?
In some industries and sectors, the panel interview is an established way to vet candidates. You’ll find panel interviews most common in the following fields and positions, though you may find them in other employment sectors as well:
- Academic institutions
- Large non profit organizations
- Senior executive positions across many industries
- Government organizations and related agencies
The University of Edinburgh, for instance, frequently engages candidates in panel interviews, often inviting candidates to offer a presentation to the panel before the actual interview begins. Since candidates in this setting are often looking for departmental positions or interested in becoming part of a specific research group, the presentation is an excellent opportunity to display knowledge of and passion for the area of research and interest.
Common Panel Interview Formats
Panel interview formats vary greatly among industries and according to the specific job functions you’ll be required to perform. The examples below showcase the wide variety of formats and expectations.
Your panel interview experience may closely resemble one or more of the formats listed below or be something completely new and different.
Academic Panel Interviews
As part of the screening and interview process for instructors at MiraCosta College, candidates must provide a teaching demonstration and written exercise for the panel reviewing them, according to a HigherEds job posting. Interviewers may or may not ask you to present the demonstration and written assignment. However, since it is a possibility, it is wise to have them prepared and polished before making the trip.
Northwestern University: Feinberg School of Medicine
The Feinberg School conducts both individual and panel interviews. The individual interviews last half an hour or less and include questions about motivations and interests in studying medicine. This is also an opportunity to discuss or add updates to applications.
The panel interview is a more interactive affair that includes two faculty members and a fourth-year medical student as part of the panel. This is a “blind” interview where interviewers have not had the opportunity to review applications.
Interviewers here seek to discern the following about candidates during the interview:
- Oral Expression
- Attention to Others
- Critical Thinking
- Problem Solving
- Interpersonal Communication
The panel interview at Feinberg School of Medicine is also a group interview involving other candidates. Part of the evaluations involves how you react to and interact with other candidates throughout the interview and during a cooperative activity.
Corporate Panel Interviews
Global Insurance Firm
Over the last few years, panel interviews have become a requirement for certain high-level positions at this global insurance firm. Corporate human resources provide protocols to use which include the following:
- The candidate is given a list of questions to answer about themselves (why they are interested in the position, what their 100-day plan would be, etc.). The candidate then gets about 15 minutes to present their answers to the panel.
- The candidate is assigned a case study in advance and must present to the interview panel, which typically consists of 4-5 panelists. The candidate is given 20 minutes for this step.
- The candidate is given three scenarios to choose from and must prepare a 3-5 minute elevator speech for the chosen scenario. For example, one scenario is that the candidate runs into the head of a prospective client company and must convince him to choose their firm.
The panel interviewers have an evaluation sheet for each section and must rate the candidate on key requirements for the role. Panelists rank the candidates, and the firm looks for a consensus on the top two.
When Caesars Entertainment interviews for cashiers, the interview process is quite extensive, according to how one candidate described the process on Glassdoor.com. The beauty of the interview format at Caesars is that it combines a group interview, a panel interview, and a skills component.
During the group interview, the candidate was asked a group of personality-oriented questions by recruiters. The goal is to get to know the candidate better to discern whether he or she is a good fit in a people-oriented position like that of a cage cashier.
Since the cage cashier position is a number-intensive job, the skills section is designed to see if the candidate has the basic math skills necessary to do the job.
Finally, the candidate reaches the panel interview portion. During this portion, the candidate is once again questioned along with other people interested in the position. This time the panel consists of two interviewers asking the questions.
What interviewers are looking for during this portion of the interview isn’t so much the answers you provide but the attitude with which you provide them.
Chicago Office Technology Group
The hiring process for a Solutions Specialist at Chicago Office Technology Group, as explained by a candidate on Glassdoor.com, is somewhat unique. Candidates must take two different personality or pre-employment tests prior to an initial interview.
Once the pre-employment testing is over, candidates go out into the field with sales reps in order to get an honest preview of what the job involves. This is when they get a one-on-one interview with a manager.
Then, there is a panel interview where candidates must “sell” themselves by showing what they have to offer Chicago Office Technology Group and then tell interviewers about their goals within the company.
Government Panel Interview
A Large Government-Related Agency
A general overview of the panel interview process at a large government-related agency is as follows:
- The candidate is required to fill out a detailed written application, which includes “essay” questions detailing examples of relevant experience.
- If selected as a finalist, the candidate will have a panel interview with 4-6 individuals. The panel generally includes the hiring manager, a representative from human resources, and additional individuals with expertise on the job and its duties.
- The panel interview is generally conducted via phone due to the global nature of this organization and the fact that people are located in different cities.
- The interview is focused on behavioral/competency questions. The job description includes detailed information about the required competencies, so the candidate has some idea of what he/she will be asked about.
- Generally, the interview is about 40 minutes long.
- After the interview, each panelist completes a detailed scoring sheet, rating the candidate in each competency.
- The panel then reviews the scores, discusses the top candidates in more detail, and makes a decision.
Medical Panel Interview
Interviews at the Mayo Clinic have a two-fold purpose, according to the organization. They seek to give candidates the opportunity to learn more about the position and the organization. They also give candidates and management team members the opportunity to assess whether or not they’re a good fit for one another.
S – Interviewers ask candidates to describe a particular situation.
H – Interviewers want you to identify challenges and hindrances you encountered.
A – Explain your actions.
R – Examine the results.
E – Evaluate the lesson learned.
Other Panel Interviews
Fort Wayne Fire Department
Panel interviews are part of the pre-employment process used by the Fort Wayne, IN Fire Department. Panels consist of three or more Fort Wayne Fire Department members who alternate asking various questions.
Candidates receive the list of interview questions upon walking into the room. Panel participants look for the following among candidates.
- Life Experiences
- Relevant Skills
Panel members score candidate’s answers and do not interact with the candidate.
Orange County Firefighter/Paramedic Assessment Center
Assessments for the Orange County Firefighter/Paramedic Assessment Center consist of interviews conducted by a two- or three-person panel, an oral presentation, and a practical assessment.
The purpose of the interview is to gauge the depth of knowledge candidates have about the field while the assessment allows the panel to judge a candidate’s practical proficiency in various tasks the candidate will be called upon to perform if employed.
Potential Panel Interview Questions
Many companies are moving away from standard interview questions in favor of questions that reveal more about the way candidates think. The questions asked by panels are very similar to the ones asked in one-on-one interviews.
Behavioral questions, whether they involve handling conflict, problem solving, or leadership, often have the greatest emphasis in panel interviews — sometimes with each interviewer assigned specific questions to ask.
It’s not the questions, then, that are different, but the manner in which they are asked. In many instances, that’s the entire point of panel interviews — to view how candidates respond in high-stress situations.
Think about the careers that often involve panel interviews: medical professionals, paramedics, firefighters, public service employees, educators, and high demand fields such as government employees and people in executive positions. These are high-demand, high-stress positions. They are positions where rapid-fire answers and the ability to think fast on your feet are daily necessities.
Expect questions like these during your panel interview.
- Explain a time when you were under a great deal of pressure to meet a deadline. How did you handle the situation?
- Describe a time when there was tension between yourself and a customer or colleague. How did you resolve the situation?
- How would your colleagues describe you?
- How would you address opposition when introducing new policies to co-workers or people on your staff?
- Describe an event or experience that has changed the shape of your worldview.
- Tell us what you’ve done to prepare for this particular job.
- If you could choose to become any superhero, who would it be, and why? (This is one example of a “weird” question that requires some creative thinking on the spot)
Once again, there aren’t exactly right or wrong answers to these questions. The questions are designed to see how well you respond or react to the questions and their delivery. Keep your cool and answer one question at a time no matter how many you’re peppered with.
How to Prepare for a Panel Interview
When preparing for a panel interview, you’ll follow the same steps you would when preparing for any job interview.
In addition, it’s helpful to have a general sense of what to expect in a panel interview and how to adjust your style (which is why we are sharing this article).
Before the panel interview, don’t forget to do the following:
- Research the company
- Analyze the job description
- Anticipate likely questions
- Prepare your behavioral stories
- Develop meaningful questions to ask
- Practice, practice, practice!
Other Panel Interview Preparation Tips:
- When making arrangements for the interview ask who will be on the panel and find out their titles. Then learn as much as possible about each panel member through Google and LinkedIn.
- Bring extra copies of your resume and hand one out to each and every panel interviewer.
- Look for ways to connect with various panel members based on common ground.
- Practice your communication skills. You particularly want to practice dealing with a group dynamic. Make eye contact with everyone. Display confidence. Smile. These things are important and often the first things you forget about when nerves are frayed.
- Prepare to answer questions, just as you would for any other job interview. Understand, however, that many panel questions are going to be behavior-oriented questions. Tailor your responses accordingly.
Big Interview provides more information on the importance of non-verbal communication in this post.
Tips for Doing Well During a Panel Interview
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends treating panel interviews like business meetings. Come prepared to take notes and ask if it’s OK to take notes at the beginning of the meeting. This helps you keep track of panel members, by name.
It’s important to remain calm even if the interview begins to heat up. Understanding what they’re looking for ahead of time can help keep you cool and calm even during a stressful interview.
The journal Science advises that it is critical for candidates to exude confidence with good eye contact, proper posture, and a firm handshake. You’ve made enough eye contact only when you can identify the color of each panel member’s eyes.
Ask Good Questions
Don’t forget to ask questions. Your questions indicate your level of interest in the job. If you’re too general with your questions or have none to ask at all, you risk coming across as disengaged, which makes them think you don’t really want the job. And when it is time to ask a question, direct it to a particular interviewer. If others chime in on the answer, make eye contact with each in turn.
Big Interview provides insight into the 12 best questions to ask at the end of a job interview in this post.
The Biggest Pitfall to Avoid During Panel Interviews
Perhaps the biggest pitfall of all during panel interviews is the temptation to play to one-panel members. Sometimes, it’s the quiet panel members — the ones who are silently watching and taking notes — that have the most hiring influence.
Make a point of preparing questions for and asking questions of all the members of the interview panel if you’re privy to who they are ahead of time. This helps you engage them all and gives you another opportunity to make eye contact in an effort to win them over.
Following Up After the Panel Interview
It’s important to follow up with each individual who participated in the panel interview. Hopefully, you were able to write down the names of every member or collect business cards with appropriate email or mailing addresses during the interview.
Pay attention to the corporate culture of the business. Most businesses are fine with email “thank you” notes, which should be sent within 24 hours of the interview. You don’t want to give them an opportunity to forget details about the interview. Some companies, particularly more traditional organization, will give more consideration to someone who sends a hand-written “thank you” letters.
Your thank you note is your last opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Make it count.
Parting Thoughts on Panel Interviews
Hopefully, after reading and studying this guide, you’ll be properly prepared and feel confident about walking into your next panel interview.
But what if you’re still spooked about your upcoming panel interview? Here’s a tip: Keep a handkerchief close by. When it is time to shake all the interviewers’ hands on the panel, discreetly dry off those sweaty palms prior to doing so.
INSPIRATION: Will Smith in a panel interview in The Pursuit of Happyness