The Best Advice for Committee Interviews

Everything from where to sit to who to look at during a panel interview.

Walking into a conference room and fielding questions from several interviewers can be nerve-racking. Being well prepared and maintaining eye contact with all the members of the committee are two starting points. Here are some other ways that you can impress the panel during a multi-person interview.

Who’s who?

“To prepare for the interview, you want to find out who is in the room,” said Deborah Brown-Volkman, a professional certified coach ( PCC ) and the president of a career, life and mentor coaching company. “Sometimes you have people from different disciplines – from finance, from marketing, from operations. You want to know something about them so that whenever asked a question you can tailor the answer to their background. You would, for example, answer the marketing guy with a more marketing bend.”

Kelly Dingee, a sourcing researcher and executive trainer for AIRS, an executive search firm, agrees: “I am a source researcher. So when I interview, I do (a) background search (on) the people I am talking to. I want to see what their level of experience is. Professional networks can give you some idea of what they are affiliated with and certainly if they have any other associations. If you are an engineer and you are interviewing with an engineering manager who is very active with a certain engineering association, that will give you a point of reference during the interview.”

Position yourself

You usually don’t know if it is going to be a roundtable or set up as a panel with you exclusively under the spotlight. “You need to position yourself and make sure that you are comfortable,” Dingee said, “because you want to be able to appear at ease even if you are nervous.”

Actress Deidrie Henry, who this year appeared on television in “Three Rivers,” “Southland” and “Lie To Me” and will soon be seen in the feature film “Beautiful Boy,” knows something about auditioning in front of a committee. She advises job seekers and actors alike to seek out a familiar or sympathetic face. “A lot of times when I will walk into a room, there is someone who knows me or knows my work. So they are on my side already, and my immediate thing is to connect with them whether I know them or not and to bring a sense of who I am to the group.”

Maintain eye contact with everyone
“The simplest piece of advice is to relate the answer to the person who asked the question but include everyone else through basic eye contact,” said actor Douglas Dickerman, who appeared on “Numbers,” “Law and Order” and on several national commercials and also understands the pitfalls of walking into an audition. “Make sure your answer engages not just the initial questioner but everyone else in the room.”

Dingee also emphasizes eye contact. “Maybe the person on the far left has asked the question. You need to make sure that you turn your attention to them but then also make eye contact, answer the question and look at everybody else. But light back up on the person who actually asked it. Reflect back and make sure that you answered the question completely.”

Be yourself, but adjust your energy

You might be tempted to play to your audience and tune your personality to the personalities in the room. Don’t, said Risalvato.

“Although you have to appeal to several different personalities, I subscribe to the school of just being yourself,” he said. “If you try anything other than being yourself, it is eventually going to come up that they were sold on a different person. I don’t subscribe to modifying your behavior but be cognizant of the fact that you are in an interview.”

Be yourself, Brown-Volkman agreed, but kick up the energy level a notch. After all, you are the center of attention, she said; raise your energy a fraction, “even if the person asking the question has an energy level a little lower than yours.”