Lessons Learned: What AMC’s “The Pitch” Can Teach You About the Panel Interview

This type of interview can be among the most intimidating for candidates, but preparation can help you come out a winner.

artInterviewing-2What’s scarier than interviewing with a high-powered hiring manager? How about interviewing with five!

The panel interview can be one of the most daunting aspects of the job search. “For many people it is scary because you feel you have five pairs of eyes staring at you instead of just one,” said Lisa Panarello, president and founder of Careers Advance. “You have perhaps five different personalities in the room and many different styles of questions coming at you.”

AMC’s new show “The Pitch” highlights the pressure-cooker intensity of these group interviews by following two advertising agencies as they try to land a major client, and premieres Monday, April 30. “I think the show will have merit from a job-search perspective,” Panarello said.

Much like a job interview, the stakes are high for all the principals involved in “The Pitch” as the ad men and women sell their brand to a room full of corporate executives. Panarello, an award-winning public speaker, said the challenge of a panel pitch is to handle the array of questions. “My strategy for a panel interview is the same as I’d give if you’re speaking to an audience,” she said. “Even though one person asked the question, they all want to hear the answer.”

She said the most effective way to address a panel is to start by directly answering the question to the person who asked it. Then, a few seconds into your answer, speak to the person next to her and go around the room — making individual eye contact with everyone on the panel — as you elaborate. When you get to the end of your answer, she said, finish with the person who originally asked the question. “Too many people just scan the crowd,” Panarello said. “That’s damaging to your marketability — you’re going to seem scared.”

Deliberately connecting with each interviewer will help you articulate the pitch for the group. The key, she said, is to keep track of who everyone is and what aspects of your brand each will find valuable. “To one person maybe you’re selling your technical skills, to someone else your creativity,” Panarello said. “You wind up being multiple people.”

All the public-speaking tools are helpful but they can’t be used effectively if you’re not thoroughly prepared. On “The Pitch,” a good portion of the show breaks down the preparation process, including briefing meetings where the teams come in to learn about the client and what they’re trying to accomplish with the advertising campaign.

Panarello says that preparation is at the core of any serious job interview. “I would prepare for a panel pitch just like any other interview — know the company as well as you can and include that information in your answers,” she said. That includes knowing the company inside and out and knowing as much as you can about everyone you’ll be meeting.

While researching for the interview, Panarello suggests Googling each of the interviewers by name if possible. Their backgrounds can be obtained through their LinkedIn profiles, and news articles could come up as well. “Go beyond studying only the company Web site,” she said. “That’s going to show you went above and beyond.”

All this familiarity could be useful when crafting your answers and will also help you gain confidence. Panarello adds a warning to job seekers and advertising agencies, alike: Don’t oversell yourself and don’t try to memorize everything you’re going to say, especially for a panel interview. “You never prepare for being perfect,” she said. “You prepare to be your best.”