Photo: Cristian Newman
Sometimes, you get a single interviewer. And sometimes, you get several, all at once: you’re in a room with what seems like the whole company, all of them staring at you. Stepping into a panel interview where executives are eager to pepper you with rapid-fire questions can be a tremendous challenge, and it’s perfectly normal to feel intimidated by the process, but you don’t have to be.
The right preparation and mindset can help you feel ready for a situation where you have to sell your experience to not just one person, but two, three, four, or maybe even five.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a panel interview?
A panel interview usually comes during the second or third round of the interview process and consists of a meeting with two to five of the company’s subject matter experts.
“The reason we do these is we really want to drill down and get to the next level of depth within the individuals background…so what we’re looking for in our panel interviews is technical aptitude,” said Celia Harper-Guerra, the Sprinklr Vice President of Talent Acquisition.
Why do companies use panel interviews?
There are various reasons companies decide to use panel interviews instead of speaking with candidates one-on-one. Here are a few:
- Companies may opt for panel interviews as a time-saving measure, according to Brandi Britton, the district president of Robert Half. “Instead of scheduling individual interviews that may be spread out over several weeks, a number of employees can learn about a candidate at the same time and the hiring company can quickly make a decision,” Britton said.
- Panel interviews also allow interviewers to see how applicants perform under pressure and respond to group situations.
- For certain roles, candidates are asked to give presentations, in which a group of professionals are able to examine, ask questions, and judge whether or not this is the best person for the job.
4 ways to succeed in a panel interview
- Know who you are interviewing with.
Not only that, but making sure you research the interviewers before your interview is a key element to acing this experience for a few reasons. candidates should have two or three data points on an interviewer so that they are able to relate to them, connect with them, and build rapport. Another important reason to do this research is so that you know your audience when delivering responses.
“This one seems so basic, but I can’t tell you how many people still that I will interview and you realize they have never even gone to LinkedIn and they truly don’t know your background,” said Diane Adams, the Chief Culture and Talent Officer at Sprinklr. “For me, that’s a nonstarter because it tells me you’re going to show up not prepared.”
Harper-Guerra even recommends connecting with the person on LinkedIn because it shows that you did your research and weren’t afraid to take action.
- Be prepared for a longer interview.
A panel interview is going to last significantly longer than a regular on-on-one interview, so make sure you’re prepared. At Sprinklr, they usually set up panel interviews for for 90 minutes. A normal interview is typically scheduled for an hour, so those extra 30 minutes can make a big difference in the moment.
“Plan your time accordingly, especially when you’re going to come into the interview and you know you’re going to have a panel and have to present,” Harper-Guerra said. “Share your agenda and talk about the time frame, because they are also going to look at how you manage your time.”
- This is time to shine around your technical aptitude.
You’re most likely meeting with subject matter experts during this panel interview, so this is your time to shine regarding your technical aptitude. Bring at least two or three examples of what you have done in your past that demonstrate your technical aptitude.
- Bring examples of culture fit.
“Bring examples of how you have worked in an environment that is similar or alike,” Harper-Guerra said. “We might not ask that question specifically in the panel, but if you have that capability of leveraging that and showing that while you’re in that panel interview, it’s just another data point that shows that they have a very holistic approach.”
Panel interview preparation
Candidates who can facilitate a meeting, a discussion, as well as demonstrate their technical aptitude are the ones that ace the panel interview.
“It’s that balance between unveiling those technical skills and having that executive presence along with those strong communication skills,” Harper-Guerra said. “So that’s what we’re looking for in this panel interview.”
In order to be able to communicate each of those aspects, candidates must show up prepared.
Here are four different things you can do to prepare:
- Mock interviews. Grab a few friends and ask each to give you different questions regarding the role, your skills, and the company values. This will help you form your answers as well as become comfortable answering to multiple people.
- Decide your top three. Adams suggests going into your interview with the top three messages that you want to leave an interviewer with. By being really clear to yourself what points you want an interviewer to understand, you have a base to jump off of for each question that is asked of you.
- Bring a notebook with your notes and a list of questions to ask during the interview. Harper-Guerra is thrilled when candidates come in curious about the role and company. “I love it when candidates come in and they have their questions,” she said. “I say, ‘thank you for coming prepared, I’m looking forward to spending time on these questions.'”
- Research each interviewer ahead of time. As mentioned, doing some background research on your interviewers is extremely important. Candidates need to know If they have any special connections with an interviewer, or if they can expect any certain types of questions from this person.
Panel interview questions
“While you’ll probably face a lot of the standard interview questions, be prepared for participants to ask different things depending on their job at the company,” Britton said. “If you do your research on attendees, you may be able to anticipate the types of questions that will be posed.”
For example, the manager overseeing the role will want to delve into your work style or how you’ll get specific tasks done, while a peer might be more concerned about your fit with the corporate culture. You can probably bet on at least a few behavioral interview questions, which you should definitely use the STAR method to answer.
Panel interview tips
- Introduce yourself and provide a copy of your resume to each attendee.
- Ask for a business card from everyone or jot their names down in the order they’re sitting so you know who you’re speaking to.
- Make eye contact with everyone at the table when you answer questions, not just the person who asked the question.
- Try to make the meeting conversational by tying back to previous questions in your responses and adding points that other interviewers would be interested in. This shows your listening skills and makes everyone feel like they’re part of the discussion.
How to handle the panel interview thank you letter
One of the most important aspects of nailing a panel interview is actually how you close it, which hopefully is with the best thank you letter ever. You can use this sample of an after interview thank you email as a base of where to start. While that sample will get you started, thank you notes for panel interviews are a bit of a different beast than those for regular interviews.
Some advice for a thank you note remains the same, including the following:
- Send the email within 24 hours.
- Make it personal.
- Reference specific points you discussed during the interview.
According to Harper-Guerra, this is your chance to elaborate on your technical fit one last time, whether it was a panel interview or not. The difference between writing a regular thank you email and crafting multiple after a panel interview is that you might have trouble remembering what exactly you discussed with each candidate, but it’s important that you find a way to remember and use that information in your note.
“It’s got to be personal for each person,” Harper-Guerra said. “They catch on if you use the same thank you note and you just change the name.”
Harper-Guerra recommends bringing a notebook to your interview. In addition to have a list of questions you want to ask in that notebook, you should be jotting down notes throughout the interview.
“It’s okay to take notes,” Harper-Guerra said. “If somebody is asking you a question, you can jot down two or three words about the question.”
Candidates shouldn’t be trying to copy the entire question down in their notebook, but writing down a few words and a way to remember who asked you that question is completely acceptable.
How panel interviews have changed over the years
“There was a day where the panel interviews were to just see..how much pressure could they take?” Adams said. “There was almost something about interviewers to build off of each other, add stress…when actually it should be exactly the opposite because the end goal is to really get to know that person versus intimidating, judging, or overwhelming them.”