Photo: Cristian Newman
Sometimes, you get a single interviewers. 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 job 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. Taking specific steps can help you feel more ready for a situation where you have to sell your experience to not just one person, but two, three, four, or maybe even five.
Here’s how to handle situations where your introduction to an organization is nothing like a one-on-one meeting.
Do your research beforehand
You can never learn too much about a job interview upfront. A Monster article provides insight on how to avoid being ambushed during one, saying that you should figure out the interview format, and the recruiter in charge of the process can most likely let you know in advance. Identify the interviewers and length of the session if you can, because you can mold your responses more effectively when you know what to expect.
The piece says to keep in mind that “no matter how uncomfortable the interview situation—you are there as a professional to learn just as much about them as they are eager to learn about you.”
All good advice, if you can get the information. But what if you don’t know what you’re walking into well in advance?
Then you need some general guidance that can help you. First, be confident: part of the purpose of a panel interview is to make sure you won’t wilt in a group. The best way to keep this confidence is to remember that the panel is a collection of humans, just like you: individuals with varying career and life experiences who are curious to learn more about you. Be sure you’re fully prepared on the company and its background, as well as its executives —all of which should be information that’s publicly available.
Don’t get too caught up in a flurry of questions
If you appear flustered, out of breath, or panicked, it will work against you.
When it seems as if a thousand people are asking you questions, try to hold your ground as best you can on each one. Make space for your thoughts. To do that, repeat each question back if you need to check that you understood it correctly: “To make sure I understood correctly, you’re asking what the 5-year plan for revenue would be if I were in charge? Did I get that right?” Then, proceed calmly and rationally.
Remember that good answers are better than fast answers. A PayScale article explains why you should “pace your answers,” saying that the fact that there are a ton of questions from multiple interviewers doesn’t entitle you to “incomplete” responses. It recommends being comprehensive and calm in your answers, then moving on to following one; not disregarding anyone questioning you and requesting “clarification” if you need to hear a question again. It also says to watch everyone when responding to one person’s question.
Don’t obsess about body language
It can be tempting to overload your brain trying to figure out who in the room likes you and who doesn’t.
The article says that in terms of attention, you might want to prioritize people who are receiving you well, but Morgan says to “focus” it on each person present. The article continues, saying you need to “win over” the who don’t seem to be buying it during the session, and that when responding to one interviewer, you should lock eyes with the others to see how they’re reacting to what you’re saying.
A word of caution: try not to openly target most of your responses at people who seem to “closed” in the room in order to win them over. Doing so can appear desperate for their approval and attention— which will take away from the confidence you’ll need to project.
Don’t get flustered by how you think someone feels about you
But remember: just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they like you, and just because someone isn’t responding enthusiastically doesn’t mean they don’t. Keep an eye on major body-language red flags like rolling eyes or disdainful expressions, but don’t make too much out of the rest. Instead, hold your ground and remember what you bring to the table.
Remember that you could be reading someone’s body language wrong, so don’t exhaust yourself trying to decode every single expression that flashes across their face as you talk.
Also, everyone may not react positively to what you say, so don’t forget that you can’t always please everyone. Especially in a job interview, you should make sure you’re reflecting your true thoughts and philosophy of work. If you bend yourself into what other people want you to think, it could cause misunderstandings down the line.
Give interviewers a reason to remember your name afterward
Thank each interviewer for their time with a well-executed thank-you note. After all, nothing in the job hunting process is guaranteed, so it’s important to remember that each person on the panel took time out of their day and their responsibilities in order to thank you.
Keep it concise, friendly and make a personal connection. Failing to write a thank you note is a missed opportunity to show the interviewers you’re serious about the job.
There are steps you can take before, during and after panel interviews to come out on top.