We discuss the art of interviewing a lot here at Approachthemarket.co.uk as it is a fundamental part of job hunting. Earlier this month I was asked by a Finance Director about panel interviews and thought I should probably write a blog post about the subject.
Hopefully this will give you an insight into what you should do if you are asked to attend such an interview, and there are many more detailed resources on the internet which I have linked to at the end. So here goes…
What is a Panel Interview?
As the name suggests, this is where you sit in front a panel of interviewers (two or more), and for people I know who have experienced them, it is one of the hardest types of interview to get through. With so many people focussing on you and your every word at the same time, it can seem very intimating and tense, particularly if you are not well prepared.
Like any interview process, you need to stand out from the rest of the candidates somehow, and impress all the interviewers in the room as much as possible. There is a positive aspect to being in a panel interview which many people do not realise. In a one-to-one interview, if the interviewer does not get on well with you, you are unlikely to be asked back for a 2nd time. With panel interviews though, because you are meeting a variety of different people at the same time in the same room, a consensus is usually formed by all parties concerned, so no one person has ultimate power.
What Format Do Panel Interviews Take?
They are generally a lot stricter in format than one-to-one interviews, with set guidelines and a set agenda, which ensures that each panel member has a chance to question you at length. Due to the number of people present, there is little chance of being able to build up a strong rapport with each interviewer, so you may find it difficult to truly engage with them individually, but this is normal.
Try not to let this put you off, as each interviewer will be continually observing you in relation to your personality traits and in regard to the answers you give to job-related questions (even if you are not speaking directly to them). Panel interviews are well known for rapid questions being fired at you, mainly to gauge how well you handle such situations.
What Companies Use Panel Interviews?
A hard one to answer as each individual company can use whatever interview format they like. In the main though, it is larger corporate’s who recruit at the Director / Executive level, or those businesses that hire large volumes of staff. The format is commonly used in graduate recruitment too, looking for their future top talent and the Big4 Accountancy firms, Management Consulting and Financial Services firms are most notable here.
How Do You Prepare For A Panel Interview?
Like every interview you attend, being prepared and focused is critical. For more information on general interview preparation, you can read Sarah Coopers post entitled Questions Anyone? and a previous post of mine 10 Questions To Ask During An Interview. The first thing to do for a panel interview is MAKE SURE you know exactly who you will be meeting, and what their roles are in the organisation. Look up their details on the company website if they are part of the management team, or use the Linked-In platform to gather further information about their backgrounds.
Learning everything you can about the company is very important too, and my post Company Research will help you with this. If you have a panel interview for a Director / Executive level role, it is highly likely the interviewers will consist of some of the following:
- HR Director
- Finance Director
- Chief Executive
- Sales Director
- A non-executive Director
The interviewers are likely to include the following people for a Manager or similar level role:
- Divisional Manager
- Senior or Group Level Manager
- HR Adviser / HR Officer
- Senior Employee from the Division
Either way, it is critical that you conduct research on the company and panel members before you meet them in person. It will enable you to understand more about their individual roles in the organisation, and will help you to prepare for examples of where you have successfully managed a project or projects in those areas. Panel interviews typically include a variety of questions ranging from your job experience to competency based questions that include how you cope in specific situations. In essence, the more research you do, the better prepared you will be and the more confidence you will have to get through the interview.
How Should You Act During The Interview ?
Everyone’s eyes will be on you from the moment you enter the room, so try to create the best impression you can from the beginning. Introduce yourself to everyone individually to set the right tone, making sure you give them a firm handshake and greet them using their names. You MUST remember their names for later – when they start asking questions – so write down their names on your note pad as they are seated in front of you. Use care in selecting your clothes for the interview too, and for tips on this you should read my Dress To Impress post.
How Should You Answer Questions?
Make sure you have eye contact with the person asking the question initially, like you would in a one-to-one interview as this gives them the acknowledgment that you are at least listening. As everyone is important in the room, focus on the person who has just asked you the question first, and then make eye contact with the other panel members as you talk through your answer. There is a given rule that 60% of your eye contact should be on the person who asked the question, with 40% to the rest of the panel.
In addition to questions that you get asked, make sure you have a list of questions for the panel too. Having done your research on the interviewers already, think of questions that would be relevant to the areas of the business they are responsible for.
How Should You Conclude The Interview?
Like in a one-to-one interview, try to ask this open question at the end ‘is there anything else you would like to know that I haven’t covered already?’, and glance at each panel member individually. Answer those further questions as they come up, and wait for the lead interviewer who greeted you initially to close the meeting. This way, you know you will be leaving the room having covered everything you possibly can. Once you have left the room, it is too late ! Thank each person individually, remembering again to use their name and shake their hand before you leave.
There are many other resources on the internet that do go into a lot more detail than this, a number of which I have listed below:
Leslie has over 15 years Recruitment experience helping blue-chip corporates to SME businesses recruit for their Finance teams. As one of the founding Directors of McGinnis Loy, a Specialist HR and Finance Recruiter across the Thames Valley and London, he is still actively recruiting in the marketplace today. Follow his helpful tweets on Twitter: @McGinnisloy
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