The Hidden Advantage of Panel Interviews and How To Survive Them

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When I was a junior in college, I thought that I would be pursuing a career in television production.  So, when I found out that I got an interview for an internship at the Late Show with David Letterman, I was ecstatic!

Letterman Interns Summer 2008

Letterman Interns Summer 2008

However, my euphoria only lasted a couple more seconds until I read the e-mail further: the interview would last between 2-3 hours and I would be interviewing with twelve different people from seven different departments.  Some departments had one person, and others had three and four.   I was not comfortable interviewing with one person at that point, let alone interviewing with multiple people, so I was intimidated.

Help! source: sodahead.com

Help!
source: sodahead.com

After going through the experience and other experiences like it, I realized that most employers conduct panel  interviews, not to intimidate you, but to introduce you to people you could potentially work with all at once.  This tactic saves you (and them) precious time by not requiring you to participate in multiple interviews on different days to determine whether you are a fit for the position or not.  During that experience at Letterman, I learned a lot about how to successfully navigate the panel interview and was able to land the internship in the end.  Here are a few tips for success:

1.)    Make sure your first impression in the best impression.   This is obvious in any interviewing situation, but since you will be meeting with multiple people at once, their first impression of you is magnified.  Many panels meet after the interview is over to go over impressions, so do not let them harp on your errors in judgment instead of your fit for the position. Make sure that you arrive on time, are professionally dressed, and are prepared for the interview.

2.)    Make eye contact with each person on the panel and use first names to make connections.  When getting introduced to the people on the panel, make direct eye contact and write each person’s name down in the order you are introduced, so that you can use first names when answering questions to personalize responses. Engage in eye contact with everyone, not just with the person who asked you the question, to build rapport with the entire group.

3.)    Be prepared to repeat yourself.  It is counterintuitive that there should be repeat questions during a single interview, but some panelists may need further clarification about your answer either immediately after you answer the question, or later on in the interview.  This may be because each panelist has different needs—your potential supervisor may be more interested in why you left your last job, while a peer may be more interested in your analytical or data analysis skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you gave an unsatisfactory answer the first time around, so don’t let a repeat question slip you up.

4.)    Observe the group dynamics. Many people forget that an interview is a two way street. The panelists are there to interview you as a potential fit for the job, and you are there to interview the employer as a potential fit for your next career move.  A panel interview is an opportunity for you to observe how the group works as a team, and assess whether or not you will fit in the company culture and enjoy working there.

5.)    Get business cards and send individual thank you e-mails.  The thank you letter is a great way for you to solidify your interest in the position, and reconnect with everyone in the group.  Make sure that you send a letter to each individual, and personalize the content so that the letters aren’t all the same.  Think about what is important to each person in the group, and try to focus on one key exchange you had with that person.

Though panel interviews can be a very nerve-wracking experience, you are able to save time and observe group dynamics that you otherwise would not have been able to observe during multiple one-on-one interviews.  If you’re prepared, act professionally, and show enthusiasm, you’re on the fast track to earning a job offer.

Ashley LoBue is a Career Advisor at Northeastern Career Development.  A Boston College graduate, Ashley has over 3 years of experience working in higher education and is a proponent for international and experiential education.

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