Panel interviews can be a feature of graduate assessment centres, but they can also be a standard interview method for professions such as teaching and other areas of the public sector. You could find yourself facing just two interviewers, or four or more.
While it may seem daunting to face a group of interviewers, they can actually be fairer and sometimes easier than the normal one-to-one. If a solitary interviewer doesn't take a shine to you, you're sunk, but in a panel, consensus can overrule. Having several interviewers can also make the experience more relaxed, as there is often more opportunity for friendly chat or discussion. If there is opportunity for you to ask questions, you could benefit from a range of different perspectives.
Who to look at and how to respond to panel interviewers
- Who will be on the panel? There may be a mixture of personnel specialists, technical experts and line managers. You may be told who will be on your panel in advance of the day. If not, listen carefully as they introduce themselves because knowing who's who can determine how you answer their questions. If you'd be working closely with one person, make eye contact and try to establish a rapport with them. For graduate interviews, it's unlikely that you'll face more than three interviewers.
- Who should I look at? Direct your answer to the person who asked the question, but make sure to include the others with a few brief glances. This will also show that you have good meeting skills, which will be useful if the job involves client contact. You may find that only one interviewer asks the questions: respond to them, but still be inclusive of the others. As far as possible, try to build a rapport with everybody in the room.
- What do I do if one member of the panel looks bored? The bigger the panel, the greater the likelihood that its members will have different interests. Bear in mind that a technical question is not likely to interest a personnel manager, for instance, so focus on the technical expert instead.
- What if someone starts scribbling notes? Don't let this throw you: obviously they need to keep a record of what's going on. This happens in all types of interviews.
- What if they ask the same question twice? This is not a cunning ruse to test the honesty of your earlier answer, it's probably a mistake. Someone wasn't paying attention. There's nothing you can do about it, so just get on with answering the question... again. See it as an opportunity to fill in any further information you may have missed the first time.