While it may seem daunting to face a group of interviewers, a panel interview can actually be fairer and sometimes easier than the normal one-to-one.
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. If your interview is held virtually, these might be faces on a screen.
While it may seem daunting to face a group of interviewers, panel interviews 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, try to establish a rapport with them. This could be by making eye contact during an in-person interview or, if it is relevant, referring back to an interesting comment they made during your responses/questions at the end. For graduate interviews, it's unlikely that you'll face more than three interviewers.
- Who should I look at? As mentioned earlier, this is the face-to-face panel interview dilemma. 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 or typing 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? Far from a cunning ruse to test the honesty of your earlier answer, this is 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.
Two top tips for virtual panel interviews
- Test it out. The chances are, you’ll know the platform of your interview beforehand. So, ask a few friends or family members to join a meeting and make sure you look and sound fine from where they’re sitting. Have a look at how many people are on your screen at one time and play around to see whether you can adjust this. If possible, it’s probably a good idea to ensure you can see the whole panel. If not, you should see whoever is speaking anyway, which is the most important thing.
- Maintain eye contact – even if they can’t tell who you’re looking at. Looking at the person who is talking will help you to stay engaged. Try not to see the screen in front of you, but instead pretend you’re in an office with the panel. That will help to stop your eyes from wandering around your room or your facial expressions from revealing a bit too much, or not enough, of what you’re feeling.