Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
How to perform well at panel interview 15/08/2012
Whether it's an informal chat with your potential boss and their boss or a formal meeting with the senior management team, panel interviews can unsettle the most experienced interviewee. How can you ensure you perform well and sell yourself effectively?
Click to jump to section
- Do your homework
- Make eye contact
- Talk to everyone present
- Cater for everyone's needs
- Tell a good story
- Don't bluff it
Do your homework
You'll most likely be given the names or at least the job titles of the people you are due to meet. Look them up on the company's website and on social networking sites. Try to figure out what makes them tick. Which are the most important functions in the company? For example is it a sales-led or an innovation-led company?
Prepare examples from your work history which demonstrate skills and attributes which will be deemed important to each of the people around the table.
Make eye contact
It can be tempting to focus on the person who greeted you at reception and direct your comments to them or to only focus on the most senior person at the table, but this could be a mistake.
Make sure you make eye contact with everyone from the moment you enter the room. If you don't it could be perceived that you're avoiding them.
Talk to everyone present
There may be some people who sit silently observing and making notes while others dominate the conversation. Everyone who's at the interview is there for a reason and needs to be included when you address the panel. Be mindful that the note-taker could be the CEO's PA and will have a valid view on your suitability for the role you're interviewing for.
Cater for everyone's needs
Is it possible to please everyone? Yes, if you know how to seed the conversation with the right information. Have you ever been to a movie with friend and found afterwards you both liked different parts of it or had forgotten about things your friend remembered vividly? This is because just like everyone else you filter information out and focus on what appeals to you. You can safely bet that everyone around the table is listening out for the things that are relevant to them and will ignore much of the rest of what you say. They don't do it on purpose, it's just that it's impossible for them to mental record every single word coming out of your mouth.
Broadly speaking people from different departments are looking for the following at your interview:
- CEO – achievements and long term strategy
- Finance – return on investment
- Sales and Marketing – results, customer focus, understanding of the brand
- IT/Legal – technical competence
- HR – detail and people focus
Tell a good story
Given that all the people have different priorities, try to give examples of situations in the form of stories which include information at each point which is going to be relevant to them. For example:
• What you were trying to achieve
• What was going on
• How you approached the situation
• What you did
• How people reacted
• What the results were
• How the results compared with the original goal/brief
Don't bluff it
In a panel interview situation, there's a specialist in most business areas sitting in front of you. This is not the time to bluff your way through your answers. They will compare notes afterwards and you can be sure the specialist spotted your bluffing a mile off and will tell everyone else. If you don't know the answer to a question and can't call the information to mind on the spot, explain how you would find out.
With a panel interview you're still dealing with people. They all have a vested interest in finding the right person for the role. With the right preparation, you can demonstrate to all of them that you're the person for the job.
Hannah McNamara, coach, HRM Coaching
Hannah McNamara is a senior level coach specialising in leadership, management and career development. She works from her busy practice HRM Coaching Ltd in central London and is available for private coaching, corporate coaching programmes and in-house training.