Acing the Panel Interview

This in-depth analysis of the panel interview will show you how to turn a seemingly daunting situation into an advantageous one. Learn how to impress your small audience with these simple tips!

What is a Panel Interview?

A panel interview is a meeting with your potential employer in which multiple interviewers are present. Panels typically consist of two to five people, though in some instances there may be more. Typically, one person “leads” the interview, but keep in mind that all who are present are important.

For the employer, there are distinct advantages to conducting panel interviews. It boils down to the philosophy that the involvement of multiple interviewers increases the accuracy of assessing a candidate’s match for the position.

There can also be surprising advantages for you, the interviewee. Panel interviews give you the chance to clarify points or explain your expertise in more detail. With multiple questions from different perspectives, you have more opportunities to answer the most important question employers have on their minds: “Why should we hire you?

Why Do Companies Use Panel Interviews?

One of the main reasons employers use panel interviews is their cost-effectiveness. With multiple interviewers assessing a candidate’s worth simultaneously, the company saves precious time by limiting the number of interviews with the same person. Plus, each interviewer may form their own opinion about the candidate since they can see how they react to their questions firsthand.

It’s important to note that panel interviews aren’t cost-effective for the employer only. They’re also cost-effective for the candidate. The reason is the same. Interviewees save time by attending one interview instead of several. Also, you’ll be given the opportunity to assess the company you might be working for in the future by analyzing how this group of people communicates with each other.

Do they work well together? Are they formal or informal in a professional setting? Based on what you observe, you will be able to assess the situation quickly.

 

What are panel interviewers looking for?

Different organizations will choose to utilize panel interviews for different reasons. However, there are a few key factors that all interviewers will be paying close attention to when deciding to choose one candidate over another:

Reactions to the stress of “rapid-fire” questioning

Companies that often work with tight deadlines need to know that you’ve got what it takes to work well under pressure. Interviewers sometimes use a  “rapid-fire” questioning method to determine if a potential candidate can multitask and quickly react to any unforeseen issues that might occur if they get hired.

Interaction with all panel members

Most jobs will require you to work well within a team, so interacting with all panel members during the interview will show them that you can communicate efficiently with the people you’ll be working with. Make sure that you make eye contact with all interviewers while answering a question.

Style of communication with people in different positions within the organization

This criteria depends on the company you’ll be working for. Does it require you to speak formally to people in all positions, or should you be informal towards your co-workers and formal when communicating with the higher-ups? This is one of the advantages you’ll have during a panel interview. You’ll be able to figure out the dynamic of the company you want to work with.

Flexibility in communication

The interviewers will want to see that you’re an active listener who can give the person you’re communicating with your undivided attention. It’s a good idea to ask follow-up questions after one of the interviewers is done talking to show that you’ve been listening and you’re interested in what they have to say.

It also helps to be clear and concise with your replies. Less is more. Plus, nobody likes chatter for the sake of chatter. Clarify and summarize your answers using the interviewers’ style of language and echoing their words and phrases.

Ability to build rapport

Making a connection between yourself and your interviewer is essential in both regular one-on-one interviews and panel interviews. You’ll want to dress appropriately, maintain good posture, smile, be relaxed, and remember people’s names.

Find common ground at the beginning of the conversation through a bit of small talk and you will let your interviewers know that you’ve got a friendly personality and you’re easy to work with. Throw in a joke or two if you feel like there’s room, but keep it clean.

Most of these key factors are common in one-on-one interviews as well. To help you prepare to deal with any situation, we recommend you read up on our Interview Preparation Guide. 

What industries and positions use panel interviews?

In some industries and sectors, the panel interview is an established easy way to vet candidates. You’ll find panel interviews most common in the following fields and positions, though you may find them in other employment sectors as well:

  • Academic institutions
  • Large nonprofit organizations
  • Senior executive positions across many industries
  • Government organizations and related agencies

The University of Edinburgh, for instance, frequently engages candidates in panel interviews, often inviting potential employees to offer a presentation to the panel before the actual interview begins.

Since candidates in this setting are often looking for departmental positions or are interested in becoming part of a specific research group, the presentation is an excellent opportunity to display knowledge of and passion for the area of research and interest.

Common Panel Interview Formats

Panel interview formats vary greatly among industries and according to the specific job functions you’ll be required to perform. The examples below showcase a wide variety of formats and expectations.

Your panel interview experience may closely resemble one or more of the formats listed below or be something completely new and different.

Academic panel interviews

The University of Sussex

During an interview at the University of Sussex, candidates are often asked to give a presentation on a relevant topic which is set out when the invitation is sent. The panel consists of a line manager and senior members of a school or department. According to the university’s website, applicants might be called for a second or even third interview to ensure that they’re given fair and appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their abilities for the job.

The University of Waterloo

To relieve some of the stress that comes with panel interviews, the website for the University of Waterloo breaks down what departments are looking for in candidates. They help applicants prepare by compiling a series of questions that chairs and department members use when assessing potential employees. They also give advice on how to prepare for the interview and provide some sample interview questions.

The university is interested in candidates who are good scholars with programs of research that enhance the department’s reputation, persons with competencies to cover courses at the undergraduate level, and applicants whose research areas will be seen as attractive to graduate students, among other criteria.

Corporate panel interviews

Global insurance firm

Over the last few years, panel interviews have become a requirement for certain high-level positions at this global insurance firm. Corporate human resources provide protocols to use which include the following:

  1. The candidate is given a list of questions to answer about themselves (why they are interested in the position, what their 100-day plan would be, etc.). The candidate then gets about 15 minutes to present their answers to the panel.
  2. The candidate is assigned a case study in advance and must present it to the interview panel, which typically consists of 4-5 panelists. The candidate is given 20 minutes for this step.
  3. The candidate is given three scenarios to choose from and must prepare a 3-5 minute elevator speech for the chosen scenario. For example, one scenario is that the candidate runs into the head of a prospective client company and must convince him or her to choose their firm.

The panel interviewers have an evaluation sheet for each section and must rate the candidate on key requirements for the role. Panelists rank the candidates, and the firm looks for a consensus on the top two.

 

Caesars Entertainment

When Caesars Entertainment interviews cashiers, the interview process is quite extensive, according to how one candidate described the process on Glassdoor.com. The beauty of the interview format at Caesars is that it combines a group interview, a panel interview, and a skills component.

During the group interview, the candidate was asked a group of personality-oriented questions by recruiters. The goal is to get to know the candidate better to discern whether he or she is a good fit in a people-oriented position like that of a cage cashier.

Since the cage cashier position is a number-intensive job, the skills section is designed to see if the candidate has the basic math skills necessary to do the job.

Finally, the candidate reaches the panel interview portion. During this portion, the candidate is once again questioned along with other people interested in the position. This time the panel consists of two interviewers asking the questions.

What interviewers are looking for during this portion of the interview isn’t so much the answers you provide but the attitude with which you provide them.

Government panel interviews

A large government-related agency

A general overview of the panel interview process at a large government-related agency is as follows:

  1. The candidate is required to fill out a detailed written application, which includes “essay” questions detailing examples of relevant experience.
  2. If selected as a finalist, the candidate will have a panel interview with 4-6 individuals. The panel generally includes the hiring manager, a representative from human resources, and additional individuals with expertise on the job and its duties.
  3. The panel interview is generally conducted via phone due to the global nature of this organization and the fact that people are located in different cities.
  4. The interview is focused on behavioral/competency questions. The job description includes detailed information about the required competencies, so the candidate has some idea of what he/she will be asked about.
  5. Generally, the interview is about 40 minutes long.
  6. After the interview, each panelist completes a detailed scoring sheet, rating the candidate in each competency.
  7. The panel then reviews the scores, discusses the top candidates in more detail, and makes a decision.

Medical panel Interviews

Auckland Doctors

Interviews at Auckland Doctors tend to center around a combination of topics such as your career and experience and behavioral or competency-based questions. The website states that members of the panel will often interrupt, redirect, or reframe questions as required due to the very strict timeframes, so be aware and practice learning to stay calm under pressure during your interviews.

According to them, behavioral or competency-based questions are the best method of conducting job interviews based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. Your ability to clearly demonstrate what you did in answer to a question gives the panel comfort in your skills and knowledge to replicate or know what to do in a future scenario.

Panel interviews are very common at Auckland Doctors. During these interviews, behavior-based questions are used and the STAR model is preferred for responses.

S/T – This is where you summarize the Situation or Task you were faced with.

A – Explain your Actions, your part in the process.

R – Examine your Result, the measure of your success, and what you’ve learned in the process.

We’ve compiled a list of Top 20 Residency Interview Questions (and how to answer them). It will shed some light on what you should expect and how to give amazing answers.

You might also want to find out how to answer other questions commonly asked during a residency interview such as ‘why did you choose this program?’ and ‘why did you choose this specialty?

Plus, if you’re re-applying for residency after failing the matching process, we can help with that as well!

Other panel interviews

The Hollister Fire Department

Besides written exams, panel interviews are part of the employment process used by the Hollister Fire Department. Panels consist of three or more Hollister Fire Department members who alternate asking various questions. The interview is designed to evaluate those qualities necessary for success on the job:

  • Life Experiences
  • Relevant Skills
  • Abilities

Candidates who successfully complete the selection process are placed on an eligibility list.

The Los Angeles Fire Department

Assessments for the Los Angeles Fire Department consist of interviews conducted by a two- or three-person panel, an oral presentation, and a practical assessment.

The purpose of the interview is to gauge the depth of knowledge candidates have about the field while the assessment allows the panel to judge a candidate’s practical proficiency in various tasks the candidate will be called upon to perform if employed.

Potential Panel Interview Questions

Many companies are moving away from standard interview questions in favor of questions that reveal more about the way candidates think. The questions asked by panels are very similar to the ones asked in one-on-one interviews.

Behavioral questions, whether they involve handling conflict, problem-solving, or leadership, often have the greatest emphasis in panel interviews — sometimes with each interviewer assigned specific questions to ask.

It’s not the questions, then, that are different, but the manner in which they are asked. In many instances, that’s the entire point of panel interviews — to view how candidates respond in high-stress situations.

Think about the careers that often involve panel interviews: medical professionals, paramedics, firefighters, public service employees, educators, and high-demand fields such as government employees and people in executive positions. These are high-demand, high-stress positions. They are positions where rapid-fire answers and the ability to think fast on your feet are daily necessities.

Expect questions like these during your panel interview.

  • Explain a time when you were under a great deal of pressure to meet a deadline. How did you handle the situation?
  • Describe a time when there was tension between yourself and a customer or colleague. How did you resolve the situation?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • How would you address opposition when introducing new policies to co-workers or people on your staff?
  • Describe an event or experience that has changed the shape of your worldview.
  • Tell us what you’ve done to prepare for this particular job.
  • If you could choose to become any superhero, who would it be, and why? (This is one example of a “weird” question that requires some creative thinking on the spot)

Once again, there aren’t exactly right or wrong answers to these questions. The questions are designed to see how well you respond or react. Keep your cool and answer one question at a time no matter how many you’re peppered with.

Preparing for and Acing the Panel Interview (h2)

When preparing for a panel interview, you’ll follow the same steps you would when preparing for any job interview.

In addition, it’s helpful to have a general sense of what to expect in a panel interview and how to adjust your style (which is why we are sharing this article).

Before the panel interview, don’t forget to do the following:

  • Research the company
  • Analyze the job description
  • Anticipate likely questions
  • Prepare your behavioral stories
  • Develop meaningful questions to ask
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Other panel interview preparation tips:

  • When making arrangements for the interview ask who will be on the panel and find out their titles. Then learn as much as possible about each panel member through Google and LinkedIn.
  • Bring extra copies of your resume and hand one out to each and every panel interviewer.
  • Look for ways to connect with various panel members based on common ground.
  • Practice your communication skills. You particularly want to practice dealing with a group dynamic. Make eye contact with everyone. Display confidence. Smile. These things are important and often the first things you forget about when nerves are frayed.
  • Prepare to answer questions, just as you would for any other job interview. Understand, however, that many panel questions are going to be behavior-oriented questions. Tailor your responses accordingly.

How to prepare for a panel interview on Zoom?

Virtual job interviews are quickly becoming an enduring part of the job search process. When preparing for a Zoom panel interview, you might be feeling a bit anxious, even more so if it’s your first experience with remote job interviews. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Make sure you’ve downloaded the appropriate software and are ready to use it.
  • Use the best internet you can access and always have a solution if your internet is subpar.
  • Find a quiet place with no distractions.
  • Do your homework. Research your interviewers on LinkedIn and prepare personalized questions for each interviewer.
  • Practice the interview beforehand with some mock questions. Use Big Interview’s Mock Interview Simulator to see yourself and get a feel for how a panel interview will rate your answers.
  • Keep it professional. Dress appropriately and choose a professional-looking background.

It’s also a good idea to clear your desk of clutter and have a resume at hand. A notepad for writing things down can’t hurt either. Before the interview starts, remember to check your lights and ensure you don’t have any light glares on your webcam.

Close any programs that might interfere with your webcam or might slow your computer down. Let’s avoid memory issues rearing up during your interview. The only things that should appear in your browser should be your email, the company website, and maybe the LinkedIn profile of the person you’re interviewing with.

If you’d like more advice on preparing for interviews over Zoom, you might want to check out Big Interview’s guide on How to Ace Your Next Video Interview.

How to address a panel interview

Since you’re going to be speaking with multiple persons simultaneously, you’ll need to focus on maintaining eye contact with all the panel members when answering a question. Think of it as a cycle. Start with the person who asked the question and then move your attention systematically to the next. Then, start over.

Keep in mind that you’re a professional talking to other professionals. Use formal language but don’t be scared to go informal if the interviewers do the same. It simply means that they’re getting comfortable in your presence and that’s usually a good sign.

Depending on the way the panel members introduce themselves, you should address them accordingly. If they only state their first names, remember and use them. If they state their full names, it might be a good idea to use titles such as “Mister” or “Ms.” before their last names.

It’s important to have a constant pace of speech while you’re answering a question. It’s also recommended that you keep your ‘ums’ to a minimum. Speak with confidence and make sure not to have overly long pauses during your interview. It’s fine to think about the question before giving an answer, but panel interviews are speedy interactions since time is of the essence.

You should also balance your vocabulary and keep it accessible. Using sophisticated words is impressive but you’re not a thesaurus, you’re a human being speaking to other human beings. There’s also the opposite. Refrain from using too many filler words such as “like”, “so”, “you know”, “basically”, and “anyway”. These are words that don’t usually add any value to a conversation in most situations.

Most importantly, even if you know beforehand the types of questions you’ll be asked, try to be authentic with your answers. You don’t want to sound like you’ve memorized a script. Just jot down some bullet points for yourself and work around those. It’s great to speak with confidence but a slightly improvisational tone will convince your interviewers that you can react quickly and efficiently to unforeseen challenges.

You could practice this by filming yourself and then analyzing the video. Take notes on what parts of your answer you can improve on.

If you’re looking for something that’s made specifically for improving the way you speak during an interview, you could try Big Interview’s Mock Interview Simulator. The Artificial Intelligence Feedback feature will tell you exactly what you need to improve on by scoring your pace of speech, the number of ‘ums’ you use, vocabulary, use of filler words and power words, and your pauses.

This is an image of Big Interview's Mock Interview Simulator A.I. Feedback Page

As you can see in the image above, the pace of speech was a little slow, but no ‘ums’ were uttered, which is great, and the vocabulary is perfectly balanced to be accessible to anyone listening. Only a few filler words were used during the interview, but not enough power words.

Another cool thing about Big Interview’s Mock Interview Simulator is that it not only scores your performance, it also explains how you can improve. Just click the ‘Improve Now’ or ‘Learn More’ buttons, and you’ll be redirected to a page where you’ll find all the information necessary to better yourself.

This is a picture of Big Interview's Mock Interview Simulator explaining power words.

Simply go to the ‘Practice’ section of Big Interview, choose the type of interview you’d like to practice for, and after a few calibrations necessary for the A.I. to function correctly, you’ll be able to start recording your mock interview right away.

This is a picture of Big Interview's Mock Interview Simulator. The interviewer is on the left and the candidate is on the right. Users of Big Interview may start recording their answer by pushing the red 'record' button.

Asking good questions

Don’t forget to ask questions. Your questions indicate your level of interest in the job. If you’re too general with your questions or have none to ask at all, you risk coming across as disengaged, which makes them think you don’t really want the job. And when it is time to ask a question, direct it to a particular interviewer. If others chime in on the answer, make eye contact with each in turn.

Big Interview provides insight into the 12 best questions to ask at the end of a job interview in this post.

The biggest pitfall to avoid during panel interviews

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of all during panel interviews is the temptation to play to only one panel member. Sometimes, it’s the quiet panel members  — the ones who are silently watching and taking notes  — that have the most hiring influence.

Make a point of preparing questions for and asking questions of all the members of the interview panel if you’re privy to who they are ahead of time. This helps you engage them all and gives you another opportunity to make eye contact in an effort to win them over.

Should you shake hands in a panel interview?

At the end of a panel interview, it’s common practice to look each member of the panel in the eye, shake their hand, and thank them for their time.

Doing so will ensure that you leave a great final impression before going on your merry way and letting the interviewers share their thoughts on your performance. Even if the interview itself went swimmingly, a handshake and a ‘thank you’ just might sway the panel’s decision and make them view you slightly more favorably than the other candidates.

Following up after the panel interview

It’s important to follow up with each individual who participated in the panel interview. Hopefully, you were able to write down the names of every member or collect business cards with appropriate email or mailing addresses during the interview.

Pay attention to the corporate culture of the business. Most businesses are fine with email “thank you” notes, which should be sent within 24 hours of the interview. You don’t want to give them an opportunity to forget details about the interview. Some companies, particularly more traditional organizations, will give more consideration to someone who sends a hand-written “thank you” letter.

Your thank-you note is your last opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Make it count.

Now you know how to approach your next panel interview. Remember to practice, stay calm, and prepare and you’ll be on your way to your dream job!

______________________________

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1. Learn how to turn more job interviews into job offers here. (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users)
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Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings

Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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