Ace Your Next Panel Interview: 5 Fast Tips

The dreaded panel interview. Having sat on both sides of the table, I can safely say that many times the ¬†group who’s interviewing you is either just as nervous as you are or just as eager to get it all over with. Yet, it’s a practice that won’t be going away anytime soon, since many people regard it as the best way to gauge a candidate’s potential as part of a team. Regardless of whether you agree with that or not, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into a group interview or two in the near future. Here are some quick tips to help you get through them with flying colors.

1. Introduce yourself clearly and cordially

Your first 20-30 seconds are crucial in establishing a first impression. Introductions in a group setting can be dicey, and the slightest gaffe will make the interview go south quickly. Shake hands in order of seating confidently and repeat their names (“Nice to meet you, Jane. Hi, Ethel, I’m John”) so that you’ll remember them–and use them liberally—throughout the interview. Don’t go out of your way to walk around the table, since doing so will throw everyone off (I’ve seen this more than once; talk about an awkward moment). ¬†Don’t forget to make eye contact with each individual.

2. Use humor—but not too much

A well-balanced humorous comment breaks the ice, makes you appear personable, and sets the tone of what normally is a mechanical process. Remember that these people are probably your future teammates, so emphasizing your personality and social skills even before a question has been posed is key. You don’t want to overdo it or reveal that you’re nervous, though.

3. When answering questions, take your time and make equal eye contact.

If Jane asks you a question, look at her first, but be sure to make eye contact with everyone else. We tend to engage those in verbal communication with us, but give as much equal attention as you can to the others. Resist the urge to answer quickly just because more ears are listening; gather your thoughts so that you have a meaningful answer. Don’t be afraid of a few seconds of silence; it’s better to pause so that you can give a detailed answer instead of losing your train of thought mid-stream. If a question is related to one already posed by another interviewer, reference that question and that person (“To build on my answer to George’s question”) to reinforce strong answers. Plus, people love to hear their names.

4. Ask good questions

I guarantee that you’ll be asked whether you have any questions for the panel. Avoid the question, “What’s a typical day like for this position?” It’s assumed that you have a good grasp of the job description and expectations by then. Instead, ask pointed questions about team dynamics, the type of person who would be most successful in the position you’re interviewing for, and perhaps ways in which the team is achieving the goals of the company. Try asking these questions in the beginning so that you steer the conversation and have more time to sell yourself as the perfect fit.

5. Follow up with individual thank-you emails.

It’s just good manners to thank people for their time, but it will also get you noticed. A brief “thank you for your time, it was a pleasure meeting you” will suffice. Remember that the group may not be making the final decision, but their opinion is weighty enough. These proactive, thoughtful details leave a strong impression and put you in the best position to succeed.

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