How to Handle a Panel Job Interview

The term “panel interview” usually describes one candidate facing a host of interviewers at the same time, which may take place around a table or via a conference call with multiple participants. This can be the most nerve-wracking experience you’ll encounter during your job search, but if you stay cool and collected and keep these tips in mind, you’ll make a winning impression on even the toughest group of reviewers.1. Don’t confuse “panel interview” with “group interview.”While the first involves one candidate and multiple interviewers, the second usually involves multiple candidates. Group interviews are common in some industries, and they require a different form of preparation, which we’ll discuss in a separate article.For now, if you’re told to prepare for a panel format, know what to expect. (And keep in mind that the format of an interview may come with no warning and may be determined by the employers at the last minute.)2. Keep your emotions and non-verbal cues under control.Not everyone in the room will be listening to your words during every second of the interview. But they’ll be tuned into your body language from the first minute to the last. So relax, and take over your entire chair (it belongs to you as long as you’re in it). Roll your shoulders back slightly and keep your arms calmly at your sides. Feel free to talk with your hands and use them for emphasis, but try not to touch or hide your face. And of course, keep your voice strong and your eye contact clear and level.3. Silence your phone.While you’re at it, take your coat off and hang it neatly. And long before you enter the room where the interview will take place, leave your coffee cup and gum behind.4. Think before you speak—always.Even if the question is something simple, like “can you tell us how you found out about this job?” pause for one full second before you answer. For more complex questions, like “can you tell us about a time when you encountered a failure or setback?” pause for at least two or three full seconds while you gather your thoughts.5. Don’t fluster.No matter how you answer or what you say, don’t be visibly rattled by your circumstances. It’s better to stay calm and controlled and give a nonsense answer than fluster and fumble your way through a few brilliant sentences. People respond to what they see more than what they hear.6. When two people speak to you at once, think before you respond.Choose one of the speakers and politely let the other one know that you’ll return to his point in just a moment. Then address your full attention to the first speaker until her question has been answered. Don’t become paralyzed or overwhelmed by this simple obstacle, and don’t laugh nervously.7. Smile if you’re challenged.Some interviewers (fortunately very few) use the panel format to cross examine a candidate as if she’s on trial. If this happens, remember: you’re not on trial. You’re here to evaluate, not just to be evaluated. Don’t become defensive. Just smile, pause, and answer calmly.

Preparation Is Critical

Before your interview, make printed copies of all of the materials your interviewers may want to use as visual guides. Print out copies of references, your work samples if you have them, the notes you’ve taken as you researched this company, and of course your resume. Use the tools on MyPerfectResume to polish your credentials, then print your document on high-quality paper and carry your copies in a sleek portfolio.