Interviews are one of the important and recurring part of any professional's career. An interview is the assessement of your skills and whether you fit an organization or not.
Today, we dive into one of the most tough types of interviews; Panel Interview.
What is a panel interview?
A panel interview is one where an applicant is interviewed by a group or panel of people. The panel may include members from HR and hiring, company seniors or industry experts. Panel interviews are common in corporate hiring, government job recruitment and academic application processes. They may also be referred to as board interviews.
The biggest advantage of holding a panel interview is the diversity of experience and ideologies which a good panel can bring to the table. It means that the candidate is thoroughly vetted before being admitted to an organisation as a scholar or employee. It can rule out unfair biases and provide a balanced interview session and prevent bad hiring decisions.
However, the biggest disadvantage of a panel interview is how intimidating it can be for the interviewee! To help with that, here is a brief guide on how to prepare for a panel interview along with sample questions.
What to do before a panel interview
Do your research
An obvious measure is to bring yourself up to date with your industry or discipline. Brush up on your basics, your areas of specialization, and whatever is new in your chosen and related fields. Next, find out everything you can about the institution you are applying to. A good place to start is always the company or university website. Besides the internet, you may also seek out peers and seniors from your field to help you with your research.
Familiarise yourself with the panel
Another essential step is to figure out who is expected to be on the panel. Do some research on them – their professional backgrounds, fields of interest, publications and interviews, etc. This may give you a sense of what they may ask you and how you can answer them. Having a good idea of who you will be facing and what you will say to them can be a great boost to your confidence.
Revise and rehearse
Once you have done your research, it is important to revise the information and practise speaking about them. Form talking points and relevant questions that you can use during the interview. Ask family and friends to hold mock interviews where you can practise speaking out loud and smoothening out any issues with your content, communication and behaviour.
Keep all documents ready
Prepare and keep aside all your documents before the interview so you are not rushing around at the last minute. Make enough copies of your CV or resume so that each panellist can have one during the interview. Also carry any certificates or testimonials which you think might relate to all or any of the panel members.
Take a deep breath
The most important tip is to believe in the hard work you are putting into your preparation. Some degree of fear and anxiety is normal, but do not let yourself be carried away. Remind yourself that it is okay not to know everything in an interview conducted by senior professionals. Focus on doing your best and hope for a positive experience.
What to do during a panel interview
Now, here are some tips to ace your panel interview.
From introducing yourself with a smile to a round of firm handshakes at the end, your confidence will make you more noticeable. Do not let any rapid or cross questioning intimidate you. Answer everything to the best of your knowledge and have the honesty to say “I don’t know”. You will come across as a more confident and reasonable person, rather than one who fumbles or panics before the panel.
It is crucial to remain calm at every point of the interview. Take your time in understanding each question and formulating your answer instead of rushing to speak and tripping over your words. Do not panic or lose hope if you cannot explain yourself. Inversely, do not get arrogant or excited if you know all the answers. A steady and composed personality can be the most powerful in an interview.
Mind your body language
Since you are under great scrutiny during a panel interview, it becomes doubly important to keep your posture and gestures in check. Sit up straight, maintain eye contact and pay attention to how you move your hands while speaking. Avoid shaking your leg, fiddling with your hands or sitting with hunched shoulders because they convey a lack of patience and confidence.
Engage with everyone
A common mistake made during panel interviews is to not pay everyone equal attention. Not every panellist is going to ask you the same number of questions or be kind to you. Some may even choose to observe silently. But as an interviewee, you should make eye contact with everyone while speaking, not use jargon which may alienate certain panellists, and make talking points which relate to the interests of each panellist. This demonstrates thoughtfulness and leadership skills.
Build a conversation
Dynamic responses work best during a panel interview. Keep your answers to the point, but make them interesting. Refer to points made before and by others, and involve multiple panellists instead of addressing just one at a time. This makes the interview flow like a wholesome conversation instead of an interrogation. Moreover, ask your own questions so you seem more invested in the process. You will establish yourself as someone who takes initiative and is a good conversationalist.
Interview question and answers for panel interviews
The questions asked in a panel interview depend on factors like the industry or discipline you belong to, the history and policies of the institution, the experience and practice of each interviewer, etc. Thus, it is a good strategy to prepare and expect questions according to these factors.
Besides this, you can ask others for help or familiarise yourself with general patterns of questioning. Here are some commonly asked questions in panel interviews along with tips to answer them.
How would you describe yourself?
For this answer, make sure the qualities you list are ones which are essential for your job profile. Keep your answer brief, and maintain a humble tone, but do not sell yourself short. Remember you have to convince the panel to bookmark you as a potential employee at the end of the session.
Why did you choose this job/career?
Answer this question honestly by speaking about what motivates you, personal anecdotes, relevant strengths, and role models from your industry. You can even cite the work of any of the panellists in fron of you as an inspiration! At the end, mention how the company/position you are applying for can help you in pursuing your dreams further.
What makes you a good fit for this institution?
This is where you can speak of your strengths as a professional and demonstrate your knowledge of the history and working of the institution. You can speak of how your qualifications are a fit for the role they are offering, how they are similar to any former famous employee, how your personal vision corresponds with the company vision, etc.
You may also practise an answer for this according to another common question: "Why should we hire you?"
What do you know about our company?
This is another question which is asked to test how well you have done your research before the interview. To answer this, mention briefly about the company's past, major achievements, recent work and other news, as well as the company's mission statement. You can identify key members of the company on the panel and address them directly while answering.
Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
This is a bit of a trick question because nobody can predict the future - but do not say this out loud. This question tests your goals and foresight, and whether they align with the company's vision. Through your answer, show a strong sense of aspiration, while keeping it realistic. Try to speak of specific and achievable goals, instead of using general flowery language.
You can draw inspiration from these possible answers as well.
How would you explain a complex problem/solution to someone who does not belong to your area?
This question tests essential qualities like problem solving, communication skills and leadership abilities. Since everyone on the panel may not belong to the same background or be aware of the same things, your answer will determine how well you can engage them all. Think carefully about the problem, draw from your knowledge, and explain any difficult terms you use for everyone's benefit.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
The qualities you mention should be relevant to your job position. But instead of simply listing a number of qualities, use examples from your life, especially to illustrate your strengths. While mentioning weaknesses, be honest, but also show a willingness to change and improve. You can even refer to panellists as inspiration, but take care not to say anything personal or informal.
You can refer to some sample answers here.
Do you have any questions for us?
This is usually asked as a concluding question but do not avoid answering it. What you ask can tell the panel how closely you have been listening to them. Instead of blunt queries about salary and benefits, ask critical questions which draw from the points made during the interview. Make sure not to ask any direct or personal questions to any particular panellist either. Keep your question relevant to the company and job profile.
While it is difficult to predict the exact questions you will face in a panel interview, the smartest strategy to tackle them is to do your research thoroughly and answer to the best of your abilities. And, of course, remember to be calm and confident.