One-on-one interviewing can give you shivers. And a panel interview may sound even more imposing and gut-wrenching. Well, panic is not a good response – ever! Especially, when there’s no good reason for it.
In many ways, a panel interview goes similar to a standard one. Yes, a panel interview means you’d be facing several decision-makers at once, but it is still an interview and one for which you can prepare with a bit of work and effort.
So What is a Panel Interview?
A panel interview is just as the name implies. The candidate appears before a group of people, anywhere from two on up. Each of the panel members will have the opportunity to ask common interview questions, many of which might be posed in a traditional one-on-one interview. In the case of the panel interview, though, several people will have the chance to hear the answers and to observe all of the verbal and nonverbal behaviors of the interviewee.
You may be invited for a panel interview for the following reasons:
- Convenience: It shortens the hiring process — some companies use it instead of doing interview rounds.
- Introductions: Usually, the people on the panel are those that will have some sort of relationship with the employee once hired.
- Stress-test: A panel-style interview can also “test” the candidate’s ability to “think on his feet” and be comfortable in a high-stress situation.
What to Expect from a Panel Interview?
A standard panel interview involves a series of questions, typically structured around your general competencies, motivation for the job, past experience, and personal attributes. The interview will be “conversational,” not stiff and formal. Different stakeholders will typically lead a questioning segment e.g. an HR person may ask personality-related questions, while your direct supervisor will pose more role-specific ones. The job of a panel is to get as complete a “picture” of you as possible.
Popular Panel Interview Questions and Answer Tips
Part of your preparation for a panel interview will be to anticipate the questions that will be asked and to formulate a solid idea of how you will answer each one. Think about the points you want to cover as you answer each question and commit those to memory.
To help you get up to speed, we prepared a list of several popular panel interview questions and answers to them.
1. Can You Please Introduce Yourself?
This question is often asked to put you at ease with a “softball” question. But there is another purpose too. The panel wants to see if you can encapsulate who you are and what value you may bring to the organization. Many applicants make the mistake of providing a long response with everything that is on their resume – information the panel has already read. Instead, provide a brief answer with some career and not too personal highlights.
“My name is Todd. My background includes more than a decade of experience in research and development. My focus has been on the aviation sector, and I hold patents on three aerospace products. I’m also a licensed pilot, and regularly volunteer my time flying medical supplies to developing nations.”
Need more tips? Read our post about answering the “tell me about yourself” interview question.
2. Can You Tell Me About Your Most Notable Accomplishments?
Again, this is a relatively standard “opener”, prompting you to discuss and contextualize some aspects of your career. Essentially, the panel wants to understand what you personally consider to be important for your role and whether your expertise will be a “match” for the position.
How do you come up with good examples and mention-worthy accomplishments? A recent McKinsey hire suggests making a line up of stories, similar to a highlights reel “professional accomplishments that represent who I am and energize me every time I talk about them”. Below is a sample answer for a recent graduate, employing this technique.
“The most notable accomplishments that are related to my career began in college. There I joined the campus Future Business Leaders of America chapter and ultimately became its president. Under my leadership, the chapter grew from approximately 50 to 200 by the time I graduated. During that time, I also secured a highly competitive internship with XYZ corporation which further helped me hone my skills in organizational management and land an executive assistant role with Acme Inc.”
3. Please provide an example of a difficult problem you have solved.
This question is known as a “process” one. The panel wants to understand how you will approach problems you may face on the job and assess your analytics skills.
“When I began my position as sales manager with XYZ corporation, I inherited a team of sales staff, most of whom had been in their positions for quite some time. What I noticed right away were two things: a lack of enthusiasm and energy, and a group of people all working as individuals, not as members of a team. I created a team-building initiative — an offsite workshop + weekly team retrospectives — that led to better cohesion”
4. Why are you interested in this role?
This is one of the panel interview questions that can be a bit tricky. The temptation is to talk about yourself and your goals and ambitions. But what the panel really wants to see is what value you can bring to the organization.
“Over the years, I have developed leadership and managerial skills that have proved valuable to two companies I have worked for. I was interested to read your recent press release that you are planning an expansion into two more states, and that will mean more sales staff and sales management personnel. Since I have deep familiarity with the California market and a proven track record of successful go-to-market launches, I felt compelled to apply ”
For more tips also check our post about how to answer the “why you are interested in this position?” interview question or watch this video:
5. How would you describe your ideal work environment?
The panel is looking for an answer that will show you will be a “fit” for their culture. Never go into your panel interview without having done enough research of the company to understand its culture.
“I thrive in a collaborative, participatory environment – one in which each employee is considered a valuable member of the organization. Personally, I also prefer and practice servant leadership style.”
6. Do you have any managerial or supervisory experience?
The panel may already know that you do or do not have formal managerial experience. Yet, many would like to either obtain extra context about your management style and approaches. Or learn about any informal supervisory experiences you’ve developed, as well as your overall leadership skills.
“ While I don’t have any on-the-job managerial experience, I do have some background that relates. While in college, I was the editor of the student newspaper. In that role, I supervised a staff of seven, delegating assignments, editing their contributions, and holding staff meetings.”
Questions to Ask Interview Panel
Often, at the close of a panel interview, you may be asked if there is anything else you would like the panel to know about you. Here, you will want to speak to anything important that you don’t think was covered well as you answered the questions. For example, you may want to speak to your great communication skills or your flexibility and give a few examples.
Afterward, you’d be likely given some more room to also ask your set of follow-up questions. So be sure you have a quick list prepared. Here are some ideas:
- What makes people successful in this role?
- Who will I be working directly with?
- What has been the turnover rate in this role?
- What do you like most about working here?
- Could you name the most challenging parts of this position?
- Is there anything that you still want to know about me not covered in my resume or during this interview?
How to Prepare for a Panel Interview
Preparing for a panel interview will not be significantly different than the preparation for a one-on-one event, such as the research, anticipating questions, and coming up with stories and concrete examples in those answers. But there are some additional things to keep in mind in this more stressful situation, especially physical behaviors that include eye contact and any nervous habits that may be distracting.
Here are some of the best tips for a panel interview:
- Learn who will be on the panel. Research their positions in the company and put a face to the name. This will help you remember names during the interview.
- Bring enough copies of your resume for each panel member – even if they have one already, it makes you look highly prepared.
- Feel free to ask questions for clarification or in follow-up to what you just answered. This sets a more conversational tone to the interview
- Do inject a bit of humor – this sets everyone at ease and demonstrates another aspect of your personality
- Be certain you have your list of questions and be sure that one of them relates to what will be the next step and who will be contacting you.
A panel interview can be stressful because you feel as though you are on trial in front of a jury. It doesn’t have to be. The key is to prepare – do your research, anticipate the questions you are likely to get, make sure you have the stories and examples you intend to use, and practice the physical behaviors you need to exhibit.
FAQs about Panel Interviews
Here are some of the most common questions you may have about panel interviews:
1. How do you stand out in a panel interview?
There are several things you can do. When you tell stories or give examples, make sure they are engaging and interesting. Anecdotes are always good. Make sure that you can address each panel member by name. Add some appropriate humor, make eye contact, smile, and show enthusiasm as you speak about your skills and talents and about the position that is open.
2. How do you introduce yourself in a panel interview?
The panel will know your name, and they obviously know you are arriving. What will usually happen is that each panel member will introduce themselves to you. You will probably introduce yourself by answering the first question – tell us about yourself. Here is where your elevator pitch comes in.
3. Is the panel interview the last interview?
Not necessarily. The panel process may be designed to narrow the candidate field down to two-three finalists that will be sent forward to a higher authority for final interview and selection.
4. How long should a panel interview last?
Most are scheduled for about an hour, but they may be less or slightly longer. Don’t stress about the timing. The panel will moderate your replies and adjust the pace of the interview if they expect overruns. Just go with the proposed flow.