It’s bad enough making a fool of yourself in front of one interviewer – but in front of two, three or four? Unthinkable. If you are faced with a panel interview, here’s how to avoid that unflattering rabbit-caught-in-headlights expression.
It’s all in the preparation. Make sure you know who everyone is on the panel and what their function is in the organisation. If it’s not obvious from the interview invitation, call to ask. A web search on names and functions could give you deeper knowledge of their background and experience. But don’t turn into a stalker. And knowledge of your interviewers won’t be enough. You need to know yourself thoroughly. “Do you really understand yourself, what you like, how you prefer to work? And can you articulate this?”
Each panel member will be interested in a different aspect of you. Thorough self-knowledge will allow you to give consistent answers confidently.
2. Make an entrance
Sad though it is, first impressions do count, and the way you meet and greet your panel will influence the rest of the interview. Angela advises: “Don’t overdress to impress. Try to dress as though you already had the job and are attending an important meeting.”
The interview begins the moment you open the door. Take a deep breath and enter at a reasonable pace; rush and you appear flustered, too slow and you appear to lack dynamism. Look your interviewers in the eye and smile. This seems obvious but worried interviewees can sometimes forget.
And what’s the etiquette for acknowledging each panel member as they are introduced? Is a grunt enough or should you go for a full Russian bear hug? It takes courage, but offer to shake hands with everyone on the panel, beginning with the person who introduces him or herself first. Then offer a hand to each person, as introduced, in turn. Wet-fish hands are not good. Grip their hand properly; if you take fingers you appear indecisive and weak. Be firm as if saying ‘I’m a person of substance’.
3. Calm your nerves
It’s difficult to remain calm with many pairs of eyes staring at you, and if you give way to your fears your brain could shut down. But have confidence. You’re here because the panel think you have something to offer. Relaxation is the key. Don’t forget to breathe, and try not to be fazed by the style of questioning. In many cases one panel member will ask a block of questions in their own interest area and then the conversation will move to the next panel member. In cases where panel members take turns to fire questions, gain time to think with some nifty questioning of your own. Listen to the question, and then paraphrase it aloud to ensure you understand fully. Rushing into answers is counter-productive, and the time you take to clarify and repeat the question can help you get your brain into gear. But don’t use the same technique for every question – you’ll sound like a parrot.
4. Don’t be exclusive
Try to strike up a rapport with each panel member. This won’t be easy at first. You’ll naturally want to focus on your questioner, or on the panel member that looks the most friendly. When answering questions try to include all the panel members in your answers by looking at them rather than just address the questioner.
5. Expect the unexpected
Don’t be put off by panel members scribbling down their impressions as you answer questions. If a panel has prepared thoroughly, it should have decided how it should record impressions and who should record them. And don’t worry if you feel you can’t get through to the panel member who sits there impassively. It may not be obvious, but some panel members might be nervous, having to interact in a positive way with a stranger in front of their colleagues. Some people advocate imagining your interviewers naked. If you think that this may cause an unhelpful distraction such as a giggling fit, don’t do it. But the point is good: your interviewers are human too.