En español | One-on-one interviews can be nerve-wracking. And, once you've made it past a screening or two, you may find yourself in a good news/bad news situation. You made the cut, but now you need to meet with multiple people in a panel interview.
This type of interview, which has become more common in recent years, typically serves two purposes. It allows companies to save time — key players meet you as a group, instead of scheduling individual meetings with each one — and it enables interviewers to see how you react under pressure. But panel interviews have their downsides.
"In some cases the ‘panel interview’ lacks a specific agenda and there are many stakeholders looking for different things in relation to the position,” says Joe Mullings, chairman, founder and CEO of the Mullings Group, a medical technology talent-acquisition firm. Even so, there are steps you can take to prepare for a panel interview and manage it while it's happening. Keep the following tips in mind.
Ask for details
When you're scheduling the interview, ask for the names and roles of the people who will be there. This will help you do two things. First, you can look them up on LinkedIn or through a Google search and get to know who they are, says career coach Claudia Miller. By understanding their roles, you can get a sense of their areas of interest, which may give you insights into the types of questions they'll ask and the information you need to prepare well.
For example, the chief financial officer may be interested in how you've successfully managed budgets, but the director of operations may zero in on other aspects of your previous employment experience. “You've got to be able to know where they're coming from and why,” Miller says.
Exert your control
Keep in mind that you've made it to this stage because the panelists saw something promising in you and believed you were worth an investment of their time. That gives you a measure of power. “Try and control the interview session, rather than have it control you,” Mullings advises. One tactic he suggests is to invite the company officials, as they introduce themselves or after, to explain how the position you are seeking influences their roles. This will allow you to thoughtfully tailor your answers to what their concerns might be, he says.
Keep the format in mind
Today your panel interview might take place in person or via videoconference. Keep the nuances of each format in mind, Mullings recommends. “In-person interviews occur at the company most of the time, and you are sitting in their environment, but in video panel interviews, the dynamics switch up and you are now inviting people into your personal world on video Zoom interviews,” he says. If you're doing a video interview, find a place where your internet connection is good and distractions are kept to a minimum.
Also, study your background and make sure it's neat and free of clutter. Be sure your webcam is at a good angle and you have good lighting. “What you have in your background will most definitely impart a bias, good or bad, as people look to see what is over your shoulder in the background or how the camera angle may be pointed up your nose or the backlighting is distracting,” Mullings says.
Engage each interviewer
Making individual connections is also more challenging in group settings, but it's important to try to make a good impression on each interviewer, Mullings notes. One way to ensure that each manager has a specific interaction with you is to come prepared with thoughtful questions related to everyone's roles and goals. And when you're asked something, give the questioner your focus.
"Answer one person and one question at a time,” he advises. “Do not try and broadly answer to accommodate the entire group — you will be positioning yourself as being broad and shallow, versus experienced and deep.” Using this tactic allows you to have moments of engagement with each interviewer.
Gwen Moran is a writer and author specializing in business and finance. Her work has appeared in many leading business publications and websites, including Entrepreneur, Kiplinger.com, Newsweek.com and The Los Angeles Times Magazine.