Panel interviews demystified

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Facing a panel or group interview? Top career coach Carmel Morrissey offers some essential preparation tips.

A client recently contacted me to say that she had great news. She had been called to interview for what could be her dream job - but the only drawback was that it involved a group interview with a panel of eight interviewers.

The thought of an interview with a panel of eight is enough to strike fear in the bravest of us, but what can we do to ensure that we perform at our best and don’t allow nerves to take over?

Why a group interview?

Let’s begin by looking at why a company would use a group interview format.

  • Time considerations: Group interviews are considered to be time-efficient as it is easier to bring a number of staff together to interview a potential candidate than to arrange multiple interviews.
  • How does the candidate handle it? Panel interviews are frequently seen as an effective way to evaluate how a candidate will react in what can be seen as a stressful situation. They can also be viewed as an opportunity to examine how successful the candidate is at building relationships with a range of individuals in a short period of time.
  • Specialisation: A panel often consists of a range of specialists, such as human resources personnel, technical experts and line managers and can vary in numbers between two and eight people. This allows for an in-depth interview, with each member of the panel potentially asking detailed questions relating to their speciality.

How to prepare

Now that you know why companies use a panel or group interview format, how do you ensure that you are prepared?

  • Do your research: Begin by finding out who is on the panel. Don’t be afraid to ask an organisation for a panel list if it is not already provided. This gives you an opportunity to use Google and LinkedIn to gather as much information as possible on the interviewers, to determine their role in the organisation and their possible perspective in an interview. For example, HR personnel tend to be interested in ensuring that the candidate is the right fit for the company, while line managers will be interested in the candidate’s ability to perform effectively in the role.
  • Keep your cool: Just as you would in a one-to-one interview - remain calm, concentrate on the questions that are being asked and take it one question at a time.
  • Watch your body language: Ensure that you divide eye contact across the panel, regardless of whether they ask you a question or are purely taking notes. Sometimes the note-taker can be the person with the most influence.
  • Work on your competencies: Panel interviews, especially in the public sector can be hugely competency-based. Ensure that you are familiar with the formula Situation, Task, Action and Result. Spend some time identifying key competencies from the job description and building up a list of examples to draw on in interview.
  • Have your key answers ready: As with any interview, ensure that you have answers prepared to the typical key questions: your elevator pitch, your strengths and weaknesses and talking through your CV.
  • Have your final questions ready: Ensure that you have questions to ask at the end of the interview which demonstrated that you have researched the company and role thoroughly.
  • Be courteous: If given the opportunity, ensure that you thank each interviewer for their time and consider a follow-up thank you email.

Carmel Morrissey is a Career Coach with Clearview Coaching Group, one of Ireland's leading career coaching consultancies. Set up in 2004 to work with people who experience career disappointment, Clearview specialises in providing interview coaching services.