Companies frequently use panel interviews to make the hiring process more efficient and less costly, yet many job seekers are unprepared for them. With this in mind, I circled back with Paula Christensen, the professional resume writer and interview coach behind Strategic Career Coaches, to discuss how to best prepare for a panel interview.
What Is a Panel Interview?
First off, what’s a panel interview, and who is included in them? According to Christensen, “A panel interview is an interview situation where candidates are interviewed by two or more people from the hiring team.”
The panel often includes members from multiple departments or levels across the company, such as the hiring manager, an HR representative, and one to two future team members, says Christensen. You can reach out to the recruiter or hiring manager to confirm who will be attending the panel interview.
Pros and Cons of a Panel Interview
Christensen argues that there are both pros and cons to participating in a panel interview. To start, panel interviews are typically well-defined and structured, since they involve more people, which saves time for everyone involved, explains Christensen. “Rather than coming in for 2-3 different interviews across the span of a few weeks, you can interview for one to two hours and meet with everyone at once,” she adds.
There’s also a more level playing field, since the same criteria are used for all candidates, argues Christensen. She notes that it’s also easier for the hiring team to compare responses, since all candidates are asked the same questions.
A bonus is that you get a peek into the team dynamics, explains Christensen, which can be difficult to glean from a one-to-one interview.
Panel interviews aren’t without drawbacks, though. Christensen notes that some candidates feel as if they’re being ganged up on during panels. Also, because there’s less opportunity to build individual rapport with each interviewer, panel interviews can feel impersonal at times, she adds.
How to Succeed in a Panel Interview
With this in mind, how do you effectively prepare for a panel interview, and should you approach one differently than you would with a typical interview with a recruiter or hiring manager?
“You should expect panel interviews to be more challenging than one-on-one interviews, as you may be asked more in-depth and nuanced questions, so spend extra time preparing for them,” recommends Christensen. Then, she suggests that you spend time rehearsing your answers aloud, with a focus on being clear and concise.
When responding, she advises that you, “Address all the interviewers, not just the one who asked the question.” She also endorses making eye contact with each of the interviewers and attempting to involve them in your answers by directing some of your responses toward them.
“Every interviewer will come into the interview with different areas of expertise, and they will be assigned specific competencies to assess, so tailor your answers to the different interviewers,” recommends Christensen.
Common Panel Interview Questions and Answers
Now, what types of questions can you expect in a panel interview, and how should you go about answering them?
“Panel interviews are the epitome of teamwork, involving multiple people working together to evaluate a candidate’s suitability for the position, so expect the team to ask about your ability to collaborate and work effectively with others,” explains Christensen. Then, she advises looking for opportunities to showcase your experience working on teams and collaborating to solve problems.
Beyond teamwork questions, she says you also should be prepared for common interview questions that cover your:
- Personality traits
- Work style
“Like one-on-one interview questions, you will be responding with examples of times when you have faced challenging situations and will be asked to explain your approach to problem-solving,” notes Christensen.
Panel Interview Thank You Email Template
Should you send a thank email after your panel interview, and if so, what should it include? Christensen recommends sending each interviewer a separate, customized thank you email and provided CDI’s readers with the following example:
Dear <FIRST NAME>>:
I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss the <<<POSITION NAME>>> role. It was a pleasure to learn more about the <<<TEAM NAME>>> and how I could contribute to the team’s success with my experience and passion for XXX and XXX.
To follow up on our discussion, <<<INSERT SOMETHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO FOLLOW UP ON>>>.
Thank you again for your consideration, and I hope to hear from you soon.
<<<YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME>>>
Conclusion: How to Prepare for a Panel Interview
To summarize, here are steps you can take to prepare for your next panel interview:
- Spend time before the interview rehearsing your stories aloud.
- Make eye contact and address all the interviewers when responding to their questions.
- Tailor your answers to the different interviewers’ areas of expertise.
- Seek out opportunities to showcase your teamwork skills.
- Send a customized thank you email to each interviewer.
With these tips in mind, you should feel more confident as you head into your next panel interview. You’ve got this!
Oh, and on a final note, don’t forget to check out our previous Career Director International interview guides: