This is the nineteenth in a series of blogs supporting the College to Career Calendar available for downloading at Today’s blog discusses strategies for preparing for panel interviews. This blog focuses on the logistics of panel interviews. For information on how to prepare interview answers, check out our previous blog or our free tip sheet:

The Call:

After weeks of waiting you get the call inviting you to an interview. Before the person calling gets off the phone capture the following information:

  • The person’s name
  • The person’s phone number..
  • Time of interview.
  • Date of interview.
  • Location of interview.
  • Who you will be meeting with. IF the person provides the names of multiple interviewers; ASK if you will be meeting with each on separately or as a group. IF the person says you are meeting them as a group you need to prepare for a panel interview.
  • Relevant site specific information: where should you park/public transportation/security checks.
  • The name and number of the person you should contact if you have additional questions.

Suggestion: create a form including each of these so you can go through the list rather than having to remember all the information you need.

 A day or two before the interview:

Review your transportation plan; how will you get to your interview and when should you leave. Build in extra time to allow for delays. It is much better to arrive early and spend time in your car or local coffee shop reviewing your notes than rushing in breathless or even worse; arriving late.

Check your interview outfit to make sure everything is in good repair. Put the documents you will need into your padfolio; copies of the job description, resume, cover letter, application, references, transit schedule, directions, and any other information the employer has requested you bring.

Set up a panel interview simulation using a table or desk; write the names of the people you will be interviewing with on pieces of paper and place them on the edges of the table/desk. Practicing your prepared interview questions answers moving your gaze from paper to paper. As you answer questions include the name of panel members.

Day of the interview:

Before walking into the office turn, off your cell phone and make sure you are not the victim of a wardrobe malfunction or have spinach stuck in your teeth.

Your interview starts the minute you arrive at your prospective employers business. Everyone you meet should be considered part of the interview team. So how do you make that positive first impression? Demonstrate those characteristics that create a positive first impression the entire time you are on-site: be friendly, be positive, be a good listener, and be polite. Smile and say hello to the people you meet.

When you arrive at the office or location where you are scheduled to interview, walk up to the receptionist, and introduce yourself. Say your name, who you are scheduled to meet, and the time of your appointment. Listen to and follow the instructions you are given. If you find that you must wait, sit quietly and review your notes or read any company material placed in the waiting area. If the receptionist engages you in conversation than answer questions/ comments the way you do any interview question-short 30-90 second answers and if appropriate ask questions about the company.

The Interview

There is always the question of whether or not to shake an interviewer’s hand. The answer is simple—if an interviewer extends his/her hand than you shake it. Sometimes in a panel interview, only the lead interviewer will extend his/her hand, other times some or all of the panel will extend their hands.

Your handshake is part of the all-important first impression. A good handshake requires the web between your thumb and first finger touching the web between the thumb and first finger of the interviewer and a firm squeeze. Sounds easy—but practice with several different people to make sure you can respond to the firmness of an other persons handshake.

If there are several empty chairs in an interview room, ask where you should sit. If you are sitting at a conference table it is appropriate to put your padfolio on it. If not, keep it on your lap. If you carry a purse, put it next to you.

If remembering names is a challenge, open you padfolio and create a seating chart. At the beginning of the interview no one is offended if you look at each panel member and ask for their names. I you know the names beforehand you should be able to just say a name and that person will nod. If you don’t know the names and a panel member does not do introductions, it is OK to ask each member of the panel to introduce themselves. Calling panel members by name during the interviews helps you make a good impression.

The interviewers will ask questions you are prepared to answer, ones you are not prepared to answer, and one’s you don’t want to answer. In earlier blogs, we discussed how to prepare answers for interview questions. Here we are going to discuss the delivery of answers.

Let the interviewer ask the first question. Remember all questions are part of the interview process, even if they are about subjects like the weather or sports. This is not the time to make disparaging comments about either; negative answers on any topic can be seen as a reflection of your attitude towards life, work, and others.

When you are asked a question listen carefully and make sure the interviewer has completed the question before you begin to answers; this is not a race to see who can answer the fastest; it is the opportunity to develop a relationship based on clear communication. Start your answer looking at the person who asked it and then make eye contact with the other members of the panel. This is especially important if only one member of the panel asks questions. When appropriate say something like, “Mr. X I am glad you asked that question.”

Towards the end of the interview, you may be asked if you have any questions. Direct your questions to the entire panel. Then ask if the interviewers have any additional questions. If they say no, say thank you and make a short 30-60 wrap-up statement. Something like, “It has been a pleasure meeting with you. I am even more enthusiastic about the job and working with you than when I walked it. I think I would be a productive member of your team.” If you are applying for a job in sales or would like to deliver a stronger closing, your wrap-up statement should ask for the job. Something like the following; “Now that you know what I will bring to the job, are you ready to make me an offer?” The interviewer will probably make one more comment, probably thanking you for coming in or telling you he/she will let you the decision they make.

If you shook hands at the beginning of the meeting, shake hands at the end. Then gather your personal items and leave.

Be positive and friendly as you pass people on the way out of the building. Do not linger or ask questions about other candidates or the person you just interviewed. You are headed home or to the nearest coffee shop to write your thank you notes.


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