Facing the ‘firing squad’ – panel interview tips

Top panel interview tips from Clarion Resourcing

The job interview is one of the most daunting challenges we have to face in our professional lives.  It represents the ‘make or break’ opportunity to impress the interviewer and convince them that we are the right person for the job.

One-to-one interviews require lots of preparation and forethought.  Panel interviews, where the challenge is multiplied by a factor or two or three, require even more.

Panel interviews are growing in popularity.  Many organisations view them as a risk-mitigating tool in hiring a new employee.  With the input and observations of a number of individuals, a high level of objectivity, fairness and unbiased assessment can be achieved.

Candidate preparation starts with the basics of finding out who will be sitting on the interview panel.  Ask your contact point or recruitment consultant (if you’ve gone through an agency) to find out the names and job titles of your interviewers.  Try to discover as much as you can about their role within the organisation and their background.  Why not conduct an internet search through or use a tool such as LinkedIn to find out?

Your recruitment consultant can also act as a valuable source of information so tap into that knowledge.  They may have been dealing with the hiring manager for some time and may be able to offer some valuable insights (hard and soft skills) into what they are looking for in an ideal candidate.  Make some notes and hold this in reserve.

Prepare for the interview as you would for any other.  Understand the role you are applying for and do your homework on the organisation in question.  Rehearse the typical questions that arise in an interview situation and make sure that the answers sound fluid but natural.  See our top tips for conducting successful interviews.

On the day of the interview itself, pay particular attention to dress and body language.   Even though it feels like you’re sitting in front of a ‘firing squad’, try to remain calm, relaxed and confident in your demeanour.   You may be tempted to grab your things and dash for nearest exit but take a deep breath and compose yourself.  It’s a highly pressurised environment (and this is part of the test) but you want to display your communication skills at their best.  You can comfortably achieve this in the knowledge that you have properly prepared for the task at hand.

However, there are some extra nuances of dealing with a panel interview situation.  Get them wrong and you may be unable to dodge that bullet.

Have some questions and observations prepared for each person on the interview panel.  If a HR representative is present, think about what they will be looking for in a successful candidate and emphasise those characteristics of your career history and personality.  Ask questions about some aspect of organisational HR policy and actively engage with that individual.

If a finance or operations person is present, make sure you engage them also.  Having researched the organisation thoroughly, have some questions prepared that relate to the financial state of the organisation in terms of turnover, profitability and balance sheet.  After all, in the current climate, where the number of insolvencies in the private sector is at a high level, you are also taking a risk in moving to a new employer.

Be well prepared in terms of discussing your resume and career history.  Have plenty of examples on the ‘tip of your tongue’ which illustrate why you represent the best fit for the job.  Try to relate these examples to different areas of the business.  Remember that competency-type questions are very popular.  These relate to past behaviour or future hypothetical situations so you need to be able to think quickly on your feet.

Taking this multi-functional approach helps to build a rapport, albeit a brief one, with each panel member and displays a level of confidence in your all-round business knowledge.   It also highlights a certain attention to detail and shows the interviewers that you have researched them and the organisation thoroughly.

It is very important that you engage with all panel members equally, even if your research has uncovered an organisational hierarchy in advance.  It may be tempting to pay more attention to the actual hiring manager but don’t ignore the others on the panel.  They also have decision-making influence on the hiring process and you don’t want to alienate any panel member by inadequately addressing their questions or dismissing their input in the process.

Make eye contact with all members of the panel as you address them and try to cross-reference questions across the different functions.  Don’t forget that with more than one person asking the questions, it’s an opportunity to impress across the board, avoiding potential bias.

End the interview on a positive note and thank each member individually before leaving.

Finally, remember the panel are interviewing you to solve a problem.  While you might perceive the environment to be hostile they are looking for solutions and are hoping you might be the solution they need.

On June 25th, 2013, posted in: Blog by
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