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Tactics for Handling a Panel Intervie

By Carole Martin and Kathryn Troutman

There you sit alone in front of the room, waiting for the assembled strangers to attack with interview questions. It's really not quite that bad. In fact, there is an upside to panel interviews. You'd probably have to talk to each of these people individually at some point in the process -- this way, you get it over all at once.

Panel -- or board -- interviews are often characterized by a standard set of questions for all applicants. Typically formal and organized, this interview format is often used in academia and government or for high-level executives. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a panel interview for other positions in a company.

Interview Preparation: Don’t Be Ambushed

Find out what type of interview you can expect. The recruiter setting up your job interview can probably give you an idea ahead of time. If you have the opportunity, ask: How long will the interview be? Who will be on the panel? You can better tailor your responses when you understand the interview conditions.

And remember -- no matter how uncomfortable the interview situation -- you are there as a professional to learn just as much about them as they are eager to learn about you.

Different Perspectives, Same Purpose

How do you deal with so many interviewers in one sitting? The best way is to take them one at a time. The board or panel is not one entity, but several individuals coming together with the common goal of hiring the best candidate for the job. At the same time, each person has his own agenda or department's interest at heart.

For example, the HR manager will be checking to make sure you are a good fit with the culture and people working at the company. The hiring manager will want to know about your technical skills or business know-how. And the person from accounting will want to know if you are savvy enough to operate a business budget.

What to Expect from the Panel

You may be asked to speak about instances when you demonstrated particular behaviors or skills that are key to performing your desired job. This form of interviewing, known as a behavioral interview, relies on the premise that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior.

Always be prepared to provide a brief summary of who you are and your career goals. This message can include your overall mission, top-level skills and interests, but not a recitation of your life’s history. Be ready to share your concise message at the beginning or end of the interview.

Practicing for the interview with a video or audio recorder is extremely helpful. The best answers include examples that are compelling, on-target and spoken with interest and some enthusiasm. When speaking, don’t hesitate to lean forward. Check your posture at a table and lean forward to demonstrate interest in the position. Remember to look at each person who asks the question, and then shift your eye contact to the other members of the interviewing team.

Lastly, make sure you get each person's business card, hopefully at the beginning of the interview, so you can address each person by name and follow up with individual thank-you notes afterwards.

Team Interviews

Another multiple-type interview is the team or "good cop/bad cop" interview. The team is usually made up of two interviewers, one who asks the questions and one who takes notes. The two typically trade roles, which can be confusing if they have different styles. Keep in mind that these inquisitors are working together toward the same end, so treat them equally.

Although these interviews can be stressful, interview practice and preparation can pay off. When you rehearse your answers and your physical presentation beforehand, you will feel more confident no matter how many people you have to face.

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