How to Handle a Job Interview Panel Without Throwing Up on Yourself
Hope. Validation. Opportunity. Fear. These are all valid emotional responses to the task ahead. You immediately recognize the potential, embrace the warm feeling of acceptance and yet, there is this fear factor that is ever-present in the pit of your stomach.
Imagine your surprise when on job interview day you walk into a conference room feeling confident, but it’s not just one person staring back at you, it’s ten and you are their sole focus.
Twenty eyes staring back at you attached to sharp teeth ready to pick the meat off your bones, these guys and gals aren't joking around, hiring the best candidate is their only goal and you have to convince them you are the one.
I’ll be honest, just typing up this scenario makes me a little jitterbuggy and anxious, but this isn't some fantasy land, this is everyday life for job seekers. (Well, maybe not the sharp teeth part; that’s just my convoluted brain working)
Time to let go of the horrible visual of man-eating hiring managers awaiting your arrival and focus on how to handle this daunting situation.
Why a Job Interview Panel?
Great Quarterbacks spend their week attempting to understand what their opponent will do to stop them, and then create a counter attack to combat it.
We can do the same thing here.
The reason employers do panel interviews is to see how you handle pressure. That’s it. That is the purpose. Can you handle multiple people asking a myriad of questions, with a confusing array of thoughts in your head…and still remain calm, sound intelligent and exude confidence.
I began doing panel interviews when I was a News Director for a sports network, because the jobs I was hiring for required people who could react and respond under pressure.
Before you imagine a Law and Order style interrogation taking place, that’s not what a panel job interview is. What we’re talking about is around ten people in a room asking interview questions. A bright light and the threat of prison time aren't necessary; the pressure is there just by the nature of the environment created.
Now that you know why they are done, you can prepare yourself for how to handle the event. They want to see if you can handle the pressure and if you know that going in, you have a distinct advantage.
But that’s not the only job interview panel tip we have.
A Series of One-on-One’s
It’s all how you frame your mind. If you go into a job interview panel focused on the amount of people before you, you've already begun to lose. Whether there is one person or twenty, it’s still just one question at a time coming out of one mouth with one answer.
Person #1 asks: “Tell us about the biggest mistake you've made in your career and how you rebounded from it?” (I always loved starting with that question, puts someone on their heels if they aren't innately confident)
Your job is to look at that one person, make strong eye contact and answer as if they are the only person in the room. They asked the question, they deserve your attention. This isn't public speaking where you want to address a crowd; this is a series of personal one-on-one interviews.
Repeat this technique for every question.
Everyone on the panel is going to ask you questions, therefore you will make a direct connection with each individual, which is very powerful.
If you don’t handle it this way you will invariably gravitate your eyes towards one or two people, and exclude the rest. Maybe it’s someone on the panel who reminds you of your mother or maybe they are just fun to look at, either way if you stare down one panelist rather than engage each individual you aren't capitalizing on the opportunity to show your confidence in the face of pressure.
Acknowledge the Panel
A little bit of acting has to take place too.
You've been asked a question; you address that person directly with strong eye contact and an authoritative answer. As you feel your answer winding down, that is when you break eye contact and sweep the rest of the panel with your final few sentences.
You've focused intently on the person asking the question, making them feel important and connected with, but by finishing your answer while looking towards the rest of the panel you've started the transition to the next question and kept them in the flow.
It’s a simple technique to signify the end of your answer and still engage the rest of the panel.
Names, Names Everywhere are Names
Pitfall: Trying to remember and recall every person’s name on the panel.
Don’t try too hard to remember every person’s name and address them directly (unless you have a memory like Will Hunting). If you can’t remember everyone’s name on the panel, then by only remembering a few you make the others feel less important. That’s bad.
Also, there is a greater opportunity for failure than success.
What if you call someone the wrong name?
What if you pronounce their name wrong?
What if you spend brain power remembering names instead of thoughtful answers to the question asked?
Remove names from the mental equation and just answer the questions asked to the best of your ability. In all of the panel interviews I have done, I've never convened afterward and heard a panelist remark, “I thought it was great they remembered our names!” what I have heard is, “It was pretty awkward when they called me Shirley.”
Panel interviews are a better opportunity than you think.
Instead of being intimidated think of it as an opportunity to impress many people at once, rather than have to come back for a series of one-on-ones.
It’s all how you prepare your mind!
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