The majority of interviews are one-one-one, with one candidate sitting across a desk from one recruiter who’s interviewing people for a position. At some point in your career, though, you may find yourself in a panel interview – looking across a table at two or more interviewers. The experience can be a bit unnerving if you’ve never been in that situation before.
I’ve been on both sides of the table for this kind of interview. I’ve interviewed as a candidate with a hiring panel of as many as six people sitting around a boardroom table. And I’ve interviewed as the recruiter dozens of times when I was accompanied by other people.
These kinds of interviews are usually structured in one of two ways. One is where the interviewers are taking turns asking the candidate questions. The other is where additional people are present only as observers – a second pair of ears in the room (in person or virtual) to provide a different perspective on what was said. I’ll address both types separately, because as a candidate you’ll handle them different ways.
The ‘take turns’ kind of panel interview is the easier of the two. When someone asks you a question, you address your answer to them. When they begin asking the question, your body (or at least head) turns towards them, and your attention is fixed on them as you’re actively listening to their question. As you’re answering, you maintain the majority of eye contact with them. That said, you shouldn’t completely ignore the other people in the room; briefly glancing at them as you answer will keep everyone engaged in and attentive to your answer.
The ‘silent observer’ interview can be tougher. (FWIW: I don’t personally like this form of interview and generally do everything I can to ensure that all the people in the room have some role to play.) It’s a bit of a strange feeling to have a person in the room who’s listening to everything you say, and perhaps making notes as you talk, but who doesn’t say a word. If you find yourself in this kind of interview format, your approach should once again be to direct most of your attention to the person asking the questions, while not entirely leaving the other person or people out of the equation.
Momentarily directing your attention to them with occasional eye contact, perhaps a nod of the head when you’re making a point, is a good way to keep them involved in the conversation. It can feel uncomfortable, because you’re not getting any of the verbal cues from them that humans usually rely on to read others. But remember that after the interview, even if they haven’t said a word to you beyond ‘hello’, they will be weighing in with their opinions and feedback. Leaving everyone in the room with a good impression is important, and you do that by forming a connection through the conversation.
What have your experiences been with panel interviews? Good? Bad? Maybe ugly? I’d love to hear about them, drop me a line.