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Panel interviews: what to expect and how to stand out

Many organizations use panel interviews as part of their executive interview process. 

While this type of interview can be intimidating, your chances of succeeding will improve if you carefully prepare.

From our over thirty years of working with executive job seekers, we know that people only get hired if they adequately prepare for their interviews. Panel interviews require even more rigorous preparation than other interview types. 

In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to feel confident and prepared when facing a panel of interviewers.

Why organizations use panel interviews

For executive interviews, the panel interview usually consists of several members of the organization’s executive team. 

Organizations use panel interviews because they are an efficient way of getting buy-in and feedback from multiple stakeholders. 

If executed well, they should reduce bias in the hiring process and result in a more thorough examination of each candidate. 

Panel interviews can provide insight into the organization’s culture for the candidate. You’ll get a glimpse into the interworkings of the team by the way panel members communicate with each other. 

Preparing for a panel interview 

The ultimate goal of your interview is to demonstrate your qualifications and showcase how you can contribute to the company’s mission. 

As you would with any other interview, make sure you:

  • Research the company
  • Practice responding to common interview questions
  • Prepare examples of past successes that demonstrate your capabilities for the role you’re interviewing for
  • Prepare thoughtful questions about the position and organization

In addition, ask the organization for the names of the panel members ahead of time. Then, take the time to research each person. 

Look for interviewer bios on the company website and check out each person’s LinkedIn profile. Note titles, career trajectories, and key accomplishments while with the organization. 

During the interview, you’ll want to engage with each panel member. Address each interviewer by name and focus on building rapport using the information gathered during your research. 

Consider what perspective each interviewer may have because of their job function. 

For example, a CFO may be particularly interested in hearing how you saved a previous employer money. The COO may be more concerned with how a project impacted customer engagement. 

Where possible, address areas important to each stakeholder when answering questions. 

Answering panel interview questions

First and foremost, listen carefully before responding to get all the information and context clues the interviewer provides. 

Then, you’ll want to ensure you fully answer the question without rambling. (If your answer is over 90 seconds, it’s too long!) 

When appropriate, provide examples demonstrating how your experience applies directly to their needs.

For behavioral interview questions, make sure you structure your answer. The PAR technique (Problem, Action, Result) provides a good framework. Always make sure you quantify the results.  

Aim for a conversational feel during the interview. 

Convey that you listened carefully with phrases like “As Eileen mentioned earlier…” or “As I mentioned…” 

There may be underlying biases among certain members of an interviewing panel. Try not to let any negative comments or facial expressions affect your performance. Focus on responding positively regardless. 

Appearing confident and capable  

Body language can make or break an interview.  

Many experts believe it is just as important as the words you say when it comes to landing a job. For executive job seekers, this is especially true. 

As mentioned above, it’s crucial to connect with each interviewer. 

When responding to a question, focus initially on the person who asked the question. Focus on the other panelists while elaborating on points or providing examples so that everyone feels included in the discussion.

To appear confident, sit up straight and avoid fidgeting.

Keep your hands still on the table and use gestures sparingly but purposefully when making a point.  

Smiling can go a long way toward putting people at ease. However, if you smile too much, you can come off insincere. 

Practice makes perfect

Recruit some friends or hire a job search coach to help you improve your interviewing skills. 

Your mock interviewers should ask you commonly asked questions and dig into your responses with follow-up questions. 

Having them probe your answers will make you feel more comfortable with this format during an interview. 

How to deal with rapid fire questions 

You will likely be asked another question before fully answering the last one in a panel interview. Or, you may be asked multiple questions at once. 

When this happens, it’s essential to control the pace of conversation. Pause before responding and carefully consider what you want to say.

Writing down notes can help you keep track of your talking points or questions asked in quick succession.  

If an interviewer cuts you off while you are still in mid-sentence, assess whether what you had left to say was critical for them to know. 

If so, politely ask: “Before I answer your question, may I share a final thought on the last?” and complete your previous response. 

Preparing for an online panel interview  

Video panel interviews can be extra tricky, especially when there are lags in audio or video. You’ll want to pause before answering questions to avoid talking over someone. 

Here are a few quick video interview tips: 

  • Speed check your internet (ensure an upload or download speed of at least 5 Mbps)
  • Install (and test) the video software ahead of time
  • Make sure you have a professional background
  • Position the camera at eye-level 
  • Ensure your face is well-lit (avoid backlighting)
  • Wear a suit; avoid busy patterns
  • Arrive early
  • Look directly at the camera when speaking
  • Remain unflustered if you experience a technical challenge

Following up after a panel interview 

Send thank you notes promptly after the interview.  

We recommend sending an email thank you note the same day. Reiterate your interest in the opportunity if you want the position. 

If there were any questions asked during your interview that you couldn’t answer fully, use this opportunity in your follow-up letter to provide more detailed answers. 

Interviewers may compare notes, so write something unique for each interviewer. 

Following these panel interviewing tips will help ensure you perform well and convince the employer you’re the best candidate for the job.

Reflecting on your panel interview experience

Regardless of the outcome, every panel interview is a chance to gain insight into your strengths and areas for improvement. Take time to reflect on the experience and use it as a learning opportunity for future interviews.

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