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What Is a Panel Interview and How to Succeed in One

A picture of a woman in a panel interview

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You’re invited to interview at your dream company. As you’re reviewing the information the recruiter sent, you notice you’re scheduled for a panel interview. And as you check further, you see you’re interviewing with multiple people. What the heck is happening?

Though relatively uncommon, a panel interview is a type of interview some companies use to streamline the hiring process. In short, you’ll interview with more than one person from the company at the same time.

And if the thought of facing a line of people firing questions at you makes you a little queasy, have no fear! Preparing and acing a panel interview is almost the same as prepping for any interview, and this guide will help you nail it!

What Is a Panel Interview?

A panel interview is where you (the candidate) meet with a panel of multiple interviewers. The panel consists of two or more interviewers who meet with you at the same time. Panel interviews are different from a group interviews and team interviews. 

So, what is a group interview? In a group interview, two or more candidates are interviewed by one or more interviewers at the same time.

Team interviews are when you meet and interview with potential team members. You might meet with a panel of team members or have a series of one-to-one interviews with them.

Why Do Employers Use Panel Interviews?

At most companies, applicants have multiple interview rounds, meeting with different people who weigh in on their candidacy for the role. And scheduling individual interviews with everyone means coordinating and accommodating multiple schedules throughout a day or even a week. It’s taxing and time-consuming for everyone involved — including you!

>>MORE: How to Respond to a Job Interview Email (With Examples)

Panel interviews are often easier to schedule and generally faster than individual interviews. When you meet with everyone at once, you’ve eliminated the need to schedule and conduct multiple interview rounds.

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But another reason employers use panel interviews is that they create a unique dynamic for evaluating applicants. Several people see the same candidate answer the same questions in the same situation, but each interviewer may interpret the candidate’s answer differently.

“In a one-to-one interview you have one perspective,” says Annie Rosencrans, people and culture director, Americas, at HiBob. “But in a panel interview you can pose one question and everyone can have different interpretations of how the candidate answers. This can shed light on that individual’s candidacy.”

What’s more, Rosencrans adds that the advantage of a panel interview is the interviewers can review the candidates and discuss the same set of interview questions right after the interview, instead of following up later via email or Slack. This can help remove bias in the applicant review process.

How to Prepare for a Panel Interview

In many respects, preparing for a panel interview is no different than preparing for an individual interview. However, as Rosencrans notes, panel interviews can be “extra nerve wracking.” So, here are tips and tricks to help you get panel interview ready.

Do Your Research

No matter what kind of interview you’re scheduled for, it’s important to prepare for it. That includes researching the company as well as the people you’re interviewing with.

Rosencrans says that researching all the individuals you’re meeting with is vital for panel interview success. She recommends you research what each person currently does. “In a panel interview, you’ll eventually be asked, ‘What questions do you have for us?’ By researching your panel in advance, you can ask each individual targeted questions about their speciality.”

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According to Rosencrans, this can be especially helpful if one or more of your panelists haven’t asked you any questions throughout the interview. You can turn to that person and ask them to tell you more about their area of the business.

Bring Extra Resumes

While you should always bring a few extra paper copies of your resume to any interview, for a panel interview, make sure you bring more than a few extra copies. A good rule of thumb is one for every person in the room plus three or four more.

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And remember that “every person in the room” includes you! You never know when one of the interviewers might refer to something on your resume, so it’s best to have a paper copy handy just in case.

How to Ace the Panel Interview

While a panel interview is, in some respects, no different than a one-to-one interview, there are a few things you should do differently to succeed in a panel interview.

Make Eye Contact With Everyone

Whether you’re interviewing with a panel of two or a panel of 10, make eye contact with everyone in the room. As you answer a question, you can begin by addressing the person who asked it but don’t forget about the rest of the panel. Switch up who you look at while you’re speaking. 

Looking at the rest of the panel can help you gauge their reaction to your response. And if there’s someone who hasn’t spoken yet, making eye contact with them shows you aren’t ignoring or forgetting about them and could help draw them into the conversation.

Pause Then Answer

Because you’re meeting with multiple people who may have different interviewing styles, engage your active listening skills. This will help you slow down and carefully listen to what each interviewer is asking before forming your response. And, as Rosencrans says, it will help you “leave space for the question so you don’t cut the interviewer off.”

If you’re not sure the interviewer is done asking the question, take a breath before you answer. This, Rosencrans says, helps ensure you don’t interrupt the interviewer. 

Speak Up

Depending on the room, some of the panel may be seated away from you — like the opposite end of the conference room table. As you answer the first question, ask if everyone can hear you. If not, adjust your volume accordingly and maintain that level for the entire interview.

Also, make extra sure you’re speaking clearly. Not only will this help ensure everyone can hear you, it will also make it less likely you’ll have to repeat yourself.

Answer the Same Question Differently

When you participate in multiple individual interviews at a company, there’s a good chance you’ll answer some of the same questions in each interview. “Tell me about yourself,” and “Why are you interested in working for us,” are common repeats. But it makes sense the interviewers would ask these particular questions over and over. They just met you and want to learn more!

In a panel interview, everyone is in the same room and hears the questions other panelists ask, as well as your answers. So, in theory, you shouldn’t be asked the same question over and over. But the reality is that it doesn’t always pan out that way.

For example, interviewer A may ask you to talk about your biggest achievement in your current role. This, of course, is a great opportunity to highlight your skills and abilities and how you’ll use them at this company. But then interviewer B may ask you to discuss your greatest strength, which is often the same skills you used to accomplish your biggest achievement in your current role!

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Instead of repeating what you just said, use it as an opportunity to expand on your first answer or to discuss new skills. For example, if your big achievement was pitching a new client and closing the deal, you probably used your verbal communication and persuasiveness skills. As you talk about your strength, you could build on your original answer and discuss how you collaborated with other teams to get the necessary data that helped you build a successful pitch deck.

Take Specialized Notes

Taking notes in any interview can help you remember what you discussed and formulate questions. In an individual interview, this is a relatively simple process. Since you’re meeting with one person, you can jot down your thoughts on a notepad. But how do you take notes in a panel interview?

The easiest way might be to include initials in your notes so you can connect what you wrote with a particular person. So, if John Doe says something of interest, you can write “JD” by your note. Of course, if Jane Doe is also in the interview, this may not work.

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Depending on the seating arrangements, you could assign each person a number. For example, working clockwise, you can number each interviewer and write that number by your notes. To make this work, though, you’ll need to write down the full name of each person by their number unless you’re positive you can remember who is which number.

After Your Panel Interview

With your panel interview concluded, most of the hard work is done. However, there are a few more things you need to do to ensure post-panel interview success.

Finish Your Notes

Take a few minutes and finish your notes. You likely have a lot of information in your head that you need to transfer to paper before you forget. Also use it as an opportunity to connect who said what in your notes.

If you can’t write your notes, jot them in an email to yourself or record them as a voice memo.

Send Personalized Thank You Notes

After every interview, you should send a personalized thank you note to your interviewer. And the same is true for a panel interview. You need to send a personalized thank you note to every interviewer — a task you may find a bit daunting. After all, everyone was in the same room at the same time! So, how do you personalize thank you notes after a panel interview?

“Sending the same note looks lazy,” says Rosencrans. “See if you can pull out one relevant thing from the interview and include it in the note. This helps demonstrate your attention to detail and will help you stand out.”

To be clear, you need to pull out a different “relevant thing” for each thank you note! Using the same detail in every thank you note defeats the purpose of personalization.

In-Person vs. Virtual Panel Interviews

You may be wondering if the same tips apply to in-person and virtual panel interviews.

As a rule, they do. You’ll still want to research your panel before the interview and use your active listening skills. And making eye contact in any virtual interview means looking into the camera, not at the screen.

>>MORE: 12 Tips for Your Next Zoom Interview

However, a significant difference between an in-person panel interview and a virtual panel interview is how you draw other people into the interview. In an in-person panel interview, it’s easy to make eye contact with someone who hasn’t spoken. But it’s not as easy in a virtual environment.

Try keeping track of who has and hasn’t spoken during the interview. When it’s your turn to ask questions, direct them to those people first. This shows that you’re paying attention and acknowledging all the panel members.

Get Panel Interview Ready

You might also wonder if panel interview questions are different from what you might encounter in an individual interview. Generally speaking, nope! While the speaker might say “us” instead of “me” or “I,” outside of that, panel interview questions are the same as regular interview questions.

Check out these articles for tips and tricks to help you prep for any kind of interview:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a panel interview?

In a panel interview, you meet with a group of interviewers at the same time.

What is a group interview?

In a group interview, a group of candidates interviews at the same time with one or more interviewers.

What is a team interview?

In a team interview, you meet and interview with potential teammates.

How do I personalize panel interview thank you notes?

Pull out one relevant and specific topic that you and each interviewer discussed. Rely on your notes during the interview to ask targeted questions to each interviewer and to refresh your memory.

How do I introduce myself in a panel interview?

Introduce yourself to everyone. This allows you to associate their name with a face. You don’t need to repeat your name each time. “Nice to meet you,” is sufficient.

How long does a panel interview last?

Panel interviews can last anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.

Does the panel interview mean I got the job?

Not necessarily. Some companies use a panel interview as part of their final interview, but not all do. Any interview is a positive sign that you’re qualified for the role.

What can I learn from a panel interview?

Panel interviews are a great way for you to get some insights into the company’s culture and group dynamics. Pay attention to how everyone acts and interacts with each other to get a sense of what it will really be like to work there.

Image credit: Canva

Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.

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