Pressure Sessions

Learning how to conquer a panel interview

Marceid Hatcher was excited to be granted his first post-college interview but was nervous to learn it would be a group interview of four — in what is called a panel interview, several company representatives, sometimes from different divisions, interview a candidate together.

“The interview was my first out of college, so it actually scared me and caused huge discomfort,” says Hatcher, 25. After a rocky start the inexperienced Hatcher was able to focus on delivering the best answers, successfully conducting a strong interview. He was eventually offered the position, though he chose to seek another opportunity.

Currently a project engineer with Turner Construction Co. in Southern California, Hatcher knows that such interviews can be a real challenge. Candidates in these types of interviews have to impress and engage several managers at once, addressing situations that may directly affect prospective positions ad quickly assessing how scenarios proposed by managers outside of your department could be resolved.

Trudy Bourgeois, president and CEO of Dallas-based The Center for Work Force Excellence, explains that companies use the panel interview method to gain multiple viewpoints. “One person making a decision is not always best for the company. There are many cross-functional workplace relationships these days,” she says.

Bourgeois offers the following advice for nailing a panel interview:

Remember each person has his or her own agenda. Collectively, the objective is to review the applicant. Each person, however, has separate challenges and needs to address, says Bourgeois. She recommends doing your research on the committee and its departmental needs prior to the interview.

Be prepared to tailor your answers to the expertise of individual interviewers. A finance manager or representative may be more focused on cost-cutting measures and your plan for the management of material resources. A representative from human resources may expect an explanation of how you manage employees. It’s important to examine how your departmental position impacts overall functions of the company and examine strategic opportunities to discuss during your interview, offers Bourgeois.

Make a connection with everyone in the room. Don’t focus on the number of bodies in the room. Orchestrate the session, and make it your own. You want to engage each person through eye contact and relaxed but confident body language.

Offer a perspective that unites the group. Although you may be in the presence of different department leaders with varying agendas, it is important to demonstrate your ability to function as a member of a team.

According to Bourgeois, the panel interview is all about agility and adaptability. “You must have the ability to manage change and expect the unexpected,” she explains. Remember that you cannot prepare for every possible scenario or question, but you can be yourself. “Be comfortable offering up your authentic perspective based on the insight that you have.”

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