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Succeeding in Panel Interviews

For the executive interviewee, panel interviews can be a minefield.  They are unpredictable in several ways:  You may not know who the interviewers are, what their role in the company is, whether they are above you, your peer, or your subordinate, or, what their stake is in your hire!  There could be one that smiles and nods, one that asks all the questions, someone who asks no questions, and one that looks grumpy the entire time.  You may not know which of these is the most important or least important in influencing your hire.  You must have a strategy to effectively navigate group interviews.  Here is what we recommend:

Identify Interviewers:  Once everyone is settled, before they start asking questions, pleasantly ask the host of the interview if each participant could take a moment to identify themselves, their title, and their role compared to the role for which you are interviewing.  This will provide the context of their involvement.

Identify Needs/Wants:  Odds are the people in a panel interview did not contribute to the writing of the job description, BUT they each likely have an agenda for the hire.  Either at the beginning of the interview, or when you are offered the chance to ask questions, ask them: “I was hoping that each of you could give me one or two sentences on what you personally need this new hire to accomplish.”  If you get these answers, you can now respond with how you meet each of their needs – a much more valuable use of your time than asking a lot more questions!

Connections/Rapport:  Regardless of how each person behaves, you must make eye contact and smile at each person.  Don’t fall into the trap of only looking at the person who displays positive body language or smiles at you.  Also look at the person who is tapping at their phone, frowning, and has crossed their arms.  That might be the most important influencer in the hire.

Expect a Naysayer:  Panel interviews are settings where the most negative person will sometimes flex their muscles by pronouncing that you are not a fit in some way.  Never get defensive.  Validate them, and respond with grace:  “I totally understand your concern.  I can see why my paperwork could lead to that conclusion.  I’d like to add that … [then provide the counter to their objection, avoiding use of the word ‘but’ in your response].

Surface Objections:  At the end of the interview, be bold, and ask: “Do any of you have any concerns about my capability for this role, something that we could address now before we conclude?”  You have nothing to lose at this point.  You won’t always get a direct answer, but if you do, it is a golden opportunity to rebut any hidden objections, and make a better case for your hire.

Panel interviews present special challenges, and with a good strategy, you can prevent a panel interview from torpedoing your hire, and gain endorsements from the interviewers.  Good luck!