The specialist HR division at Alexander Lloyd take a look at panel interviews and the challenges they present to today’s job seeker.

Panel interviews are not the standard ‘modis operendi’ for the recruitment process of HR professionals, particularly in the private sector. Therefore, they may catch you off guard and the danger of a ’rabbit in headlights’ response becomes very real. Panel interviews are particularly challenging, and require a different approach than standard one to ones, needing more thought and preparation to confidently navigate yourself through.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

The key point for a successful panel interview is preparation. Whilst this is undeniably true for any interview, with panels it really comes into its own. You don’t just have one interviewer to concern yourself with, you have upward of three. It is essential that you have researched each of your interviewers to obtain insights into their background and current position in the organisation.

Don’t be afraid to use social media as part of your research.

If so, do you have any connections in common, can you view their profile? Gaining an idea of the background of each interviewer obviously provides you with insights into their CV; look for commonalities between you.

Have you perhaps worked for the same company previously, or have other links in common?

This will assist you in developing a rapport and make your answers relevant when citing examples.

Panel interviews can consist of upwards of three members who will represent different key areas of the business. The format of the panel can vary, dependant on the organisation. It will either be led by a chair who will ask the majority of questions with other members taking notes and perhaps asking one or two questions at the end.

Alternatively, each panel member may take ownership of a certain element of the interview, and ask questions in turn. The least organised and by far the most intimidating is the free for all, with all members of the panel jumping in and little structure. This format tends to lend itself to the good cop; bad cop approach most satisfactorily, being designed to catch you off guard.

Understanding the wider context

Understanding the interviewer’s position within the company hierarchy is vital as part of your preparation. The areas of concern of each panel member are going to be different and it is vital therefore that your answers reference those areas.

It is essential that you show an understanding of how the business makes money. This may be the relatively simple sale of products, but it may be complicated services or a global corporation that is a much more complex concern. Through this understanding, you will be able to demonstrate how your job role can add value to the business in a wider context and demonstrate your own business acumen.

Don’t forget, you must emphasise in the interview how you have contributed to businesses in the past and the benefits brought about as a result. Use the opportunities to sell yourself as they are presented.

Engage with all members of the panel

When answering questions, and citing examples, do your best to engage the entire panel. Begin your answer with eye contact with the questioner, and then move across the panel.

Keep your body language open and engaged will assist in this, as will tying your answer to other areas of the business. For example, if the finance director asks you a particular question that is relevant across the board, draw in the other members of the panel who would also have an interest and relate the question to their area of concern.

This technique will help you to engage different members of the panel whilst demonstrating skills and past experience. Whilst answering the question however, one of the quickest ways to lose your audience’s interest is to waffle.

Simon Geere, head of the HR division reports;
“One of the most common pieces of negative feedback that we receive about candidates is the tendency to waffle; too much time is spent talking around the point but not actually answering the question at hand.”

Stop the waffle

To keep yourself on track, we recommend the STAR technique.

How did the outcome have an effect on the company and other departments? This technique will help you to formulate an answer that is succinct, lasting about two minutes, contextualised and most importantly, actually answers the question!

Of course, part of the assessment protocol from the whole process is about how you cope in a pressurised environment.

In a panel this pressure, created through the dynamic of different personalities engenders a very challenging environment for the interviewee. You may breathe a sigh of relief therefore that they are not a common occurrence in graduate recruitment.

However, considering the valuable economies of time and scale that are enjoyed from an organisation’s perspective this is a little surprising. Perhaps with the continued drive for efficiency in processes they may one day be a common experience for the job seeker.

About the Author

  • About Kate Selleck: Alexander Lloyd has become one of the South East’s leading recruitment consultancies since its launch in 1999. With an unrivalled network of contacts and industry knowledge, they continually and successfully place the region’s top candidates in a range of companies.

Kate Selleck

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