How to prepare for a panel interview

Companies embrace panel interviews as a cost and time effective screening tool to identify the best candidate for the position they’re hiring for. It’s can be more efficient speaking with up to a dozen candidates all at once than it is to spend an hour with each individual applicant. Panel interviews can also mimic a work environment, allowing interviewers to see how candidates relate to and collaborate with others before whittling down their short list of candidates for a one-on-one meeting.

As you never know if your next interview could be in a group setting, it’s worth planning ahead. Here are some pointers to help you prepare for a panel interview.

Arrive ahead of schedule

Your behaviour in a panel interview is being observed from the moment you enter the room. By arriving early, you give yourself time to regain your composure and introduce yourself to fellow candidates. Not only does this interaction highlight your ability to network, it will also come in handy if you are given a problem to solve as a group. Being able to refer to other candidates by name reinforces your interpersonal skills.

Plan an introduction

It’s likely the panel interview will start off with the employer asking people in the group to introduce themselves. Having a response prepared can help with a crisp delivery. Aim to be confident, highlight your skills and experience, but keep your introduction short and concise.

Research the company

Doing some background research on the hiring company is a smart step to prepare for any interview. But in a panel interview you will really stand out if you can tailor your responses to the company and the industry it is part of.

Practise speaking with confidence

In a stressful environment it can be easy to let bad habits creep in, like trailing off mid-sentence or punctuating sentences with “you know” or “like”. Be mindful of how you speak, and if you’re on the shy side, role play a panel interview with a few friends to build your confidence.

Learn to listen

In a panel interview that involves a role play or problem solving, you need to be able to build on the conversation, and that’s only possible if you actively listen to the responses of other candidates rather than concentrating on what you will say next. Develop listening skills by focusing on what the people you’re talking with are really saying. When someone introduces themselves for instance, concentrate on listening to their name and key background skills.

Prepare your own questions

As with a one-on-one interview, it is likely you will be given an opportunity at the end of a panel interview to ask questions of your own. Asking intelligent, relevant questions can help you stay uppermost in the interviewer’s mind. Don’t drill down into too much detail though, and skip questions about salaries at this stage.

Likely panel interview questions

A panel interview can be especially useful to determine soft skills such as leadership and collaborative ability, as well as interpersonal skills.

You may be given a problem to solve or be asked to simulate a workplace exercise. Or the panel interview questions could focus on a controversial topical issue to see how each candidate handles conflict. Staying abreast with current affairs and the issues facing the company and/or its industry can help you make a valuable contribution.

Depending on the role and company, other panel interview questions may run along the lines of:

  • How would you handle a difficult client?
  • What is your idea of good customer service?
  • Why do you feel you’re a good fit for the position?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?

Thinking about how you would respond to these types of questions can help you plan a response.

Panel interview tips

Take a look at our four panel interview tips to stand out for all the right reasons:

  1. Maintain a professional composure – It may come as a surprise to see other candidates gathered for the interview but keep your cool and don’t let it show. Chances are you’ll face plenty of surprises on the job, and you need to demonstrate you can handle any situation with a professional approach.
  2. Manage ideas – A panel interview is not the place to aggressively interject when others are speaking, so if a great idea pops into your head jot it down. That way your flash of brilliance won’t be forgotten moments later.
  3. Let others speak – Discounting the views of others can suggest you would be a difficult colleague to work with. It may seem counter-intuitive but acknowledging the views of fellow candidates and either building on their ideas or explaining why you would suggest an alternative will highlight your interpersonal skills.
  4. Be body language aware – Our body language can speak volumes about what we really think or feel. The trouble is, we’re often unaware of the signals we give off. Tightly folded arms, fist-thumping a desk or reclining or slouching in a chair can suggest aggression, arrogance or dominance – hardly the qualities a hiring manager will be looking for. That makes it important to be mindful of your body language. Avoid pointing or guffawing, and aim to appear professional and alert.

Want more interview tips and advice? Visit our job interview hub.