woman interviewing in front of a panel

Preparing for Panel Style Interviews

Panel style interviews are common for first interviews in the public and not for profit sectors. In a panel style interview, a group of three or more panel members will ask a candidate pre-set questions and will often ‘score’ the responses to allow them to compare candidates as part of making a selection decision.

For the uninitiated, a panel style interview can be quite intimidating. These interviews tend to allow for less natural dialogue and depending on the size of the panel, it can be very difficult to make a connection with the panel members and to get non-verbal cues as to how the panellists are reacting to your presentation. A few simple steps to preparing for these interviews can make a big difference in how well you perform.

Do your homework. In advance of the interview, do your research on the organization, the role and the industry. Ask for copies of the organization chart, annual report, financial statements, strategic plans, or any other reports that will help to give you context. Use your network to get background information on the culture of the organization. Do some internet research on the industry or sector to be familiar with trends and significant issues, challenges or developments. Review recent news releases to get a sense of what the organization might be focusing on today.

Become familiar with the panel members. The first step is to ask who will be part of the panel! After you know this, do your research on each of the panel members. Understand their role in context of the organization and their background. Try to anticipate what ‘lens’ they will be using in the context of the full panel. Where possible, review pictures of panel members (google images is a great help) so that you can recognize panel members when you are introduced in the interview and extend a personalized introductory comment.

Mine your experience. Most interviews use behaviour or experience based questions: give an example of a time when, tell us about a situation where. Based on the position profile, anticipate what the questions might be and then start to mine your experience for the very best examples. Review your resume, make lists, highlight the examples that best illustrate different competencies. Be prepared to draw on the full breadth and depth of your experience.

Practice your presentation. After you have identified your best examples, practice them out loud. The first time you do this, it will feel awkward and you may find that the examples you thought were most relevant, don’t have the impact you intended when they are shared out loud. The second, third and fourth times you practice out loud, you will focus your presentation, confirm that you are using the right examples and gain increasing confidence that will prepare you well for the interview.

Key messages. Identify the two or three things about you and your candidacy that you want to make sure the panel knows. At the end of the interview you may be given a chance to make a closing statement or to address anything about your candidacy that you have not addressed through the interview. Even if you are not given this opportunity explicitly, you should be prepared to wrap the discussion with these few key messages. The formal back-and-forth nature of a panel style interview poses a risk that these messages won’t get voice through the pre-set questions. Make sure you are ready to influence the messages that you leave behind.