It seems whenever I set up a panel interview for a job seeker, he /she groans, "Not a panel interview! I'd rather meet each interviewer one-on-one." Most job seekers seem to have a fear of being interviewed by several people at once. In reality, panel interviews have many advantages that should convince those looking for a job that they may be better off with this style of interview.
Advantages of the panel interview
1. You get through the interview process faster.
That, plus the fact that you don't have to answer the same question several times in one day. Although this may not seem like a big deal, by the time you answer it for the third time, you may not recall exactly what you've said to whom ("Did I say that already, or was that in the last interview session?"). Also, you do lose a little pep and enthusiasm as the day wears on.
2. You get to meet more employees of the company.
Getting people's schedules to line up perfectly on interview day is tough. The convenience of a single time slot for all interviewers may allow you to meet that one person who asks the key question to highlight your skills, or the one that likes you the most (and acts as your advocate in the candidate review).
You want to meet as many people as possible during your interview. It is important to have a good understanding of the types of employees you'd be working with. Fitting into the "team personality" is part of enjoying your job.
3. The interviews tend to be a little more robust.
The panelists often feed on each other's questions. This increases the chances that one of them might ask a related question that really gets to the heart of your strengths. Typically, the better the interviewer, the more valuable the information exchanged. If you are the best candidate, you want a great set of questions to allow you to differentiate yourself from the others.
During an interview, sometimes an interviewer can misunderstand your point or some key information you've provided. Having a second set of ears present can help clear up these miscommunications long after you've left the interview.
4. The interview is more like a conversation.
Panel interviews are different from one-on-one interviews. A constant back-and-forth exchange with a single person can get tiresome very quickly. And if you're not connecting with your interviewer, then you're out of luck. With a panel, you have multiple opportunities to connect during a single interview. Also, when it's your turn to ask your questions about the company, you'll benefit from the fact that in a panel the interviewers tend to add to each other's remarks, giving each answer a little more depth.
Interviewers know panel interviews can seem intimidating and for this reason, many try hard to make candidates feel comfortable during the process. It's also likely that you won't be the only one nervous during your panel interview, since each panelist's interviewing technique and style are being critiqued by their peers.
How to approach the panel interview
1. Speak to all the panelists, not just the one asking the questions. It's important that all the interviewers feel like you are connecting with them, even if they're not talking.
2. If at all possible, know each of their roles ahead of time, so you can ask questions that pertain to each of them. This technique also has the ability to draw in quieter interviewers, which is important so they don't feel overlooked.
3. If you feel a little overwhelmed, turn the interview around and ask the panel a question. As long as the question is related to the subject at hand, it is not required to wait to the end of the interview to ask your questions (unless they instruct you to wait).
4. If the interview has to stop momentarily while a panelist addresses an urgent matter, and the discussion turns to small talk, be careful and maintain your interview demeanor. You are still being evaluated, so don't let your guard down.
5. Since this format of interview is more likely to be conversational in nature, treat it as such. Feel relaxed and make sure to have a friendly demeanor -- in other words don't look like you're uncomfortable just because you're outnumbered.
6. Be sure to get business cards or e-mail addresses from each panelist (not just a few), for the purpose of sending thank you notes and follow-up e-mails. You never know which one might be your biggest fan during decision-making conversations.