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How candidates can make the Panel Interview work in their favor

Panel Interview

Are you ready for this panel interview?

Panel Interviews

Most people fear two things with panel interviews.

  • We will be asked a question we won’t know the answer to. This isn’t so bad in front of one person, but in front of a panel of people, this is an entirely different scenario.
  • A panel interview is an inquisition where everyone is going to ask us questions at the same time, or one right after another in machine gun fashion.

To most candidates, the universally dreaded event known to psyche out a candidate days before the event is the panel interview. This may be the Goliath of interviewing, but remember David came out victorious and you can as well.  Personally, I like panel interviews when I am the one that is BEING interviewed. The panel interview is the one interview where I believe the odds can be in favor of the candidate.

Why a company would use a panel interview:

  • They don’t take up as much time. A candidate can interview with 5 plus employees in one-third the time it would take to interview individually. Whether you have 1 person interviewing you or 5, the interview probably isn’t going to last more than 90 minutes. It is a rare instance where a company is going to put 5 people into a room to interview a candidate for more than 90 – 120 minutes. Five separate interviews can last all day and HR spends half the time managing the interview loop.
  • It is easier to reach consensus on a candidate when all of the interviewers were in the same room and saw and heard the same thing.
  • Gives great training opportunity to an inexperienced interviewer. No company wants to take on the legal liability of an inexperienced interviewer in a room by themselves with a candidate.

Disadvantages to the company:

  • A panel interview is costly. To get 3-5 employees in a room for an hour is 3x-5x as expensive as a single employee. It is harder to schedule 5 employees in a single room and this can delay the interview process.
  • 60-90 minutes severely limits the number of questions that can be asked. Remember 5-7 minutes for introductions and chitchat, then another 7-10 minutes at the end for you to ask question shaves 10-15 minutes right out the gate.
  • As part of a panel, interviewers are forced to share 90 minutes of interview time with 3-5 other panelist. Interviewers effectively have 30 minutes with a panel of 3 and am cut down to 18 minutes with 5 panelists. The numbers are worse if the interview is scheduled for one hour or there is a dominant interviewer on the panel who doesn’t allow others to ask questions.
  • One person usually takes over the interview and asks all the questions.

Panel interview advantages for the candidate:

  • Panel Interviews give you a more realistic picture of what the team dynamic is like. (I don’t agree with accepting a position after interviewing with only 1 person. Before I accept any position, I want to interview with as many people as I can so I gain real insight into what I am getting into).
  • Panel Interviews are usually more organized. The group has talked about their interview goals beforehand and each panelist has a few questions they will ask you.
  • Panel Interviews are more civilized because no one wants to make a mistake in front of a group of their peers and most people are less prone to becoming aggressive or throwing around their weight in front of a crowd. (This can be different at the exec level, but if you are interviewing at this level, you know it comes with the territory and again, you gain insight into the dynamic.)
  • Panel Interviews give you more opportunity for team buy-in. All interviewers will have had a say in you getting hired, which means they individually gave you their thumbs up. They will have a vested interest in you being successful in your new role. If you don’t meet everyone and are just introduced as a new person to the team by your manager, you are a complete stranger on day one.
  • Panel Interviews spread your liability. In one on one interview loops, if your first interviewer has had a bad day, doesn’t have the time, or worse, doesn’t know how to conduct an interview, you are screwed.  More people in the room will increase the odds you will get a fair shot. (They may put one on accident, but they aren’t going to put 5 jackasses in a room with you ) How to control an interview here.  
  • It is much easier to see someone break down (or hold up) in an all-day interview loop. Interview fatigue sets in after being asked the same questions over and over by 4 separate interviews. Answers get shorter and candidates ask fewer questions on the 5th interview.  This is a big mistake on the part of the candidate and panel interviews work in your favor here.

At the beginning of this post, I listed the two big fears of Panel Interviews. Hopefully the above helped lessen the fears.

Remember, the panel interview is a time saver for the company, and you are only going to be asked ONE QUESTION AT A TIME.  These are civilized events, not inquisitions.

Next post, tips to crush a panel interview.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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