Group hug

It is increasingly common these days to be interviewed by a panel instead of an individual. Why?  There are several good reasons from the employer’s standpoint; group interviews are financially preferable because several employees can check out the candidate at once, thereby saving time and resources.  There is less chance of impropriety or questionable interaction on the part of the employer if there is more than one person conducting the interview.  And most importantly, there is a common experience among the group of interviewers that allows them to compare notes and impressions with a similar frame of reference; in other words, it helps balance the subjectivity of interviews.  It is common to go through a panel interview in the first round, then a one-on-one for the second round, so it is very important to know how to handle a group interview so that you can get to that second round.  There is a distinct strategy to showing your best self to a panel.  Here are some suggestions to help you shine;

·         Do your homework- When the interview is scheduled, ask the coordinator the names of the people you’ll be meeting with, their titles and their departments.  This will give you insight into their hierarchy and who actually works in the department you’re trying to get in to.  Always bring a pad of paper with you, preferably housed in a nice looking portfolio, and bring notes with you on the information you’ve learned about the panel.

·         Introductions- When you are introduced to the group, you will probably only be given the name of the person, without their title mentioned. You will be off to a very impressive start if you have the opportunity to mention that you are aware of their title and department as you’re introduced to each.  Keep this part casual and don’t come off like you’re performing for them.  If you are introduced to someone new who you were not told about beforehand, mention it and add their information to your notes.  They will look favorably on your organization skills and that you gathered information before the interview.  What you’re accomplishing is helping them visualize what you would be like in meeting customers.

·         Address everyone with your answers- Sometimes the panel will rotate the questioning, and sometimes one member of the group will ask most of the formal questions. Whichever the case, you want to direct your responses to every member of the group.  Make eye contact with each person and acknowledge them each as an individual.  What you’re demonstrating is that you are a team-player, feel like an equal, and are not just sucking-up to the alpha dog in the group.

·         Target your audience- Be aware that the HR manager in the group will want to hear about your people skills, the sales manager will want to hear about your previous accomplishments in terms of numbers and percentages, and the senior manager will want to know if you have qualities that will allow you to advance within the company in the long run.  Make sure that in the process of answering questions, you feed each member of the panel the kind of information they’re be looking for.

·         Have your questions prepared- Before you go in for the interview, prepare at least one question for each member of the panel.  When it comes time for you to ask your questions, direct them to the relevant member of the group.  For example; ask the HR manager a question about the corporate culture or the company’s mission statement; ask the sales manager about their greatest challenge in leading this particular team of people; ask the senior manager about their vision for the development or growth of the organization as a whole.  The more you can engage the entire group, the more you will be perceived as being on equal footing with them as opposed to a ‘candidate’ or an outsider.

·         Follow up correctly- You will need to send a thank-you note to each member of the panel.  Do not take the lazy route and send one e-mail addressed to all of them- it will be seen as just that; lazy.  Send a proper handwritten note to each of them thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in, and qualifications for the position- then mention something in a simple two sentences that lets them know you remember then specifically. Perhaps something like how much you appreciate the candor with which they answered your question about … then mention the actual question. Again, you want to acknowledge each of them as an individual.