Have you ever had a panel interview? It's one of those job interviews where you show up and instead of one person interviewing you, three do. Or, if you're really lucky, five or six will. I'm not talking about a situation where you have one interview after another. I'm talking about a single interview where you're facing off with multiple people at a time around a single table.
If you interview people, you should know that panel interviews are scary for the candidate. I've seen this at all levels, from right out of college to senior executives. Very rarely are people comfortable with this kind of interview format. If your goal is to be welcoming, avoid this interview setup if you can. Or, provide as much information to the candidate ahead of time so they can prepare.
If you're the candidate, you should know that the company doesn't intend to scare you. They have probably scheduled you for a panel interview because it takes less time. They can interview you all at once. Also, a panel interview is not a place where you'll find yourself attacked by the panelists.
In your mind, you may picture an adversarial meeting at work. It's you versus a team of people when something goes wrong. But, that should not be the case in a panel interview. You don't yet work at the company and should be welcoming and kind.
In a panel interview, it's very likely that each person will have one or two predetermined questions they will ask you. And, it's also possible that not everyone in the room is excited to be there. They may also be nervous. Or, they may be doing the hiring manager a favor by participating in the panel.
Before you have a panel interview, ask the human resources recruiter for an agenda of the people you'll be talking to. Use that agenda to research each person, so you'll be prepared in advance. During the interview, stay calm and be friendly. Treat each person equally and with respect. Be sure to shake the hand of everyone you meet.
Afterward, send each person a thank you email. Don't send one mass email. Send a separate email for each individual person. If you can, customize each email to reflect something that aligns to the person's background or something they honed in on during your interview. But, keep it positive. Don't use the emails to apologize. Thank the person for their time and keep going. If you're feeling especially interested in a role, take the time to also send a hand written thank you note to every person. If you do this, you'll very likely be the only candidate who did – and it will make you stand out in a good way.
Remember: every interview is practice for the next one. And, you don't have to answer every question perfectly to get a job offer.
Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.