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The Firing Squad: How to Survive a Panel Interview

If your palms start to sweat before a one-on-one interview, you can imagine
the nerves that come when a potential employer says you’ll be meeting with
not one, but four people—all at the same time!

Four-on-one hardly seems fair—that means fknoour times the interviewers,
asking four times the rapid-fire questions. But fair or not, it’s best to be
prepared—“interview by firing squad” is a common way for companies to
speed up their hiring process, not to mention see how candidates will react
in a group setting.

Yes, building a rapport with multiple evaluators is that many times harder
than connecting with just one—but it’s definitely possible. Here are a few
survival tips for your next panel interview.

Know Who’s Firing Questions at You

Typically, your panel of interviewers will represent multiple areas of the
company, so each representative will consider you through a different lens.
For example, if you’re interviewing at a tech company for a project
management role, your panel might include the department manager (your
potential direct supervisor), an HR manager, and team leads from the
engineering and marketing departments, whose teams you’d work with on a
daily basis.

Because your interviewers come from different backgrounds and roles, each
one will consider your resume and responses differently. The department
manager might be most interested in your project management
background, while the engineering supervisor probably wants to hear about
your technical experience.

Because your interviewers come from different backgrounds and roles, each
one will consider your resume and responses differently. The department
manager might be most interested in your project management
background, while the engineering supervisor probably wants to hear about
your technical experience.

So, to prepare best for this type of interview, find out who your interviewers
are in advance. Simply ask your company contact (whoever you spoke or
emailed with to arrange the interview), “Can you tell me a little bit about
the panel I’ll be meeting with?” More than likely, she’ll at least be able to
give you their names.

If not, start brushing up on your memorization skills. On the day of the
interview, your initial introductions with the panel will be vital—you’ll need
to recall (and use) each interviewer’s name and role throughout the
meeting. In fact, you may find that writing down this information is easier
than committing it to memory. Taking notes is generally acceptable in an
interview—just ask your interviewers, “Is it OK if I jot a few notes down?”
first.

Engage the Group With Your Responses

Once you have a solid understanding of who’s in the room, you can build
rapport by connecting with the interviewers, both as individuals and as a
group.

To do this, answer each question directly, but then elaborate further by
adding points to address the perspectives of the other interviewers. For
example, one interviewer may ask you about how you effectively manage a
team—but you know the managers from other departments are more
interested in how you would engage their teams and work
interdepartmentally. So, you could respond with, “Holding weekly team
meetings are a must, so that everyone has clear priorities and expectations.
I also apply this when I’m working with different departments, by
scheduling standing meetings with those teams. This really enhances our
communication.”

By taking a role-specific question and molding it to apply to each person on
the panel, you’ve strengthened your rapport with the entire group—instead
of just the question-asker.

Mind Your Body Language

As you’re speaking, be aware of how you’re communicating with your body
language, too. You may be tempted to focus your attention solely on the
interviewer who holds the most senior position, asks the most questions, or
has the most say in the ultimate hiring decision, but it’s important to make
a connection with each representative.

When responding, direct your initial answer to the person who asked the
question, but as you continue to elaborate and provide examples, address
the other interviewers. And don’t just make eye contact—shift your
shoulders so that you’re squarely facing each individual. Even if they look
down to take notes, continue to move your gaze from interviewer to
interviewer to establish a more conversational atmosphere.

Defend Yourself Against the Rapid Fire Questioning

As you sit on the other side of the table, you may feel like the interviewers
are shooting each new question at you faster than you can fully answer the
previous one. And, well, they are—hence the name “firing squad interview.”
Each interviewer wants to get his or her questions answered, but has to
compete with the other panelists for air time.

To succeed in this interview format, you have to control the pace of the
conversation. Don’t rush your answers; when asked a question, pause for a
second to really consider what you want to say before responding. But make
sure you answer briefly and get to the point quickly—in a panel interview,
you will probably get asked another question before you’ve fully responded
to the last.

If an interviewer cuts you off to ask an unrelated question and you haven’t
finished your thought, immediately assess whether what you had left to say
is critical for the interviewers to know. If it’s not, then let it go. If it is
important information to share, then politely say, “Before I answer your
question, I’d like to share a final thought on the last,” and then complete
your previous response.

Prepare for Follow-Up Questions

Beyond the fast pace, this type of interview also usually evokes more followup
questions than usual. Multiple panelists means multiple perspectives—
and what satisfies one interviewer’s question may spark additional inquiries
from others. To avoid coming up short on content, make sure you’re armed
with multiple examples and anecdotes to explain your background and
experience.

You can prepare for this by recruiting some friends to host a mock panel
interview. Go through some typical interview Q&A;, but encourage your
pretend panel to dig into your answers by asking extensive follow-up
questions. This will not only improve the quality and depth of your
responses, but it’ll also help you get more comfortable with the panel
interview format.

It’s never pleasant to think of yourself on the receiving end of a firing
squad—even if the ammunition is only interview questions. But by building
rapport with your panel of interviewers, you’ll convey that you can
confidently handle any situation.
Oh, and even though they put you through the ringer, make sure to express
your appreciation by sending each interviewer a personalized thank-you
note. Then, breathe a sigh of relief—you survived!


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