Surviving (and Thriving) in Panel Interviews

While some people seem perfectly at ease in front of an audience, most of us are scared silly at the thought of having to speak in front of more than one person. In fact, studies show that the #1 fear among adults is public speaking – even higher than death!

Add this fear to the already stressful interview situation, and it can
seem pretty overwhelming. While I don’t necessarily recommend the old
trick of imagining the panel of professionals in front of you naked in
order to put yourself at ease, I do have some tips for gearing your
communication skills toward dealing with a larger audience than you may
be accustomed to.


Tweaking Your Communication Skills for a Larger Audience

  • Make eye contact
  • You already know that
    maintaining eye contact is one of the most effective communication
    skills, but now you have to maintain eye contact with multiple sets of
    eyes. So that you don’t end up looking around like a scared rabbit, try
    keeping your eyes first on the person asking each question, and then
    direct your answer them all. Look at each person casually as you
    answer, changing your gaze no more than about once every 10-15 seconds.
    (Practice this the next time you’re talking with a group of friends,
    and notice how easily it can be done.)

  • Listen
  • We all know the communication skills mantra:
    we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. While interviews are meant
    for presenting yourself to potential employers, be sure to really hear
    what each person is asking, and allow time for your answers to sink in.
    If you notice someone looking confused or unsatisfied with an answer
    you give, it’s ok to ask them if they’d like for you to elaborate.

  • Practice
  • Ask some friends to help you prepare. Have
    them sit in front of you in a semi-circle, give each a copy of your
    resume, and have them ask you questions. Practice your eye contact, and
    including each person in your answers. Ask for feedback on how you’re
    coming across, and make adjustments until you’re able to appear relaxed
    and confident.


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Beyond Communication Skills –


  • Prepare Yourself
  • The person who schedules your
    interview may not volunteer the fact that you’ll be interviewing with
    more than one person. It’s ok to ask exactly who you’ll be interviewing
    with so you can prepare yourself mentally. (Added bonus: knowing and
    memorizing their names up front will help during the interview, since
    the first few minutes of introductions are usually a blur!)

  • Adapt your answers
  • During the interview, try to
    think about the questions you are asked from the perspective of each
    person in the room – or at least from one other angle than the obvious.
    These people probably represent different departments and/or management
    levels. For this reason, expect follow-up questions and strive to
    understand what angle they’re looking for and help them learn what they
    want to know.

However, don’t be thrown off or insulted if some people in the room
never say a word. They could be there simply to observe and not ask
questions. Include these people in your eye contact and answers anyway.

Interviews are already stressful situations, and compounding them
with the added dimension of a panel can certainly be intimidating, but
think of this as your opportunity to show how you can perform under
pressure. After all, you must be considered a viable candidate to
warrant all this attention and time. Let that thought give you that
extra boost of confidence you need to let your natural communication
skills shine through.

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From the Desk of Damen Choy.
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