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The angst you experience interviewing one-on-one with a recruiter or hiring manager might be multiplied three-fold when you discover that you're meeting with a panel or a selection committee. Instead of viewing this as a professional firing squad, look at it as your chance to impress several decision makers at one time. Embrace a panel interview as an opportunity to learn about the company from different perspectives – more than you would during a typical one-on-one interview.
When a recruiter or human resources coordinator contacts you to schedule the panel interview, ask questions about the process, who's involved, how much time you should set aside for the meeting and whether the recruiter is actually facilitating the interview. This information will be tremendously helpful during your interview preparation. For example, if you discover the panel consists of three to four interviewers and it's expected to last approximately an hour, that's essentially 15 to 20 minutes per interviewer.
Research Panel Members
During the scheduling conversation, list the names, titles and departments of those sitting on the panel. Ask the HR staffer for the full names, titles and correct spelling so you can research each interviewer. This is an effective way to learn how to pronounce their names, and it will give you the information you need to research their professional history and even find commonalities you might with at least one of the panel members. When you greet the interviewers – and, if it's appropriate – you can mention something from your research that you found interesting about that person. For example, you could say, "Ms. Johnson, it's great meeting you. In my research about ABC Wireless, I learned you were instrumental in developing ABC's mobile app for locating hot spots overseas."
In many cases, an HR staffer or recruiter coordinates panel interviews, which means she introduces everyone and explains the interview process. Also, she might facilitate the actual question-and-answer segments or act as timekeeper. When you get to the conference room, set your portfolio and briefcase down so you have both hands free to shake hands and accept business cards. Juggling too many personal belongings, such as your portfolio, bag and a coat prevents you from giving your full attention to each interviewer.
If you and the interviewers are standing, extend a handshake and repeat the person's name as you say, "Ms. Smith, it's a pleasure to meet you. You're the manager of the accounting department, correct? Thank you for taking time to participate in my interview." If the panel member hands you a business card, briefly glance at it before you exchange brief pleasantries. After you've repeated this for every panel member, it's now time to sit down and begin the actual interview. If all of you are seated, you should be situated so that you can clearly see each panel member. As they go around the table to introduce themselves, establish eye contact with each person, nod, smile and repeat the person's name when you say, "Thank you. It's good meeting you, Ms. Jones."
Scheduling panel interviews sometimes can be difficult. A panel member might arrive after the interview has begun. In this case, when another interviewer shows up, rise to acknowledge her presence and shake hands. Give your name and wait until the interviewer gets situated before you resume answering the interview question. If the recruiter doesn't bring the new person up to speed on the interview, you could briefly summarize the question you were in the process of answering. For example, you could say, "Mr. Doe, I was just talking about my work experience with XYZ Mobility." Then, resume your answer to the question in progress.
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Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.