Panel interview questions and answers can throw candidates for a loop. While the traditional interview format involves one candidate and one interviewer, many companies make use of panel interviews–one candidate and many interviewers–in their hiring process. Facing multiple interviewers during what’s already a nerve-racking process might seem intimidating, but panel interviews can actually be beneficial to the candidate.
In this article, we’ll help you prepare for a panel interview and explain how you can use this interview format to your advantage. Plus, we’ll share some sample interview questions and suggested answers to help you land the job.
What is a panel interview?
As its name suggests, a panel interview consists of a panel of two or more people collectively interviewing a job candidate. Panel interviews give hiring managers the perspective of a range of people with different experiences and backgrounds, which can help narrow down the best candidate for the job.
The panel is typically made up of several people who will interact with the candidate regularly, like their prospective boss, peers, and possibly even employees the candidate would manage. Sometimes a panel interview even brings in interviewers from outside the organization to lend their expertise.
Good companies take care to comprise their panels of a diverse mix of people, like a mix of men and women, or interviewers of varied races and ethnic backgrounds. This helps mitigate bias in the hiring process, which is advantageous to you as a candidate.
The opportunity to interact with multiple people from the organization is another plus since it gives you a better feel for the company culture than if you met with only one interviewer. Interviewing with multiple people is also a great opportunity to observe the team’s dynamic—whether they seem to communicate well, have a good rapport with one another, and so on. If not, this may be a warning sign that the company isn’t the best fit for you.
Why are panel interviews used?
Just as you might get feedback from several trusted friends before making a big decision in your personal life, companies use panel interviews to get input from several decision-makers on who to hire. Different people bring different perspectives, and if a consensus can be reached among multiple stakeholders, there’s a good chance it’ll lead to a strong hire. Plus, this means an important decision isn’t left up to a single person’s opinion, which can be a benefit for candidates.
It’s also a matter of logistics. Instead of having to set up separate interviews with many different people involved in the hiring process, a company can simply hold a panel interview and kill multiple birds with one stone.
Finally, panel interviews can be useful when hiring for positions that call for a high degree of technical expertise. The hiring manager might not be well-versed in the specific skills the candidate needs to do the job (think engineers who report to operations managers, for example), so they’d enlist an expert who can better assess those skills to join the panel.
How to prepare for a panel interview
The steps to prepare for a panel interview are largely the same as those for a standard interview, with a few additional considerations.
First and foremost, carefully note the time and location of your interview and take extra care to be there ahead of your scheduled window. If you’re late, you’re not just holding up one person, but a whole group of people. Do everything you can to avoid rescheduling a panel interview, as finding an available time slot across multiple schedules is much more challenging than rescheduling with just one interviewer.
Next, find out ahead of time who will be on the panel so you can do your homework. Learn a little about each person you’ll be interviewing with, including their job title, role at the company, and professional background. Prepare at least one thoughtful question for each of your interviewers.
Eye contact makes a big difference in your perceived level of confidence. In one study, participants with higher self-esteem were found to break eye contact less frequently than those with lower self-esteem, who broke eye contact more often. When giving your answers, try to split your time by making eye contact with each of the panel members rather than staring down the one who asked the question.
Think of it like being in a conversation at a cocktail party. You don’t just look at one person while you’re talking; you naturally shift your eye contact from one person to the next while you speak. If you’re new to panel interviews, grab a couple of friends to stand in as your interviewers and practice this.
Sample panel interview questions and how to answer them
During your panel interview, be prepared to field questions from all of your interviewers. They’re also likely to ask follow-ups to one another’s questions.
To help you ace this opportunity, here are a few sample interview questions the members of your panel may ask and some things to consider as you prepare your response.
1. Why do you want to work for our company?
Many candidates hate the question, “Why do you want to work here?” Whether this job is your passion or you simply need the money, why does it matter either way if you’re qualified for the role, right? While we certainly sympathize with this line of thinking, there are some genuinely good reasons interviewers ask this question.
It helps them assess how you might fit in with the company and whether your values align with theirs. It also helps them gauge whether you view the role as a long-term opportunity or just a stepping stone on the way to something else. Finally, it’s useful in revealing whether you prepared for the interview.
You can answer this question in one of two ways or a combination of both. You might use the background research you did on the company during your interview prep to discuss why it seems like a place you want to work. Or, you can talk about the specific aspects of the role you’re interested in and why you believe it meshes well with your qualifications.
2. Where do you see yourself in five years?
While it might be difficult to think past what you’re going to have for lunch after your interview, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is important in helping your interviewers determine whether you’ll succeed in the role and, from a broader perspective, at the company. A good employer is concerned with making sure you not only get your job done but are satisfied with it, so it’s a good sign if they demonstrate a genuine interest in your answer.
This is not the time to share that you dream of one day starting your own craft brewery or running for President. Instead, talk about how you see yourself progressing in this particular role. It’s okay to be a little vague here! You can mention that you’re excited about becoming proficient in a new position, getting the opportunity for further training in this industry, and possibly advancing within the company when the time is appropriate.
3. Why did you leave your last job?
You’ll want to be sure to prepare for this panel interview question ahead of time. It’s a tough question by design, and if you can navigate it gracefully, you’ll score points with your panel of interviewers.
The best answers to “Why are you leaving your job?” are honest without spilling unnecessary details. Here are some examples of good reasons you can cite for your job search:
- There are limited opportunities for advancement in my current role, and I’m looking to grow in my career.
- While I love my job, it seems as though this position is a better fit for my skills in [specific area] and my professional goals.
- My career is important to me, but I took some time off to focus on [insert worthwhile cause here]. I’m excited about an opportunity to put my skills to work once again.
- Unfortunately, I was part of a restructuring that eliminated my position. Since then I’ve spent time networking and working on my professional development independently while looking for the right position.
Keep your answer short and sweet. The longer you stay on this topic (especially if you’re not leaving your current job on the greatest terms), the longer you risk sharing something you’d be better off keeping to yourself.
4. What’s an example of a challenge you overcame in your last job?
The phrasing of this question may vary (how do you deal with difficult situations? Tell us about a time you disagreed with another team member on a shared project, etc.), but the goal is the same: to get you to speak analytically about your ability to overcome challenges.
As you prepare for your panel interview, gather a few anecdotes you can use to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. This might include working on a team to reach a tough goal, meeting a tight deadline to please a client, or coming through for your boss on a challenging assignment. Set up the problem, talk through how you approached it, and close with a positive resolution.
It’s a good idea to have a few different anecdotes in your back pocket so you can choose the one that best suits the question in the moment.
5. Tell me about your experience with [technical skill].
There’s a good chance the interviewers on a panel will have varying technical skills. Some might be highly familiar with the skills of this particular role, perhaps having held the role themself at one point, while others might only have only a basic understanding of the job. This question allows you to prove that you’re proficient in the required skills even if the interviewers are not.
Before you get too technical with your answer, begin with what we like to call the ‘grandma-friendly’ explanation. How would you explain what you do to your grandmother? If you’re an SEO specialist, you probably wouldn’t tell good old gram that you ‘modify website CSS code to optimize search engine performance among target buyer personas.’ Instead, you’d say you help more people find your company online.
Explaining what you do in layman’s terms is an important part of succeeding in a technical role, so this high-level overview is a good starting point before diving into the nitty-gritty of your technical experience.
6. What’s your ideal work environment?
As we mentioned earlier, panel interviews are one-way companies assess for culture fit by getting multiple perspectives on a candidate. This question is an opportunity to honestly state what you’re looking for in an employer–remember, you should want it to be a good fit just as much as they do.
To formulate your answer to, “What type of work environment do you prefer?” think about the words or phrases that would describe a place you’d like to work at. Some examples are collaborative, creative, conservative, structured, relaxed, social, independent, flexible, organized, empowering, and transparent.
Questions to ask an interview panel
Just like in a regular interview, a panel interview usually ends with a chance for the candidate to ask questions. You can target your questions to individual panel members or address them to the group. Here are some sample questions to ask an interview panel.
1. [Name], could you share more about what it’s like to work on [company team]?
Since you’ve done your homework on the panelists, you’ll know if one of them works in your prospective department or has held the job you’re applying for. This is a great chance to show you’ve done your research and get some valuable first-person intel on what a day on the job looks like.
2. What are the most important things you’d like to see the person in this role accomplish?
Demonstrating interest in the expectations for the role shows you’re invested in making sure you achieve them if hired. It’ll also ensure you have a clear understanding of the goals you’d be taking on.
3. I read about [piece of company news]. Could you tell me more about that?
If the company has recently made headlines for a new product, a shakeup in leadership, a merger, or any other development, it could change the company’s direction or mean new opportunities on the horizon for its employees. Thus, it’s probably something you want to learn more about if you’re considering working there.
4. What do people who hold this job typically go on to do?
While it’s important not to get ahead of yourself–after all, the company wants someone for this role and not the one above it–there’s nothing wrong with learning about the advancement opportunities that might be available to you should you get the job and perform well at it.