The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

Job Interviews: Panel and Sequential

panel interview“How many people do I have to interview with to get a job here?!” At many companies the answer is likely to be “several,” either one person at a time – a sequential or serial format – or all at once as a panel.

This is not the company ganging up on you – although it can feel like it!

The usual reason for this kind of process is to enable a better hiring decision incorporating the perspectives of different functions within the organization, such as the hiring manager, HR, a senior manager or your prospective teammates.

You also have an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to communicate and build rapport cross-functionally. To get a head start on that, find out the individuals’ names and roles beforehand and look them up online to find clues to their interests and personalities. If you’re unable to do this, be sure you ask for business cards when you are introduced. You’ll need that information in order to send a thank-you note to each interviewer.

Panel Interviews

Being interviewed by an array of people can feel stiff, unnatural or intimidating, and can be stressful. In rare instances, that effect is intended as a test. Intentional or not, it’s an opportunity to prove you cope well with pressure.

Remember, the interviewers probably feel uncomfortable too. Doing whatever you can to put them at ease – smiling, nodding, using appropriate humor – will make you feel more at ease yourself.

Connect with the interviewers as individuals. After asking for permission to take notes, jot down their names, arranged visually to correspond to their physical locations at the table. This will help you address each person by name and build rapport.

The interviewers may each ask questions relating to their own interests, in which case you should address your answer primarily to the person asking, while making friendly eye contact with the others. Or the group may have a shared list of questions and take turns asking. In this case, address your answer to everyone, not just the one who spoke.

At some point, usually toward the end, you will probably be asked what questions you have for the panel. In advance, prepare a question for each person, appropriate to their interests. For example, you might ask the HR person to describe the company culture.

Sequential or Serial Interviews

This is a series of interviews, usually one-on-one, either on the same day or over a longer period of time. If they are all scheduled for the same day, make sure you’re ready for a marathon. (For me that would mean making sure I had a couple of protein bars to wolf down between sessions!)

Make sure you have a wealth of accomplishment stories to tell, because it’s best not to repeat all the same ones. The various interviewers will compare notes, and you don’t want them to discover that you told the exact same stories every time. On the other hand, your very best wins are probably worth repeating.

Tailor your presentation to the interests of the specific person: the CEO may be interested in your contributions to the bottom line, while your prospective teammates may care more about your personality and what you’re like as a teammate.

Going from “Gulp!” to “Got the job!”

These general tips cannot address the unique challenges of your experience. Job interviews can make such a large difference in your income – and your life – that it’s worth investing in at least one session of one-on-one job interview coaching to make sure you’re giving yourself every advantage.

Next week’s post will cover group interviews: How is interviewing different when your competitors are right there in the room?!