One-on-one interviews can be scary enough, but interviewing with a group seated across the table from you brings up thoughts of police department interrogations on TV crime dramas.
Forget the single lightbulb overhead in the stark white room; in reality, group interviews are efficient opportunities for multiple, varied employee stakeholders to ask questions about and listen to your skills all at one time, without your having to repeat the same thing over and over as each employee rotates out of the room.
"The most important advice I can give consultants interviewing with a panel is to be flexible," said Consultant Advisor Matt Kasperzak, who recently facilitated and observed dozens of group interviews for a Healthcare IT Leaders client.
"Sometimes interviewers have to be swapped out last-minute, sometimes there are technological issues that come up and sometimes one of the interviewers gets caught up in an emergency or a previous meeting runs late. Though these hiccups aren't intentional, your interviewers will want to see that you, as a consultant, can roll with the punches and keep a smile on your face, a critical skill to working as a consultant on short-term projects."
For consultants in particular, group interviews are a time to show you work well on a team and can make your voice heard in a crowd. If you’re an introvert or new to the group interview dynamic, improve your panel interview skills by following the tips below.
Know who you’re interviewing with. The minute you hear “group interview” or “panel interview,” ask for the names, titles and if possible, specific roles or functions of each person you’ll be interviewing with. Research their LinkedIn profiles to understand what kinds of questions they’ll ask you.
Take notes – and business cards. Use a notepad to jot down each interviewer’s name in a separate part of the paper in front of you, if you can, to note who said what, especially if the group interview becomes fast-paced. When you introduce yourself to each person, use that opportunity to get their business cards, as you may forget when the interview is over. If you have questions for specific individuals, write them down with the person’s name beside it, for when it’s time to ask questions.
Engage the group. Even if one interviewer asked you a question, don’t stare him or her down while you answer. Instead, hold your eye contact with that person for a bit to answer his or her question, then address the perspectives of the other interviewers for that question, if possible. If one interviewer is overly talkative, remember to play to all the members of the panel with your eye contact and answers. If one interviewer is more quiet, don’t forget to engage that person, too.
Speak with confidence. Avoid being overly assertive and, if you’re an introvert, apologizing for your answers or for speaking at all. Instead, strike somewhere in between, and speak with purpose and confidence. Keep your answers succinct and as brief as possible to make your point, without sounding short or curt. Don’t get defensive if you’re asked to clarify an answer, either; it only means they want to hear more from you.
Send personalized thank-you notes. Use those business cards you collected during the interview to send each person an individual thank-you email, lightly emphasizing your strengths from the perspective of each person’s role, or highlighting specific anecdotes that connected you to any particular person.
Don’t think of a panel interview as a war room; think of it as an efficient way to let all of your skills shine among multi-faceted individuals who may notice different talents and talking points.