How to perform under pressure in a panel interview

Not all interviews are created equal. Job applicants must be prepared to endure just one or a combination of one-on-one interviews, telephone interviews, Skype interviews and the dreaded panel interview during the job screening process. Each interview form has its own unique set of dynamics.


The panel interview is made up of a group of panellists representing different departments who have a vested interest in ensuring the best candidate is chosen for the position. This screening group can include HR personnel and various heads of departments. They may or may not be people with whom you will have a direct working relationship with.

You could face having up to four pairs of eyes on you instead of one which can stretch those already taut `interview nerves.

The role of a panel interview

Panel interviews are a favourable option for companies. Academic institutions, governments and non-profit organisations are just some of the types of employers where panel interviews are commonly used.

They are deemed to be more accurate in assessing the suitability of applicants to the job requirements and therefore save time and money in the recruitment process. Another benefit to organisations is that this type of interview tests and evaluates a candidate’s communication style and how well they are able to handle stress when bombarded with questions in a rapid manner.

With a prospective job in the balance how do you persevere, come out triumphant and walk away with the prize in such a testing circumstance?

Five rules to include in preparing for a panel interview

In essence the same guidelines for any job interview apply: you still need an appropriate dress code, courteous manner, and timely arrival. However, there a few more pointers that are pertinent when being interviewed by more than one person:

  • Get ready to dominate the discussion

You will be talking most of the time so ensure you arrive well-prepared and armed with plenty of stories that illustrate your suitability.  With multiple people in the room joining in on the conversation expect plenty of questions or having to expand on your responses from different angles.

It will help if you’re armed with plenty of examples that back up your narrative. When interviewing for an academic teaching position at UC Davis, applicants are expected to do the talking for at least 80 percent of the interview

  • Prepare for more behavioural type questions

You will need to provide crystal clear anecdotes/examples of how you solved problems and how you used you used your competencies to best advantage. Build a memory archive of valuable details to refer to and have plenty of anecdotes of how you’ve resolved problems, handled conflict situations, carried out responsibilities.

Use the description provided in the job ad and match it against your past duties, responsibilities and skills.

  • Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact

This rule crops up every time as an important interview tip and there’s reason for it. It is that important. Due to the unnerving nature of the panel interview you may be inclined to defer to your default setting and focus on just one person in the room or scan the room without engaging with anyone in particular. Refrain at all costs.

Each panellist deserves equal recognition says Jennifer Oleniczak Brown, a member of Forbes Coaches Council, even those who stare hard and appear to say nothing at all. Even when responding to a question by one panellist it is important to draw the others in after initial eye contact with the questioner.

  • Reinforce with body language

How you communicate is as important as what you say. Your panellist will not only be listening to you but observing your body cues that convey confidence, engagement and openness. Smiling, keeping palms relaxed and sitting straight up strengthen a positive impression.

  • Mind your language

A critical part of your interview preparations is practicing the language you will use like avoiding overused interview phrases like ‘dedicated’ and ‘motivated’. Along with the big no-nos of slang and casual language is the excessive use of ‘we’ even when demonstrating your previous team’s achievements. The more of the word ‘I’ you use the better.

For a job applicant the panel interview holds a distinct advantage – with more questions being asked from various angles by the different members of the panel come plenty of opportunities to discuss how well your skills and experience you as the perfect candidate. This is after all what you want to be doing in an interview.

About the author

Zulfah Abrahams writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs London listings, visit our website.

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