Facing Up To Panel Interviews: 5 Helpful Tips

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One interviewer across the table is tricky enough—who wants to face five? But the truth is that panel interviews offer you a better chance than single-interviewer arrangements.

Be prepared (if possible).

Often you know who will be on the panel. Take the time to find out a bit about who you will meet—their names, titles, backgrounds, current responsibilities, research interests will usually be easily found on the University Web site or professional networking sites like LinkedIn. This will give you an idea about what they’re likely to ask about. It couldn't hurt to read a journal article that a panelist has written, for example, and to think how to drop that flattering fact into a story you hope to tell about your own past work or future plans.

Even if you don't know the names, you can bet there will be someone there from the academic area you have applied to work in, and someone representing departmental management. Have a look at several people who just might appear, and you’ve have a general idea of what kinds of teaching and research are currently in favour. 

Be ready with a short self-summary.

Some people call this the “elevator pitch,” meaning a description of your key qualities and suitability for the post so short that you could deliver it when sharing a lift on the way up to your interview on the 5th floor. It gives you something useful to open with when you’re faced with that row of expectant faces.

Know where to look!

This is probably the trickiest part of a panel interview. When a member of the panel asks you a question, respond directly to that person at first. But as you continue to speak, give your attention to each member of the panel in turn. Make sure each person feels like you are paying attention to what they say, and that you spent time speaking directly to them all.

Take notes as you go.

If you already have the information, bring with you a single piece of paper with the names, titles, and any key details that you hope to bring up in the course of the interview, in the form of notes-to-self. As you’re introduced to the group, quickly make a note, using numbers from left to right, of where each person is sitting, so that you can quickly address people by name (or at least recall who is from HR and who is from ICT.) Also, if something pops up while you’re answering a question—for example, if you aren't able to complete a crucial answer because another panel member interrupts with a question—jot a quick note to yourself to help you get back on track.

Relax… you’ve got an advantage!

Why? Because when you’re faced with several people, there is almost sure to be someone in the group who finds you personable, qualified and a good bet. Connect with that person (or people) and they’ll argue your case after you leave the room.

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