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How to Prepare for a Panel Interview

How to Prepare for a Panel Interview

by Richard Lloyd

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A panel interview isn’t dissimilar to a regular interview – you just need to be prepared to face multiple people. With a panel of two interviewers or more from varied professional backgrounds, some will be from the relevant department to the role for which you’re interviewing, and others could include stakeholders from across the business (for instance, senior management, HR, etc.).

If you’ve been asked to attend a panel interview for a new Accounting job you’ve applied for, chances are the company in question wants to assess you on a variety of measures. Each interviewer is going to have a different opinion of you and ask different questions – some very specific to Accounting, some more broadly related to the company as a whole and you as a person.

But does this mean you should feel more pressure going into the interview room? No! In fact, preparing for a panel interview is very similar to preparing for a regular interview, with a few extra things to consider. So, how do you ace your panel interview?

1. Prepare as You Would for a Normal Interview

Everything you’d typically do before interviewing for an Accounting job is relevant in this instance.

Long before your scheduled appointment, make sure you’ve done all of the following:

  1. Research the company: You must understand what the company does, so you can clearly answer how you will fit into their workplace.
  2. Memorise the job listing: If you applied via a job listing, chances are this will come back up in the interview. Memorise what the job will involve and the key skills required, so you can explain what you bring to the table as a candidate.
  3. Prep for common questions: Every interview is different – especially panel interviews – but common questions are common for a reason. Prepare detailed, clear answers to the most common job interview questions.

2. Find Out Who is Joining the Panel

Standing out in a panel interview will be made a lot easier by knowing who is joining you on the day. Politely ask your contact person for the names and job titles of everyone who will be on the panel. This way, you can look them up on LinkedIn (or any other bio that they have) to better understand who they are, what they do, and what their skills are.

What should I do with this knowledge?

Firstly, it will prepare you to answer questions from the different panellists. For example, if you’re talking not just to a recruiter but also the company’s Finance Manager – who has been in the industry for decades – you can likely expect some very targeted questions from this person, specific to the Accounting role.

Secondly, knowing the names and backgrounds of each panellist will help you formulate your own questions for each of them.

3. Prepare a List of Questions for Each Panellist

In every interview, panel or otherwise, you should walk in with a list of pre-prepared questions. This shows preparation and an eagerness for the role – both positive traits in a recruiter’s and an employer’s eyes.

The fact that you’re going into a panel interview for your role is actually a massive benefit – you will be able to ask much more detailed, specific questions because there is a broader range of people available to you.

Common Questions to Ask

  1. What are the most challenging responsibilities of the role?
  2. What are your expectations for the role during the first 30, 60 and 365 days?
  3. What is the company culture like?
  4. Where is the company headed in the next 3-5 years?
  5. What is the typical career path for this kind of role at this company?

4. Build a Rapport with Each Panellist

Building a rapport with an interviewer can make the discussion more of a free-flowing conversation, as opposed to a rigid Q&A session. It shows off your people skills and helps prove that you will be a good cultural fit.

Just because this is a panel of people instead of a single interviewer doesn’t mean rapport is any less important.

During your interview, you’re going to have to remember to talk to everyone, even if they haven’t been asking as many questions. Specifically, remember to:

  1. Shake hands with everyone when you meet them (and at the end of the interview).
  2. Make regular eye contact with everyone in the room, not just whoever you’re speaking to.
  3. Try to remember to use the panellists’ names, as this can build familiarity.
  4. Bring spare CVs in case there aren’t enough to go around. While your panellists are in charge of preparing themselves, some individuals may have been called into the interview last minute, or else not had time to study your background. Having a copy of your CV available for everyone shows your preparedness – another trait of a great employee.

5. Prepare for Fast, Difficult Questions

Each panellist in your interview will have their own objective, and so may have a unique set of questions to ask. This can often lead to a very fast-paced interview as everyone needs to be satisfied that you are the right person for the job. With little time to respond to the first question before being asked for clarification, you need to be succinct in your answer before the next question requires your attention.

It’s up to you to navigate this conversation as politely and respectfully as possible. For instance, if someone asks you a question before you’ve fully answered the one prior, consider whether the rest of your answer was vital to the role or not – if not, move on. If so, politely mention that you will respond in a moment, but that there is one final thought you’d like to share first.

In Summary

Panel interviews are very similar to standard job interviews. However, you can expect a broader range of personalities at the table and so a broader range of questions being asked.

It’s up to you to learn the identities of each panellist in advance and to prepare to respond clearly no matter what questions are coming your way. This will involve careful study of the company, the role and the panellists, together with how your background can be a positive to the position you are interviewing for.

For more help with your search for an Accounting job, or to discuss your career, get in touch with the team at Richard Lloyd today.