On-field sports involve high pressure situations but a professional job in sports also carries a given amount of stress. Before you’re even on the payroll, potential employers must ensure your ability to handle daily stresses and cope with the flux of a fast-paced work environment. While a one-on-one interview brings with it tough questions, uncomfortable moments and reveals a lot about a person, the panel interview ratchets up the intensity and tests the composure and conversational style of an interviewee. Not all companies feel the need to utilize this interview technique but some do, especially when filling leadership positions. A standard panel interview involves one candidate being interviewed by multiple employees of a company; picture a long boardroom table with a sole candidate on one side and several interviewers on the other. A twist on this interviewing method has multiple candidates being interviewed by the panel at the same time, in the same room. While companies’ methods may differ, the guiding principles needed to ace the panel interview remain the same. These tips to land a job will make a difference.
Be composed. Opportunities to clam up or stutter and stammer your way through panel members’ questions will present themselves from the moment you step into the room. Companies use panel interviews to determine if perspective employees can think on their feet and engage different people that have different personalities. Cliché as it may sound, take some deep, cleansing breaths before the interview begins. The influx of oxygen will help you think on your feet and relieve some stress. Exercise coupled with a good breakfast also puts your body in a position to withstand the pressure. In the interview room, pause and gather your thoughts for a moment before responding to a question; it’s more impressive than a series of ‘umm’ and ‘hmm’ sounds preceding your answer. To help the nerves, don’t lock in on one person as you speak. Start by addressing the interviewer that asked the question. But take time to look at each person as you speak, especially if your answer is lengthy. Nerves are caused by doing something unfamiliar or scary. Well before your interview, take time to read about what to expect and how to prepare to make the experience less of an ordeal.
Be conversational. It’s easier said than done but using a conversational style during an interview sets you apart from the crowd. Use professional language, of course, but remember that you’re talking to a group of people, something you do on a daily basis. The group will be composed of a variety of people – chatty, quiet, serious and jovial. Interact with everyone in the room including the silent note taker at the end of the table. Remember to smile and laugh, when appropriate, to make the interview feel more like a dialogue and less like an inquisition. In everyday interactions we use hand gestures to help tell our stories. Use subtle ones, if you’re comfortable with it, to have your body language support your words. As the candidate, you’re being asked most of the questions. Most but not all. Use opportunities throughout the discussion to ask your own smart questions, showing the panel that you’re well informed about the company and the position. Interjecting a few queries during the interview gives you a break from talking and makes your questions feel less rehearsed. A conversational style does wonders to ease the tension in the room and make the time fly by.
Be informed. When a panel interview is scheduled, you’re often told who you’ll be speaking with. If you don’t get specific names, at minimum inquire of the group’s make up so you know the various roles that will be represented. Arming yourself with this information makes the preparation process even more impactful. If you have names and know someone in the company, ask them for the scoop. Learning about the various personalities beforehand will tell you who needs to be won over and who is pulling for you off the bat. If you determine the position of each interviewer, it also gives you some guidance as you prepare. A Human Resources representative may bring more behavioral questions to the table whereas a department manager will look for leadership qualities and an ‘in-the-trenches’ associate will ask more technical questions. If you know who you’ll be speaking with and what perspective they’ll bring, your walk into the room will be more confident.
Be engaged. There is nothing worse than interviewing someone that seems bored. Being engaged is all about energy level and a perceived interest in the company and the position. Even if the specific position isn’t your dream job, come to the table like it is. Before the interview, envision where this job may eventually take you. If you’re interviewing to become an entry level scout, remember that you may one day land a front office position. And successful ticket sales associates may eventually run ticket operations for a professional team. Thoughtfully answer each question; honesty, creativity and insightfulness will be remembered. A good, tactful sense of humor sprinkled in throughout the conversation will also pull interviewers in and make you memorable. No matter your personality type or social nature, find a way to seem engaged by flashing a smile, avoiding negative body language – eye rolls, yawns, finger tapping – and using voice inflection and emphasis.
Be purposeful. Asking questions and making subtle jokes are useful but don’t lose sight of why you’re sitting in the interview room. A panel interview is a stress test and a way to efficiently vet a perspective employee. Be prepared even more so than you would a one-on-one interview. Know the position, understand the company and its culture, and learn about your audience. Show each individual why you will make their lives better and their organization stronger. And relay experiences that prove you have the knowledge to make a day one impact. Initiatives you’ve taken and side projects you’ve made successful show your ability to go above-and-beyond. Take verbal queues from each person in the room to figure out what higher level concern they’re trying to eliminate. Make sure you address each of those by the interview’s conclusion. And just like a restaurateur takes time to sniff out the food critic and provide her a first-class experience, find the room’s power player and win them over first. The panel interview purposefully creates a tense atmosphere for candidates but understanding the rules of the game and how to navigate the trenches assures your success.