Promotion Selection Panels
Creating a Great Impression for Everyone
You've wanted this promotion for a while, and you've now been invited to interview for the role of your dreams. There's just one catch – you're not going to be facing one interviewer, you'll be facing four. all at the same time!
If visions of being put in front of a firing squad leap into your mind, you're not alone! Known as a panel interview, these three, four, even six or seven-on-one situations strike a high level of fear in most interviewees. And you may experience them in a number of situations, including going for promotion when several candidates want the job, and changing to a new role within your organization.
Whatever the reason, it's not the most reassuring feeling to know you will be facing a variety of different people, all of whom have different interests and different ways of evaluating you! However, if you approach a panel interview with the attitude that you have an opportunity to impress a whole bunch of people rather than just one, suddenly the prospect doesn't seem as daunting.
Done well, panel interviews are actually a great way to prove how well you fit the position, and gather more support for your candidacy. These are compelling reasons to want to learn more about panel interviewing, and how to prepare for them effectively.
Why Organizations Use Panel Interviews
Panel interviews are also becoming the interviewing method of choice, because they improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the selection process. There are several reasons for this.
First, because more people are directly involved in the selection decision, there is less individual bias, and there are more people to discuss the decision. When all the people involved have the opportunity to hear the candidate's answers first hand, they can evaluate that candidate much more effectively.
Second, when you have many people interviewing at the same time, you cut down on the costs associated with several rounds of traditional interviews.
Another factor in its favor is the added degree of stress that panel interviewing introduces. Candidates who prove themselves capable of handling themselves confidently in front of a panel are probably able to handle many kinds of pressure situations.
Finally, there is the fact that it is harder to build rapport with lots of people in a short amount of time. In a one-on-one situation you can get a good sense of the interviewer's preferences and tailor your answers to fit. Panels are more formal and the candidate is judged more on his or her merits than personality.
What to Expect
A panel interview is really just an expanded version of the one-on-one interview. The tone can tend to be more formal at times, however the intent is the same. All the interviewers want to do is find the best person for the role.
- Can you do the job – do you have the skills, experience and ability necessary?
- Will you do the job, and do it well? Are you easy to manage, motivated, dedicated, committed, responsible – all the competencies important for the job?
- Will you fit in with the team – this is what interviews call the "fit factor". Will you fit in with it's culture and practices? Are you the type of person who will thrive in the work environment that is currently operating?
When you know what the interview is really all about, it is easier to understand why the interview takes the form it does.
Who to Expect
When you enter the interview room there is typically a leader, or chairperson, who introduces the other members of the panel, and generally controls the interview. This person is most often the HR representative but it can be anyone. He or she may also be the senior member of the panel.
The panel members themselves will all have a vested interest in the hiring decision. You might know beforehand who is interviewing you, and other times it will be a mystery until you walk in the door. It's best to be prepared for everyone and learn to spot the different types of people, so that you can address their issues directly.
There are three main types of interviewers you can expect to encounter:
Senior Officials, Managers, Supervisors – Quite often the panel will include the manager who will be your boss in the new role. These people have power and authority, and are looking for proof that you can do the work and do it well – they will be counting on your performance if they are to run their department smoothly. They have a strong, vested interest in hiring the very best person for the job.
These senior officials will be more hard hitting and ask more technical questions than others. They want details, and you need to be prepared to give them proof that you can do what you say you can.
Deal with them in a direct and assertive manner. If you feel intimidated, remember that it is their authority that is making you feel this way, rather than the individual.
HR Professionals – These people are trained in interview and selection techniques. They are savvy at uncovering things you don't want, and didn't intend, to bring up. They probe and ask lots of questions – they want to know what you are really like and how well you'll fit with the new role.
HR professionals are very concerned about training and turnover – if the person they choose doesn't work out, it costs the company money so they need to be as sure as possible that the decision they make is the right one. If they choose a hard-to-manage person, they will hear about it from the other people who have to work with him or her!
You must be well prepared and come with detailed explanations of things you have done in the past. Fuzzy or vague answers won't score points with these guys – they have heard all about people who are great communicators and who love working in a team environment – back up your thoughts with concrete examples of where and when you demonstrated the skills you are so proud of.
Peer Interviewers – A recent trend is to have a new hire's peers involved in the interview process. You need to pick up on the cues they are giving about the type of person they work best with.
Shape your answers to show that you are the kind of person they will get along well with, given the types of questions and concerns this person is raising. If they are very concerned about conflict, emphasize your ability to defuse situations and mention that you are not an instigator but a solver. You have to be flexible and likeable without crossing the line into being a "people pleaser". They still have to get a sense of who your true self is, but present as neutral a self as possible – don't commit to one side or the other just yet.
Other types of people you might see on the panel include government representative, mangers of other departments, technical experts, union representatives, and even clients with a large vested interest in the hiring decision.
Remember, the interviewers are all human and have been in your position before. If you remember that they are doing their job and not trying to make you sweat, you're performance will naturally improve. They genuinely want the best person, and you should want them to find that.
How to Answer Questions From the Panel
Interviewing is all about confidence and presence. Many of the skills needed for answering interview questions are common across all interview types:
- Show enthusiasm – nobody wants a grumpy person, when they can choose an enthusiastic and happy person who they know can do the job with a bit of training.
- Clarify the question – ask for a rephrasing when necessary and make sure you understand what is being asked before answering.
- Articulate your response – use precise, clear language to convey meaning. You can say it is "nice" to work in a team however NICE isn't a rich word. Instead, you could say that working in a team is stimulating and inspiring because of the input you get from other people.
- Use a smooth delivery – answer with a minimums of "ums" and "ahs". If you can't think of what to say next, just stop and say nothing until the thought comes to you.
- Use eye contact (if appropriate in your culture) – this gives you a commanding presence and shows confidence.
- Watch your body language – tone, positioning and other physical cues are points for interpretation.
- Don't yawn or fidget – it will make you look bored.
- Don't slouch or get too comfy – it makes you look unprofessional.
- Be aware of your body and the way you are "speaking" with it – make sure that your non-verbal communication is congruent with what you are saying.
- Learn to control your nerves so they don't let you down.
While many of the skills you need to excel in a panel interview are similar to a traditional interview, there are a few specifics to keep in mind:
- Identify the leader – the person who brings you to the room or first greets you in the room may not be the leader. The leader is typically the one who explains the process and gets the interview underway. Give this person extra deference when answering the questions.
- Shake everyone's hand – when you are introduced to everyone on the panel, take the opportunity to shake their hands. This helps build rapport and shows confidence.
- Use names – listen carefully when you are introduced, so that you can use people's names when you answer their questions.
- Address your answers to everyone – when a specific panel member asks a question, address your answer to him or her first, however, make sure you glance at the others as well.
- Link questions together – if Joe asks a question that touches on what Ann asked earlier, acknowledge how the questions, and your answers, are interrelated. The more you can address the needs of all panel members the better!
During the interview be aware that what you say at the start and end are the most influential and most likely to be remembered. If there is just small talk going on at the beginning, be charming and ask relevant questions. Be sure to take time at the end to do a quick recap of the highlights of the interview – leave them with the message that everything you said was a great match for the requirements of the position.
Selection panels tend to be intimidating. By looking at them as an opportunity to prove you are the right candidate to a group of people at the same time, it is easier to feel less anxious.
Interviewers often look at the approach as a more efficient way to find the best person for the job. Keep your nerves under control, and use your answers to prove to each panel member that you are that person.
Each interviewer has his or her own issues they want addressed. Be articulate and poised, and answer each person individually while still acknowledging the group. A great panel interview is an opportunity to impress many different people in the organization – seize it and make the most of it!