Sitting in front of an interview panel can feel as intimidating as facing a firing squad. You might imagine the row of suits in front of you as all powerful and all knowing. The truth is, they are mere mortals like you and me. Understanding what it’s like to sit on a selection panel may help you prepare for your interview as a candidate, and even take a leadership role as you anticipate the panel’s needs.
I have sat on hundreds of interview panels, both as an external consultant and as a manager recruiting staff. Seeing the process from across the table is not without its pitfalls. Based on my experience, here are some of the “secrets” I’ve observed or experienced as an interview panel member.
They are extremely busy
People sitting on interview panels do so because they need help! They are short staffed; it’s likely they are doing extra work already and taking time out to conduct interviews puts further stress on them. They are likely to respond well to candidates who are on time, organised, and present their answers concisely and completely. Evidence of your ability to meet deadlines and achieve results will help convince them you will be part of the solution and quickly start taking some of the workload.
They may be inexperienced at conducting interviews
There’s always a first time for someone to be on a panel, and it just might be your interview! It can be a daunting experience to sit in judgement, especially if you’re new to such management tasks. It is possible to take some leadership in an interview, even when you are the candidate. Inexperienced panel members are likely to feel more at ease with a candidate who is clearly confident and well prepared.
They don’t remember your resume
It’s possible that the members of the panel have reviewed dozens of applications to reach a short list of applicants. Given the time constraints on interview day, they may only have a chance to re-scan your resume for a few minutes before meeting you. It’s near impossible to keep so many details front of mind, whilst also conducting an interview. This is vital for you as a candidate to understand. Before the interview, be sure you identify your point of difference so that you can articulate it to the panel. Don’t assume they will draw conclusions from your resume; remind them of your major accomplishments. You need to weave the important details about your experience into your answers, and never assume the panel remembers your resume.
At one of my first interviews, the owner of the business where I sought a job asked me if I had a car, and if I had any children or pets that would prevent me from coming to work. Then she told me my heels were too high and then she hired me! The owner illustrated what I often observe in interview panels; they are worried about making a bad hire. It’s perfectly understandable for managers to be wary, and they may be especially skittish if they’ve made a poor decision in the past. In my view, the way to overcome this as a candidate is to lessen their fears. Make a good first impression with your squeaky clean personal presentation. Appeal to them emotionally with a warm smile, firm handshake, and open body language. Again, if you’ve done your homework and prepared well for the interview, you will feel more confident, and will put the panel at ease.
You can’t always know who will be sitting across the table when you attend an interview. You can give yourself the best shot at success by being well prepared. Research the organisation, anticipate questions, and prepare answers that evidence your past success. And remember; the panel members are people too! Everybody responds to a smile.