The Bigger Picture: Surviving A Panel Job Interview

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on March 30, 2022 

It’s not the typical style of interviewing for the broadcast business, but since Inclusion has become such a big focus for major corporations, and Zoom has made it possible for larger teams to gather all in the same “room” at the same time, you might find yourself in a position of being interviewed for a job by a panel instead of just someone from HR and the hiring manager. These kinds of interviews can be tough, and you might often feel like Ketanji Brown Jackson did during last week’s interview hearings for her nomination for Supreme Court Justice. Anything goes, and it’s difficult to do research on more than just one or two people in order to prepare for the interview. In fact, it’s likely that you won’t have any idea who the people are on the panel before the meeting starts or the Zoom goes live.

I just had a client of mine describe an interview she went through that threw her off guard because she wasn’t expecting to be interviewed by an entire staff panel. It’s the first time she had ever experienced that kind of interview. And while she felt like she did a respectable job of answering the questions, some of them were a little awkward, as they came from staff members whose priorities were different than the person she would report to in management, and some asked for specific examples. So, she had to answer detailed questions about budgeting (which we know is a touchy subject for radio companies right now), Consolidation and the impact of it, and discrimination. These aren’t bad or wrong questions, it’s just that in some instances, especially when asking for examples, the circumstances and information can be confidential regardless of whether you don’t mention specific names or places. In addition to that, some people will not like the truth when it comes to budgets or company policies. That can make you feel like you have angered an entire panel of people that you want to like you a lot.

Panel interviewing is not a bad thing, it’s just something you should be prepared for moving forward. Some hiring managers like to make their teams feel like a part of the process. That can be good and bad, depending on your answers, skills, qualifications, and theirs as well, along with their perception of your answers. But it’s important for hiring managers to remember there can be some bias based on lifestyle and confidence (or lack thereof) from the team. There will often be some intimidation, or fundamental differences in the way that a particular member of the team operates in a professional environment when it comes to a new “qualified” candidate. Too much input from a committee can put a lot of pressure on the interviewing and hiring process and potentially slow things down, or potentially dilute the specific skills the hiring manager needs from a new team member to accomplish the overall goal.

On the other hand, panel interviewing can also be good for asking diverse questions from a variety of sources which could lead to a learning process for all (including and especially the new candidate). It may also help you to establish or portray a leadership role depending on how well you manage the situation, “especially” if you are applying for a leadership role.

Here are three things you should know to survive a staff panel interview:

  1. Have Confidence in Your Qualifications: Do as much research as you can about the company, job expectations and market if it’s a relocation position. Just assume that you will face a panel, so you are prepared regardless. And know that it takes a lot to get a large group to be available all at the same time, so if you have made it to a panel interview, have confidence in yourself and your answers.
  2. Be Prepared to answer diverse questions without breaking any confidentiality commitments: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are major priorities for companies now. Do your research on DEI, think about examples you may have experienced in the past and how to best discuss them without breaking confidentiality or sounding indifferent, or worse, over opinionated (Remember what DEI stands for). Think about all those Online Training HR courses you’ve had to sit through and how they managed specific examples and what you learned from them. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be an advocate of company policies and inclusion. Just make sure you are thinking about all possibilities and circumstances because a company’s #1 priority these days, besides the bottom line, is making sure that employees go to work feeling like they are in a safe space and can be creative and productive.
  3. Be sure you don’t cut anyone off, and you encourage everyone to ask you questions and get to know you better: Panel interviews can be difficult in person and especially over Zoom. Make sure you are listening to each question, waiting to answer until the question is over and not talking over anyone else in the room. Answer follow ups and make sure you give everyone in the room an opportunity to ask a question. It will be up to the hiring manager or HR person to wrap things up if it’s going long, so that’s not on you.

The world of interviews as we know it is changing quickly due to DEI and the advancement of technology. That’s good and bad, or should I say good and tough. Some people are better one on one, but you still have to be able to play on a team. If you are applying for a leadership role, then you have to be able to LEAD a team. So, start preparing yourself now for potential panel interviews. Like everything else, practice makes perfect.