Job interviews can be a daunting process at the best of times, but when you’re expected to field questions from not one but four prospective employers at once, it can almost feel like you’re being set up to fail. However, while panel interviews can be referred to as ‘interview by firing squad’ they can also be a beneficial recruitment method for both the company and interviewee and are commonplace within the public sector.
There’s a number of advantages to panel interviews, but the key advantage is its ability to minimise bias and gain a more comprehensive insight of each candidate. This is because each member of the interview panel will bring their own unique perspective and experience regarding a potential role, allowing them to pick up on different strengths or any weaknesses of a potential candidate and ensuring that they can make a more informed hiring decision. When a panel interview goes well, it allows the panel to respectfully challenge each other’s judgements and assertions so they can make the best hiring choice. This in turn, also provides candidates with the best chance of being fairly assessed on their skills and potential.
In addition to reducing bias, panel interviews can also help reveal how a candidate responds to group situations and works with others (an essential requirement for any role within the public sector) and can make the overall recruitment process more efficient for the department or team hiring.
So, while a panel interview might seem intimidating, with the right preparation it can give you a great chance in securing your next role. To help with preparation, Public Sector People have combined a number of tips and tricks below:
Do your homework
Just like a normal job interview, it is essential to do your research on the company and the people who are interviewing you. Usually, the department or team you’re interviewing with will confirm who’ll be on the panel prior to an interview. Alternatively, you can always ask your company contact if they’ll provide you with the names of each participant. Interview panels usually include representatives from different departments so that they can each consider you through a different lens. For example, for a project management role a panel might include your potential direct supervisor – a department manager, a HR manager and perhaps a representative from the marketing or finance department who you could be working with on a daily basis.
In terms of preparing content, government panel interviews will follow a set list of questions related to a role’s selection criteria. Applicants will have either been asked to address this selection criteria when they first applied for the role and on occasion are sent the interview questions prior to the interview, so you should have a fairly good idea on the types of questions they’ll ask. However, the more ‘hypothetical answers’ you can think through and practice beforehand, the more confident you’ll feel going into an interview. These hypothetical answers should be based on the background research you’ve conducted on the company and your skills and previous experience.
When answering questions, most government agencies encourage job applicants to use the The STAR method: a structured approach to answering behavioural questions that demonstrate how a candidate used their previous work experience to overcome a particular problem.
It involves the following:
The Situation- sharing the context around a particular work challenge you faced;
The Task- describing your situation or role in that situation or challenge;
The Action- explaining how you were able to overcome or resolve that challenge. If the action was carried out by a team, focus on your efforts;
The Response- summarising the outcome that was directly achieved by your efforts
Make a Great First Impression
As with any job interview, first impressions count. Things like making sure you’re at least five to ten minutes early for the interview start time and looking professional (this can depend on the particular role but it’s always best to dress up rather than down) and presenting an overall tidy appearance (e.g. brushed hair, ironed shirt, tattoos and piercings covered) speak volumes as they indicate the level of effort and care you firstly place on yourself and on getting the potential role.
When arriving at the panel interview, it’s important to address each panellist. Pre-covid this would have included shaking each person’s hand, but in a post pandemic world you might have to settle for a fist bump and acknowledging everyone by name. The gesture itself doesn’t matter too much but being able to give direct eye contact and greet each individual properly demonstrates your interpersonal skills and self-confidence.
Check Your Tech (if online)
Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in place, many government departments are now conducting panel interviews online, which can come with their own set of challenges. While the same rules apply, there are a few additional things you need to think about prior to a virtual panel interview. The most important is that you’ve double checked the technology you’ll be using and your internet connection is secure, as these factors will not only hinder your ability to answer questions but also suggests your organisational skills aren’t up to scratch.
Secondly, you should think about where you’ll conduct your virtual interview. It’s best to find a location with good lighting where there are minimal distractions (e.g. background noises, bright colours and people moving around) so that the panellists can easily see you and won’t have their attention drawn away from what you have to say. Finally, before logging on to the panel interview, it’s important to ensure all notifications are muted on your computer, so that nothing will interrupt you or the panel mid-discussion.
Engage with the group
This can be difficult to achieve when involved in a virtual panel interview but try and engage with each panel member as best you can. Think about your prepared questions and how you can draw in each panel member, rather than just focusing on the person who asked the question. For example if you know one of the points on the selection criteria is being able to demonstrate the APS (Australian Public Sector) values, think about past situations where you’ve demonstrated this in your previous role (which would interest your potential supervisor) but also ways in which you’ve applied the APS values interdepartmentally- maybe in regards to an invoicing issue or a corporate event you participated in - in order to appeal to the other panellists.
In regards to body language, it’s important to give equal eye contact to each panellist, not just the person with the most senior position or the biggest say in the hiring process. The same goes for your body positioning. Try and maintain an open stance so no one feels shut out, use hand gestures where you can and move your gaze from panellist to panellist to establish a more conversational atmosphere.
Many have found the panel interview experience to be ‘rapid fire’ questioning. Because each interviewer has a set of questions they’ll want you to address, many individuals feel the need to rush through their answers to ensure they’ve answered everything in the set time-frame. A panel might even be deliberately ‘firing’ questions at you to see how you handle high pressure situations.
Try and take a deep breath before answering each question so you can collect your thoughts and ensure you don’t rush through any vital information. Assess what’s the most important point to get across in each answer as you’ll only get a set amount of time before the panellists will move on to the next question. If someone asks you a new question before you’ve finished your previous question, but you feel you’ve already gotten your key point across, let it go. If you feel you still have something important to add, you can politely say “before I answer your question, I’d like to share a final thought on the last…” and then complete your previous response before moving on. Remember, while the panellists are asking the questions, you have the power to control the pace of the conversation.
It’s important in any interview to prepare some questions you can ask before you wrap up. Not only does this demonstrate your interest in the company and the role, but asking further questions can provide you with greater insight into how you’ll fit into the role and team. Remember, an interview should be two-sided; the panellists are trying to determine if you’re the right fit for the company and likewise, you need to determine if you’ll be the right fit for their team.
Furthermore, a panel interview format usually conjures up more follow-up questions than a standard interview. Multiple people means multiple perspectives – and an answer that satisfies one panellist’s question may trigger additional questions from another panellist. Again, your preparation prior to the interview is key to combatting this. The more real-life examples and anecdotes you can list that demonstrate your skills and experience prior to the interview, the less chance you’ll be caught off guard by a question.
Finally, try and keep in mind that your interviewers want you to succeed. The fact that you’ve reached the interview stage signifies that they think you’re qualified for the role and are a strong potential candidate; they wouldn't waste the time of everyone participating in the panel otherwise. For more information about panel interviews and the job seeking process overall, Public Sector People are on hand to provide advice and support. Reach out to our team of experienced consultants today for more information – firstname.lastname@example.org.