And by the time Tonui, an engineer walked out of the interview room fifteen minutes later, he was drenched in sweat.
“There was one particular interviewer who kept pinning me down with the toughest questions. Nothing I said seemed to impress him and he kept shooting one question after another,” remembers a dejected Tonui.
He happens to be one among many candidates who have grown to dread panel interviews. So how do you handle a panel of interviewers?
1. What to expect in a panel interviews
“For panel interviews, there’s always one person who will take the lead in the interview,” says Liza Shaka HR Manager, The Monarch insurance Company.
“Normally, there should be between three and seven people in a panel, those with more than seven then it might be an extraordinary interview. The usual plan for a panel is to get one person from the HR department. His or her job is to assess the interviewee’s people skills and match them for the role.”
The second party is drawn from the technical side, she explains; one with expertise in the role the interviewee is seeking to fill while the third party is often from the operations department; one with expertise on how the different departments in the firm interlink their functions.
2. How to balance your attention
“The general rule is to give attention first to the interviewer that asked the question then answer it and read the non-verbal cues from the rest of the panel,” says Ms Shaka.
“However, have eye contact with all the members of the panel and respond to each question they ask focusing your attention on one at a time,” she says.
“If one implies from the facial expression that they haven’t gotten your answer clearly, address this by for example saying; ‘I am saying this because I mean this or that’ especially when you say something that seems off.”
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3. Handling the ‘sadist’ in the panel
Sometimes you might notice one of the interviewers particularly pinning you down, getting on your nerves, how do you respond to this character?
“Take it positively,” Ms Shaka advises.
“He or she is trying to find out well you understand the role for which you are being interviewed. The interviewer is looking at how well you respond to pressure, your dynamism in different job scenarios and how you can adjust to different circumstances—you need to be calm, cool and collected. The panel is keenly observing how you can handle difficult situations; are you emotional? Can you control your temper?”
4. Managing questions from all directions
What if the interrogation keeps coming from all sides? “Keep calm,” she says, “think about each particular question and ask for clarification where you have not gotten it clearly. Say for example: “What do you mean exactly? It is much better to understand questions clearly before answering them rather than blindly trying to answer what you do not understand.
5. Mastering names of interviewers
What about grasping the names of say, six or seven interviewers? “There are people who are good with names and can do that, but if you are not one, write down their names in a clever way and find a way of identifying each one of them. Discretely look at their names before you address them. You do not need to name all of them but show you are keen on identifying most of them within a short time,” Ms Shaka advises
6. How to tell the direction the interview is taking
How do you tell that you are on the right track? “Their reaction will be the first indicator whether you are on the right path or not. Even from their smiles, you can tell whether you have impressed the panel or not,” says Ms Shaka.
“The danger signals are when they cut you short, tend to rephrase the questions to you more often than required, then know that you are probably not understanding them. Another sure way of knowing you are flopping is when the panel decides to rush you through the interview: chances are that they feel it is of no use spending more time on you—especially when they have interviewed other candidates they feel are stronger than you,” she says.
“As an interview candidate always put your best foot forward,” advises Ms Shaka. “It is a competition and at the end of the day your goal is to emerge the strongest. Make it happen, be at your best in terms of preparation and confidence.”
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