Dear Matt: Sometimes I interview with one person and other times there are two or three people involved and it feels like I'm being interrogated. Is there a way to prepare to best speak to multiple people in a room during an interview? What are the goals of the others in the room and how should I interact with them?
Matt: This is known as the panel approach, says Steve Jewell, a Twin Cities HR consultant who has more than 25 years of small and large enterprise HR expertise.
The panel approach is used because it's time efficient, includes the chance for multiple people to review/analyze/ask questions and can include multiple potential team members, such as supervisors, co-workers or other department leaders. With multiple people in a room, there can also be new questions and ideas that are generated from the group interaction. The bottom line is the panel approach allows for more people to gauge how one employee will fit into a company and save time and resources in the process. It also allows others to focus on content and communication skills as well as non-verbal communication, says Jewell.
If you are able to, ask before the interview if it will be a one-on-one or a panel interview. Some companies will tell you, and also include the names of the people you will be interviewing with, others won't. If you know who you are interviewing with, Jewell emphasizes using LinkedIn to learn about who you will be meeting. If possible, identify why that individual would be relevant to the interview process.
While eye contact with the person asking a question is important it should not to be done to the level that it excludes acknowledging others in the room, says Jewell. Be sure to look at each panel member when answering questions, but always conclude your response by looking at the person that originally asked the question.
And don't assume one has more input than the other in the decision-making process.
"You may know the leader and/or the decision maker in the interview, but there are reasons others are present and were asked to participate," says Jewell. "Perhaps the leader is looking for how well you interact with others that might be on the team or be business partners. Ignoring others in an interview panel does come with risk."
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