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Tips for nailing those brutal panel interviews

Panel interviews have become more routine in recent years as Wall Street has worked to become more efficient with its time. Group interviews also allow banks and consulting firms to put candidates in real work scenarios, testing their client presentation skills. Needless to say, they can be nerve-racking.

What sets group interviews apart from more traditional interviews is the fact that panel members can study your behavior and body language while you talk with their colleagues. For that reason, you need to put more thought into the small things: posture, gestures and vocal clues like volume and inflection, says Jean Baur, career coach and author of “The Essential Job Interview Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Every Job Seeker.”

“Always include everyone on the panel with your eye contact,” she said. “It’s fine to spend more time looking at the key decision maker, but don’t ignore anyone visually or they won’t be voting for you to get the job.”

Another critical key is to clear your mind and listen to what’s being asked of you and what information you’re being fed, she said. This can be exceedingly difficult when your nerves kick in and you have to manage multiple conversations. Listening needs to be an active effort.

Here are some other key tips, courtesy of Baur:

  • Ask if it’s OK to take notes, this gives you a bit of breathing room time and allows you to remember who said what.
  • Use your eye contact strategically. This means looking at every member of the panel – always when they’re talking – and one thought at a time when you’re answering. You may also want to give more visual attention to the senior people in the room, but don’t let this cause you to ignore anyone.
  • Pay attention to the group dynamics – who is in charge, how the people on the panel relate to each other, if they’re working as a team or at odds with each other. It won’t be the only information you will use to make a decision about this company, so these are important clues that will help you know if this is a goof fit for you as well.
  • If possible, prepare a bit of a show and tell. It’s amazing how helpful this is to both you and the panel if you can hold up something you’ve created in the past. Think of it as more of a presentation rather than an interview, practice good solid delivery and content.
  • Keep your cool if challenged by an interviewer, because the group will recognize unfair behavior and in most cases won’t take their criticisms seriously. This style is sometimes used to see how you react to stress.
  • As always do your homework about the company and department. But also try to find out what you can about the panel members using Google, LinkedIn and your network.

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