Anticipating any interview can be nerve-wracking, but when it’s a panel interview such feelings tend to be all the more intense. It is worth bearing in mind that most other candidates will feel the same way, but there’s really no need to, panel interviews are not about being ganged up on; they are also not intended to intimidate. Usually, they are just an easy way to give a team of people who will be working with the successful applicant the chance to see who is being considered. Often, only one person present will be making the final decision and it is he or she with whom it is most important to make eye contact and forge a connection.
How to prepare
Good preparation can make any interview go more smoothly and this is no less true for social workers than for members of other professions. Preparation should include reviewing the initial application and reading trade journals and newspaper so that it is easy to comment on topical subjects relevant to the discussion. It is also important to carry out a little research into the hiring organisation and if told their names in advance, into the individuals who will be present at the interview.
What to expect
Panel interviews tend to be more formal in structure, which means that in many ways they are less intimidating to inexperienced candidates once they are underway. It is normal for one person to lead the questioning with others occasionally chipping in. Candidates may also be asked to give short presentations about their professional backgrounds or aspects of their work. At the end, there will usually be time set aside for the interviewee to ask questions. This is an important opportunity to demonstrate insight into the workings of the organisation and the challenges the role is likely to involve.
Sometimes interviewers will take it in turns to ask questions, with one being sympathetic and one antagonistic. This is easier to handle when it is identified as a standard tactic and not taken personally. It is particularly important not to rise to the bait in social worker job interviews, as the interviewers will be looking for individuals who remain calm and are resilient enough to handle difficult clients.
How to respond
Although confidence can make a very positive impression in interviews, it is not the be-all and end-all. Candidates who cannot hide their nerves should forge ahead anyway and concentrate on demonstrating their enthusiasm and the commitment they can bring to the role. Given the formal nature of most panel interviews, it is worth thinking through common questions beforehand and working out how to answer them in ways that really show off skills and experience. Deciding what needs to be said beforehand means answers can often be adjusted to suit.
Further information for candidates
It is helpful to pay some attention to each of the interviewers individually. Candidates should be careful to remember their names; it is usually acceptable to take notes and if they represent different departments or aspects of the company, each can be asked a different, relevant question that demonstrates the candidate’s understanding of the job.