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I have an interview scheduled with a public sector organisation (UK) and I have been asked to prepare a presentation on a given topic.

There is no information in the letter about the composition of the interview panel, how many people there are, what area of the business they are from or what level they are in the company etc.

Is it acceptable to ask for this to be clarified when I respond to the invitation to interview? My partner thinks this might be a strange thing to ask, but I think it will help me prepare. If I was presenting to a client I would find out as much as I could in advance of the meeting after all.

If it is acceptable, how could I word this in my response?

  • Though it might be ok, I strongly believe you should not. Would make you look picky and not confident about the subject. – oldergod Aug 30 '13 at 8:48
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    You have to be able to explain anything to any moderately drunken CEO, to her grandmother, and to any reasonably intelligent person in the street. – Deer Hunter Aug 30 '13 at 16:31
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Whilst it might not be seen as acceptable to outright ask who the panel consists of, it would probably be fine to ask more general probing questions such as (if you were interviewing for a technical role) "should the presentation be aimed at a technical audience, or should it be aimed at people from a mix of disciplines?". If you have a steady contact within the organisation (for instance, a recruiter, or the email address of an interviewer), then you could start with more general questions like above, and move to more concrete questions such as "what specific departments should I tailor the presentation to?"

I think that the main thing to be cautious of here is making sure that you don't give the impression that:

  • You're contemptuous of, or uncomfortable with, people outside your own area of expertise/department (this can be a huge problem for some developers)
  • You're uncomfortable with talking about your area of expertise in terms that other disciplines can understand

As long as you're mindful to not give that impression, I doubt anyone would have an issue with you asking.

7

Of course it's ok to ask. It makes complete sense to want to know this to help you prepare. In a real scenario you would typically have some kind of information before the presenation.

They may want to this like a "role playing" scenario, i.e. they pretend to know nothing about the subject and your task would be to educate them.

I'd call them and ask;

"To help me better prepare for the presentation I'd like to know a little about who will be there and what I can assume about their knowledge of the subject"

or something similar

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    Yes, not only may you ask but you should ask if it affects how you'll give the talk. When I interview software candidates I will give them an under-specified problem to solve; diving in without seeking clarification is a point against. I want to see what questions they ask before they start writing code. The OP's situation seems a little similar; it might not be the company's intent to test this, but he can make a good impression by handling this well. – Monica Cellio Aug 30 '13 at 15:24
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In your position, I would ask. If they did not provide a reasonable answer, I would cancel the interview. A standard answer would be a list of the interviewers and a brief biography of each interviewer. But a reasonable answer could be something as vague as it will be a panel of people from such and such background.

  • I'm glad you can be so picky about job opportunities - unfortunately I cannot, which is why I want to have the best chance I can here. – yellowcopter Aug 31 '13 at 21:32
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Letting your future employee know that you're concerned about who you're making the presentation to is not a good idea.

But here's some things you could say:

  1. I could give a lot of different presentations about this topic. Is there anything you could share with me about the interests of the attendees?
  2. X is one my passions in this area. Do you think focusing on X during my presentation is a good idea?
  3. Often when I make presentations it's to audiences that have a lot of background knowledge in the topic. Can I assume that's what's being asked for in this presentation?

The pattern is to first mention a strength/experience of yours and then ask a question of how to use that during the presentation.

Note: I'd be concerned that finding out about people wouldn't tell you what you wanted to know. For example, the leader might want you to speak to young people about your industry.

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