Recently I had an online interview (Zoom call) at one of the universities for the PhD position in space physics. The secretary (she contacted me by email) sent to me the date and time slot of the interview, but did not warn me at all that it would be a panel interview. I was a bit confused when I 'entered' the zoom room and saw 9 interviewers. Firstly I had to introduce myself in a few words, then they have started to ask me (almost one-by-one) various questions on math, physics and IT, kind of like an exam.

This is not my first interview for a PhD position in European universities and usually the person who is organizing an interview (secretary or professor) warns or asks whether it is OK if a few more colleagues attend the interview, but this was definitely not that case.

What would be the proper and polite way to deal with an "unexpected" panel interview? Continue as if nothing happened? Or highlight that we did not agree on a panel interview?

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    Is this for a PhD position (i.e. a spot as a PhD student), a spot for a post-doc (i.e. a position for a person with a new science PhD), or a faculty job (a university job for a person with a PhD)? Especially if it is one of the first two, but really all 3, you might get a more relevant answer on Academia. The selection process is different in academia than in the general workforce so what is norm might be different.
    – Damila
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 22:22
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    Did the HR person say it wouldn't be a panel interview? If not then you weren't misled, you just made an assumption. My company varies interview format depending on the candidate, our availability and how we are feeling. We have never seen the need to inform the candidate beforehand and nobody has complained. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 3:18
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    If they'd told you ahead of time, would it have changed anything? Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 16:43
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    Welcome to The Workplace @Abracadabra.Your question has been attracting close votes, likely because you've explicitly asked for opinions so I've dropped that phrase from your question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:04
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    Could you explain what the actual problem is? "I didn't expect this"... okay, so what?
    – user541686
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:57

4 Answers 4


Continue as if nothing had happened.

Panel interviews are one of a variety of legit interview formats and they don't really need or are expected to get your permission ahead of time for it.

You might want to instead show interest in what the format, participants, and content of upcoming interviews are by asking the person organizing them instead of assuming some "standard" interview format that is probably not universally standard.


Last interview I had, there was a panel of 7, then a “chat” with the team, then lunch with another part of the team and a final chat with most of the panel.

Took my original certificates as they had had copies just so they could check.

Told it started at 09.00 for the day, lunch provided. No other info about how it would work, whether other candidates would be there or whatever.

Need to be able to handle the situation, what did you expect? An agenda with a full list of questions?

The questions they asked me covered all the tech knowledge that I would need for the job plus what I had covered in academic and professional studies.


Adding to the other answers, there may have been some PhD specific issues at play. In your previous interviews, where you where asked if others could join, you may have been applying to work specifically with one individual. In which case those extra people where there to help the main person decide whether to hire you. While your latest interview it was likely you where technically applying to the University (even if you expressed preference of who you wanted to work with), not a particular individual. So the interview was with several people, each of whom may have been interested in hiring you (based on your application form).

The proper way to deal with it in the future is to just go with the flow. Try to be interested in what everyone is saying (usually phd interviews also include the supervisor(s) trying to "sell" their position to the candidate). Also before the next interview check the department website for what everyone else is doing in the department (not just the one person you want to work with). So you can at least pretend to be interested in what they. do.

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    When my ex attended her PhD interview, she (and another couple of dozen candidates) spent an entire day being shuttled from Dr to Prof to different Prof. She had hoped to land a specific supervisor/project, but that supervisor was overruled by the department head prof, who had decided she was ideal for his new project. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 16:50

In the interview situation: Go with the flow. Depending on tone and rapport you could comment on that you expected a different setup, but at this point, there's nothing to gain.

However it is a smart move to ask, when setting up the interview, with whom you will talk. This will help you prepare your own questions, and gauge what type of questions you will receive.

A job interview is stressfull, for you much more so than for the interviewers. It helps to be prepared.

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