If you want to find the best candidate for a job, you need a hiring process that’s designed around that particular job and its unique requirements. One of the tools available to you in creating a tailored hiring process is the panel interview. When used appropriately, they can help you perfect your candidate questioning and better identify the necessary capabilities within your talent pool. When conducted ineffectively, however, panel interviews can complicate the already challenging process of hiring great people. We’ll break down the advantages and disadvantages of panel interviews to help you decide whether this interview format suits your hiring needs.
What is a Panel Interview?
A panel interview is a type of job interview where a candidate is asked questions by multiple interviewers–a.k.a. a panel–rather than by a single person. This hiring tactic is meant to incorporate feedback from diverse sources into the hiring process rather than relying upon a single individual’s assessment of a candidate.
During this interview, members of the panel take turns asking questions. The questions cover various topics, from candidate background to technical capabilities to situational questions. Sometimes, certain members may be responsible for asking about designated topics. For example, a person who held the job previously may be appointed to pose questions about the job duties.
Panel interviews are commonly used when hiring for highly technical positions or jobs that involve collaborating with different departments. They can occur at any point in the hiring process, from the initial screening to the final round of interviews.
Who Should Be Involved in a Panel Interview?
A panel for an interview comprises of various company stakeholders, including people who will regularly interact with the new hire and people who are uniquely equipped to judge their preparedness for the role.
These interviewers may include hiring managers, recruiters, team leaders, HR representatives, prospective colleagues, and sometimes even stakeholders from outside of the company.
Advantages of Panel Interviews
1. Incorporate diverse perspectives
In a traditional interview, assessing a candidate’s job suitability accurately falls to one person. That’s a lot of responsibility riding on the shoulders of a single individual.
With a panel interview, the responsibility–and, in turn, the outcome–is shared. It allows for different perspectives to be incorporated into the conversation, as each hiring team member can assess the candidate’s skills and qualifications from their unique viewpoints.
The result is a more well-rounded assessment that can improve hiring accuracy.
2. Streamline scheduling
Scheduling is one of the most challenging parts of the interview process. The more rounds of interviews you have, the more back-and-forth is required, and the longer the process takes. Every additional day is one that a high-quality candidate could accept an offer from a competing employer.
An advantage of conducting panel interviews is condensing scheduling between multiple stakeholders down into a single session, which can accelerate the hiring process and help you secure more accepted offers.
3. Reduce bias
Individuals are highly susceptible to bias. With several interviewers, the influence of individual biases — whether they pertain to unconscious preferences, stereotypes, or past experiences — is diluted. When decisions are made collectively, it’s more likely that others will challenge or counterbalance any singular, potentially biased viewpoint. This dynamic promotes a fairer and more objective assessment, mitigating the risk of hiring decisions being clouded by personal prejudices.
4. Achieve a more comprehensive assessment
Each panelist comes to the table with a different set of expertise, which allows for a more robust assessment of the candidate. For example, a member who’s a team lead, may be apt at spotting the right technical skills. At the same time, an HR representative might be able to pinpoint a culture fit that aligns with the organization’s values.
5. Simulate on-the-job conditions
A pro for panel interviews is that it can give you a firsthand look at how the candidate conducts themself in a group setting. For jobs that require managing disparate teams or juggling competing priorities, an applicant’s behavior can indicate their skills in these areas.
Because this forces candidates to adapt to questions from different interviewers and possibly also different interview styles, it can shed light on their versatility and capacity to adapt under changing circumstances.
6. Assess niche skills
Hiring for niche roles is challenging in large part because the person conducting the interview often doesn’t have a deep understanding of the position’s duties. So, this interview format allows you to bring in an expert with intimate knowledge of the job responsibilities who can more accurately gauge a candidate’s technical readiness.
7. Showcase company culture
In a one-on-one interview, a candidate must judge the whole company based on their interaction with a single person. A panel interview allows them to interact with two or more company representatives, who will ideally convey a positive representation of the organization’s culture. This offers the candidate a more accurate understanding of the team dynamic and the company overall.
8. Increase retention
Reducing bias and improving hiring accuracy helps reduce the incidence of bad hires. When a candidate is vetted and unanimously approved by a group, it often means that they’re a strong fit in terms of skill set and personality. Such congruence between the employee and the organization can lead to higher job satisfaction, greater engagement, and ultimately, increased retention. Which in turn creates lower hiring costs.
Disadvantages of Panel Interviews
1. Logistics challenges
When you’re dealing with busy people from different departments, it can be hard to find a single date and time that works for all parties. This not only prolongs the hiring process but can also lead to delays in decision-making. Ensuring that all panel members are on the same page regarding the interview’s structure, objectives, and evaluation criteria is crucial. Disparities in expectations or understanding can lead to inconsistencies in the interview experience for the candidate.
In some instances, the difficulty in synchronization might even deter quality candidates who may be looking for a swift interview process.
2. Candidate discomfort
Facing a group, rather than a single interviewer can amplify feelings of scrutiny and pressure. Some candidates might feel overwhelmed or even intimidated by the sheer number of professionals assessing them simultaneously. This heightened anxiety can affect a candidate’s performance, making them more reserved, hesitant, or even defensive. Beyond the immediate stress, there’s also the challenge of maintaining rapport and engagement with several individuals at once. Given the divided attention, candidates may find it hard to build a meaningful connection with any single panelist.
3. Requires preparation
It takes some practice to find a rhythm between multiple interviewers. Some panelists might habitually talk over one another, which can confuse the candidate. Varying interview styles and experience levels can also cause interviewers to work against each other inadvertently.
If you’re using this format, it’s important to prepare adequate time so interviewers work as a cohesive assessment body rather than individuals stirring for competing goals.
4. Extended length
Since each panelist will have their own topics to address, this interview usually runs longer than a one-on-one. An extended interview may become taxing for the candidate, potentially affecting their performance. As fatigue sets in, they might struggle to maintain the same level of enthusiasm and alertness. Which inadvertently creates a skewed perception of their capabilities to the panel. Additionally, candidates might need to carve out larger blocks of time from their schedules. This can be particularly challenging if they’re currently employed or have other commitments. There’s also the added stress of enduring longer scrutiny, which can lead to a poor candidate experience.
5. Inability to dive deep
Since each interviewer has limited time to interact with a candidate, they have less of an opportunity to ask follow-up questions and probe deeper into certain topics. This can lead to an assessment that’s broad and lacks depth. Moreover, in trying to cater to the varied interests of all panel members, the candidate might be pulled in many directions, making it challenging to provide comprehensive answers. This surface-level interaction can be disadvantageous when hiring for roles that require deep technical knowledge or specific expertise.
6. Potential for “groupthink”
Panel interviews are designed to mitigate bias but, in some cases, can make it worse. These hiring authorities may inadvertently sway one another’s opinion of a candidate, or they may engage in Groupthink. Groupthink is the desire for group cohesion to be prioritized more highly than making the most practical hiring decision. Furthermore, dominant personalities within the panel can inadvertently steer the collective opinion, with quieter members acquiescing to avoid conflict. This dynamic can be especially detrimental if the dominating viewpoint is based on a hasty judgment or an unconscious bias. The true intent of a panel interview—to harness diverse insights and opinions—can be lost.
7. Decision dynamics
A major disadvantage of panel interviews is that panelists can disagree in their assessments. While one member might be impressed by a candidate’s technical acumen, another might emphasize cultural fit or soft skills. This divergence in perspectives, though valuable, can lead to prolonged deliberations, stalling the recruitment timeline and potentially frustrating both candidates and the hiring team.
Tips For Successful Panel Interviews
Prepare ahead of time
Don’t expect panelists to walk in cold and conduct a great interview. Preparation is required, both individually and as a group. Ahead of time, interviewers should be given interviewing scoring criteria and asked to submit questions for consideration. Then, one person should be designated to assemble the final questions and distribute them to each hiring team member.
When every candidate is presented with a standardized set of questions and experiences a uniform interview structure, it ensures that assessments are based on comparable data points. This level playing field prevents any candidate from having an undue advantage or disadvantage due to the variability of the questions asked or the topics covered. A consistent framework not only upholds the integrity of the interview process but also reinforces the organization’s commitment to fair practices and equitable candidate treatment.
Interviewers should submit their feedback as soon as possible after an interview is complete while the experience is fresh in their minds. Feedback should also be given independently, meaning interviewers shouldn’t “compare notes” until after they’ve submitted their initial assessments.
With the right planning and careful execution, panel interviews can be a useful tool in increasing the objectivity and accuracy of your hiring while providing a more positive candidate experience.
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