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Common in the public sector, higher education, healthcare, and many higher-level corporate jobs, a panel interview is a catch-all term for any interview conducted by two or more people. It represents an alternative to a series of one-on-one interviews, instead of putting every individual with a stake in the hiring process in the same room. This not only saves time in the hiring process but also lets interviewers get a feel for a candidate’s ability to operate in a group setting and social skills.
Properly conducted, a panel interview reduces bias in the hiring process, bringing together representatives from different backgrounds and departments to ensure hiring decisions are more even-handed. Through collaboration with one another, interviewers can also come up with far better questions than in a one-on-one setting. Finally, panel interviews also introduce a prospective candidate to a company’s culture, allowing interviewers to determine whether or not a candidate would be a good addition.
Let’s talk about what it takes to conduct a successful panel interview, along with a few questions and strategies to help you improve the process.
Start With Your Job Description
A job description should summarize everything a prospective candidate needs to know about the position. Too many employers leave out a critical component, however. They don’t think about what the company achieves by filling this role.
Every new job listing should begin with an objective and build out from there—beyond that, it’s a simple matter of following the proper steps.
Engage the Proper Stakeholders
It’s a given that your interview panel should include the hiring manager and a human resources specialist. You’ll likely want to include leadership from the departments the candidates will collaborate with as well as leadership from their own department, if relevant. Unfortunately, this may not create a diverse interview panel in some organizations, and this is something you must keep in mind.
Training employees from outside HR as interviewers can help bridge some of that gap, true. But if your goal is to create a truly diverse interview panel, you’re going to need to start with yourself. Acknowledge your own unconscious bias, and have your colleagues do the same. From there, you’ll want to think about diversity in terms of more than cultural background or career.
Ensuring diversity on your panel interviews not only helps you make better decisions, it also greatly improves the candidate experience—something which is more important than ever.
Diversity aside, it’s also imperative that you take the proper steps to prepare your team. Everyone on your panel should know:
- The job description.
- Off-limit or taboo topics.
- Details on each candidate.
- Their area of focus.
Decide How You Want to Approach Your Interview Process
There are many different ways you can assess a prospective candidate both during and after an interview. Panel interviews are no exception to this. You and your panelists will need to decide ahead of time what format your interviews will take.
What we’ll say upfront is that we strongly advise sticking to scripted, structured interviews. One of the most common mistakes interviewers make involves a lack of structure in the interview process. The issue with this is that it creates an uneven rating scale for positions where there are multiple candidates.
All candidates applying for the same job should be asked the same questions and assessed in the same way—with that said, you’ll also want to avoid defaulting to the generic questions that everyone thinks to prepare for.
As for how your interviewers assess and score candidates you have a few options here. You could score them based on competency, or you could examine their behavior to see if they’re a good culture add. You could get a feel for them as a person through situational questions, or you could spring for some combination of multiple assessment methods.
We’d also recommend defining some form of interview rating scale to help further reduce bias.
Ask the Right Questions
Different interview questions have different objectives.
Some are meant to build rapport, asking the candidate personal details about themselves or making them more relatable to the interviewers. Others gauge candidate experience and technical knowledge, assessing the candidate’s professional background and problem-solving ability. Your interviewers might also choose to ask questions that help them better understand the candidate’s personality and assess their interpersonal skills.
Ideally, you’ll want to ask a combination of these questions. Don’t just spring for boring, cookie-cutter questions, either. Get creative.
Just make sure that each person takes turns asking questions and engaging with the candidate because you want to get as many perspectives and insights as possible.
What to do After a Panel Interview
Once a panel interview has concluded, the next step is for the interviewers to meet and compare the candidate. This is where your rating scale comes into play, and also where each interviewer shares their insights about whether or not they think that candidate is a good fit. As part of this process, your organization should send a follow-up or thank-you email to the applicant.
Once the interview process has wrapped up entirely, your team should meet again—this time, you’re assessing your talent acquisition methods rather than discussing a prospective hire. What went well, and what could you do better? You might even consider collecting feedback from whichever candidate got the job—after all, providing a better candidate experience should be one of your core objectives.
Ask Better Questions. Host Better Interviews. Find Better Talent.
Panel interviews are an excellent way to overcome bias in the interview process while also making everything more streamlined and efficient. But just like any interview technique, a panel interview only works if it’s done right. You need to ensure you have a diverse team of panelists, a clear-cut assessment framework, a list of great questions, and a plan to assess and improve your hiring process after the fact.
And if you’re looking for ways to improve and are uncertain where to start, check out SocialTalent’s dedicated Interview Training Solution.