What is a panel interview? A panel interview is when there are multiple interviewers, typically interviewing one applicant. Panel members take turns asking the candidate questions, though there is one interviewer who leads the overall meeting.
They are commonly used by the government, large non-profit organizations, or academic institutions vetting potential new hires. Businesses are particularly likely to use them when looking to fill an executive position, as these hiring decisions are made with input from multiple team leaders and administrators. Recently, many companies, especially collaborative ones, are using panel interviews any time a candidate will be a key part of a team.
Panel interviews can be complicated and overwhelming not only for candidates, but for interviewers as well. Familiarizing yourself with the specifics and particulars of this format is essential to successfully conducting a panel interview. Use the panel interview tips and information below to determine whether this is the most effective tool for your situation.
Panel interviews are highly effective when used appropriately. However, deciding whether this interview method makes sense for your particular job opening requires an understanding of the pros and cons.
Prepare and collaborate
With multiple people trying to interact with and get to know the candidate, a panel interview requires significant preparation. You need to make sure everyone has a copy of the applicant's resume and cover letter to review, preferably a couple days before the interview.
You should also set aside time before and after the panel interview to compare notes. Before meeting with the potential new hire, discuss your expectations and how to structure the interview. Everyone should be on the same page regarding what skills, experience, and personality the ideal candidate would have. Prepare a comprehensive list of panel interview questions to ask, and then divide them between panel members.
Immediately after the panel interview, talk about your impressions as a group. What particular value points did the applicant seem to offer? What concerns do you have about their future performance at your organization? You could even have each panel interviewer jot down their thoughts before sharing to avoid biases or group think. Take notes so that you can compare the panel's thoughts about multiple candidates when it's time to make a final decision about extending a job offer.
Choose interviewers with care
The more panel members you include, the more pressure the candidate will feel. However, don't exclude important decision makers in order to keep your numbers low. Aim for a healthy balance of three to five interviewers, including the relevant department head and one potential future teammate. You might also include other pertinent administrators or an HR representative knowledgeable about the applicant.
When choosing your panel members, make sure that they understand the position and have a vested interest in bringing top talent into this particular role. These qualities ensure that the interviewers have the ability and strong desire to identify the candidate who will bring the most to your company. Also, all panel members should have a basic knowledge of how to conduct an interview.
Consider the candidate's perspective
Always keep the candidate’s experience in mind as well. It can be easy to become so wrapped up in preparing to conduct the panel interview that you forget to see the situation from the other side of the table. It's a good idea to relieve some of the stress candidates may be experiencing ahead of time and reduce its effect on their performance. When you first invite them to interview, let the interviewee know that you will be using a panel format. Make sure to explain what a panel interview is and what they should expect. You could even find an online article or compile your own list of panel interview tips for job seekers that you can email each candidate.
Try to create a welcoming and open atmosphere at the beginning of the interview. Introduce panel members with their names and job titles so that the applicant isn't guessing at the role each person plays in the hiring decision. Also, try to arrange the room in a non-intimidating way. For example, you could plan seating so that panel members sit alongside the candidate in a circle, rather than lining them up along one side of a long table across from the interviewee.
Though you are probably very familiar with one-on-one interview questions, you may want to take a different approach with a panel format. This is not the time to discuss reference checks, for example, as that topic is more pertinent to HR personnel. Instead, the best panel interview questions to ask will offer useful insight for all panel members, regardless of their role in the hiring decision. For more help or inspiration, review these sample panel interview questions:
Organizing and conducting a panel interview can be a significant undertaking, but this interview structure can also bring great value to your hiring strategy. When opting for a panel interview, the tips above can help you reduce time and costs, streamlining your process and quickly securing top talent for your open positions.