How to Get the Most Out of a Panel Interview
November 3, 2021
Everything HR teams need to know to effectively set up a panel interview system, from best practices to pitfalls to watch out for.
Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the signs of a hot hiring market: Hiring all positions! Open interviews today! Signing bonuses! As companies hurry to fill open positions, they may be turning to a common method to speed along the process: the panel interview.
But while you need to move with speed, snap hiring decisions can create long-term issues with getting the right people in the right roles. And let’s not forget: Most managers weren’t good at this to begin with. In fact, only 14% of hiring managers are confident in their hiring decisions.
The need for accurate prediction about hiring decisions is one of the reasons why behavioral interviewing is so crucial. At times, however, it can be a lengthy process as it’s best done with multiple individual interviews. But when crunched for time, you can adapt behavioral interviewing for the panel interview format.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the basics of panel interviewing, including answers to your most-asked questions. We’ll also cover panel interviewing best practices, benefits, and pitfalls.
Defining a Panel Interview
The hallmark of panel interviewing is an interview conducted by two or more interviewers. The panel often consists of the hiring manager, relevant team members, and an HR representative.
In a panel interview, the candidate usually goes through a single interview. This is different than an experience where a candidate has multiple one-on-one interviews. And like all types of interviewing, the panel’s goal is to make the best hire based on information gathered from the interview and the panel’s judgment.
Panel interviewing also looks different than other types of interviews, like group interviews, that involve more than two participants. Panel interviewing typically has one candidate and two or more interviewers. Group interviews invert that approach: multiple job candidates and one or more interviewers.
While efficient, group interviews often lead to a poor candidate experience, as candidates feel undervalued and unheard. Furthermore, they lead to limited usable data for each candidate, as each person has very limited time to answer questions. In addition, they may be reluctant to share information among competitors for the role.
For example, imagine a group interview with one extravert candidate and two introvert candidates. Who do you think will dominate the conversation? Panel interviewing, on the other hand, allows multiple interviewers to gather data on one candidate. It can also be used for roles from entry-level to managerial to executive.
4 Benefits of a Panel Interview
There are benefits of panel interviewing over other types of interviewing:
1. Gain multiple perspectives.
Panel interviews allow multiple interviewers to assess the competencies and motivational fit of a candidate in just one job interview. Hiring managers can easily get a balanced perspective from a mix of panel members who bring different experiences, thoughts, and beliefs to the table.
2. Minimize the impact of hiring bias.
With interviewers using the same structured interview guides and hearing the same responses, they can compare the data collected in their data integration session in an “apples to apples” manner. (The data integration session is part of the behavioral interviewing process. It’s a structured meeting after the interview where each interviewer explains their evaluations to the other interviewers who have an opportunity to identify and counter any biases.)
3. Reduce time to hire.
Panel interviewing reduces the need to schedule multiple one-on-one interviews. It also allows the interviewers to integrate their collected data immediately after the interview.
4. Give candidates a “peek behind the curtain.”
With panel interviewing, the candidate gets a cross-functional view of the organization and its employees. The candidate can check out how the interviewers interact with each other and how they might fit into the team. Plus, panel interviewing highlights collaboration as an important value in the organization.
Are There Disadvantages to a Panel Interview?
While panel interviews offer many benefits, there are some things you may be giving up by using this interviewing approach. Here are a few downsides to using a panel interview:
Candidate experience can be more stressful.
Interviews are rarely a stress-free experience. But compared to one-on-one interviews, panel interviewing can be particularly stressful—even intimidating—for candidates. The added stress can affect their behavior and even compromise their responses. Additionally, it’s harder to make personal connections in a group, especially in a virtual interview. Candidates also might be less likely to ask probing questions to a group of interviewers.
Follow-up questions can be rushed.
Any experienced interviewer knows that one of the biggest tools an interviewer has is the follow-up interview question. And with a behavioral interviewing system like DDI’s Targeted Selection®, follow-up questions are often needed to gather a complete STAR (behavioral example). But with a panel of interviewers, some follow-up questions might be rushed or unasked. The opposite can be true as well. If other interviewers derail the interview by delving too deeply into follow-up questions, the panel can run out of time to cover all the competencies well.
Louder voices can dominate.
Loud, extraverted, or higher-ranking interviewers can wield undue influence over an interview and data integration discussion, reducing the possibility of a fair judgment. Imagine how it feels from the candidate's perspective, especially in virtual interviews, when domineering panel members talk over other interviewers.
There’s only one opportunity to collect data.
In the panel interview, the candidate participates in a single interview with a group of interviewers who ask a single set of questions. The panel members have one opportunity to collect one set of data. With multiple individual interviews, each interviewer asks different questions. There’s more opportunity to collect unique candidate information.
New interviewers are at a disadvantage.
For interviewers who are new to hiring, panel interviewing can be intimidating, especially when interviewing with more experienced hiring managers. These newer interviewers might rely on their more experienced counterparts to lead the interview. Plus, they don’t get to develop their one-on-one interviewing skills.
5 Common Panel Interview Pitfalls
While panel interviews have inherent pros and cons, they can be a great option for streamlining the hiring process. As companies increasingly use them—both virtual and in person—the success depends on execution. Yet, they often make mistakes that waste time. Even more serious, hiring managers don’t get the information they need to make accurate and fair hiring decisions.
Many of these common problems also turn up in non-panel interviews. But the negative impact is multiplied with a panel because there’s only one opportunity to get it right.
1. Our panel already knows how to interview.
Some organizations assume that interviewing is an easy skill that comes naturally to leaders. So, interviewer training isn’t a high priority. Even when interviewers are well-trained, it’s easy to forget that most of them interview occasionally and their skills get rusty. One inexperienced panel member can derail the entire process.
2. They’ll know it when they see it.
When we don’t clarify the selection criteria upfront, each interviewer can arrive with a different vision of the “ideal candidate” and the ingredients needed for success. The panel doesn’t know what they’re looking for.
3. Let the panel “wing it.”
Without role clarity and an agreed-upon agenda, the session becomes a free-for-all. The risk is even higher in a virtual interview situation, especially if technology doesn’t cooperate. The discussion gets off track and precious interview time is wasted. With no plan for who is covering what, interviewers are bound to leave without information on all the important skill areas. When it’s time to evaluate the data, they don’t have a complete picture of the candidate to make a good hiring decision.
4. The panel interview is used as a “stress test.”
Some organizations view the panel interview as a great opportunity to observe the candidate under pressure. Though it is often stressful, it’s not the best way to gather this type of candidate information. The panel is a very specific high-pressure situation that might not be job-related. Most people won’t encounter this situation on the job. Plus, when the interview feels like an interrogation, the quality of candidate responses, not to mention the candidate experience, suffer.
5. Interviewers ask the “wrong” questions.
The panel has one opportunity to gather the best information in a very short meeting. When interviewers aren’t given structured behavioral interview questions, they end up with poor quality information. If left to their own devices, they often ask theoretical questions that focus on whether the candidate knows what to do versus what the candidate actually has done. Interviewers then end up with data that won’t predict the candidate’s success in the open position because they lack evidence of the candidate's past behavior and results.
These pitfalls tell us exactly what not to do if we want to reap the benefits of this popular hiring tool. At the heart of these issues lies lack of planning and communication when setting up the panel interviewing process. Don’t worry, we’ll address best practices to avoid these pitfalls next.
5 Panel Interviewing Best Practices
As you can see, not every interview panel will make the best hiring decision or leave the candidate with the best impression. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to avoid the risks and leverage the potential benefits of a panel. You can easily adapt a panel interview to fit into a structured behavioral interviewing system, like Targeted Selection, that equips leaders with the skills and the tools to hire the best candidates AND create a positive candidate experience.
Based on our research and experience we know the most critical components of an effective interview system. These components are even more important when planning a panel interview so you can ensure a rigorous selection process while expediting the time to hire.
1. Train and refresh interviewers.
Panel members need both the competence and confidence to manage the interview process, gather quality data, and evaluate multiple candidates objectively. If you consider that most interviews are now virtual, the panel also must be comfortable with the technology. And they need to do all of this while making a positive impression on the candidate. For a panel interview, strong interaction skills are particularly important to help the candidate feel at ease and respond openly. Interviewers need training, practice opportunities, and refresher training.
2. Identify clear criteria for job success.
Panel members need to agree, beforehand, on the knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes that are most important. Define clear, reliable standards so they gather the most relevant information and compare each candidate to the same “ideal.”
3. Provide a structured interview guide.
Deliver a repeatable, consistent interview approach to provide a level playing field across candidates. The entire panel should meet beforehand to review the candidate’s resume and define everyone’s role. Assign a lead interviewer to keep the discussion on track (and manage any technology glitches). Structure both the interview and the post-interview discussions to ensure competencies, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes are covered across interviewers.
4. Focus on the candidate’s past behavior.
The interview guides should include planned behavioral questions seeking past experiences, actions, and results. Panel members can then ask targeted follow-up questions to gather behavioral examples. Data evaluation discussions focus on past behavior as the best predictor of future performance.
5. Leverage multiple interviewer perspectives.
Panel interviews offer an opportunity to include diverse perspectives that can counterbalance unconscious bias in the hiring process. In addition to the hiring manager and HR representative, panels can include future direct reports or peers. Since panel members listen to the same candidate responses, they can share their perceptions immediately after the interview.
It’s best practice to also structure data evaluation discussions to encourage active panel participation to get a balanced view of the candidate. Encourage the panel to focus on behavioral data and check each other’s evaluations to avoid implicit biases.
Are Panel Interviews Right for Your Next Hiring Opportunity?
Human resource partners and leaders at all levels have a tremendous opportunity to increase the quality of new hires and mitigate the risks associated with alarmingly high turnover rates.
With hiring volume so high, hiring decisions—good or bad—have an exponential impact. Panel interviews, when implemented with these best practices in mind, hold great promise for significantly increasing the caliber of talent in your organization.
Check out our microcourse on panel interviewing to brush up on your skills, and learn how one DDI client adapted their interview process and training to meet the demands for a tough labor market.
Ruth Moskowitz, Ph.D. is a senior consultant at DDI. She’s inspired most when helping the sales force, consultants, and clients hire and develop better leaders for a better future using DDI’s competency-based solutions. Nature, music, family, yoga, and travel are her favorite energizers.
Laura-Nelle Hurst is a project manager on DDI's Global Field Enablement team working with solutions including behavioral interviewing and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano, but these days focuses on singing lullabies to her toddler.