How to conduct a good panel interview

How to conduct panel interviews

Recruiters are used to interviewing jobseekers on a one-to-one basis, but panel interviews still present a certain amount of uncertainty. These interviews can be a powerful tool giving you a deeper insight into a candidate’s suitability for a role, but you need to make sure you get the format right otherwise it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Traditional one-on-one interviews may allow for a more intimate discussion to take place between the recruiter and the candidate, but with any hire that needs input from a range of people, it can be quite a time consuming process.

The problem is, the longer the hiring process, the higher the probability an applicant may find another position. If you have people traveling long distances to interviews, bringing them down (or up) to you too often you will start to test the patience of even the most dedicated candidate. This is why panel interviews can be an invaluable addition to a recruiter’s arsenal.

However, panel interviews offer much more than just saving time. They are more objective since there is less personal interaction, so the temptation to chat is reduced. Furthermore, panel members can consecutively question any candidate in rapid succession, meaning the candidate has to show an in-depth knowledge of the job’s requirements. Panel interviews can also be quite daunting for the candidate, so the recruiter can see how they handle tense situations.

Having said that, this format does have its downsides, for example, there is less time to analyse a candidate. But it also eliminates the one-on-one comfort zone where talented interviewers may be able to bring the best out of a more reserved candidate. And, of course, there is a danger that outspoken or opinionated interviewers can skew the views of the panel.

So what do recruiters need to know to ensure they manage a panel discussion effectively?


The setting

How you arrange the room for a panel interview can be vitally important. Try to make sure the set-up is as informal as possible, you can get more in depth information out of a candidate who is relaxed. Also ensure that panel members are seated at comfortable angles visible to the applicant. Certainly avoid seating panel members behind a big table or facing the applicant as if it were an interrogation.


The members

You need to make sure that your interviewers are from varying departments and that they also have differing backgrounds and personalities. This will enable you to get a broader perspective on the candidate’s performance, different points of view will help you get a clear picture of the pros and cons of an applicant. It’s also important that the people you choose are trusted individuals who know your company or business inside out.

When you have chosen your members, make sure that you chose a leader, someone to act as the host and act as the facilitator for the whole process. During the interview, the lead interviewer will ask the basic questions and follow up with some fact-finding. Only the primary interviewer can change the topic or the focus of the question.

Every other member of the panel should see themselves in a support role, helping the primary interviewer clarify as much as possible by digging deeper into questions as they feel necessary. This hierarchy doesn’t have to be set in stone throughout the interview, and sometimes other members can take on a lead role for specific questions particularly if it’s more related to their specific skills base. Ultimately there should be one person controlling the start and finish of the interview.

Whatever happens, everyone needs to be clear on their role throughout the process, so as not to cause confusion and break the focus of the interview. Also, any panel should consist of between three and five people.


Get organised

There are a number of factors at play here. Everyone taking part in the interview needs to have a good knowledge of the candidate’s CV, as well as the job description and the skills base necessary to fulfil the role. On top of this, everyone needs to have agreed on a set of questions and understand what their role is within the process; so that people are not talking over each other or contradicting each other during the interview.

You should also make the thrust of the interview a discussion of the candidate’s major accomplishments; and it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the candidate to come prepared to discuss a few of his/her most relevant major accomplishments. This will improve the information exchange.



…and listen carefully. Being in a group interview situation gives you the benefit “extra ears” to pick up on key details and nuances from the candidate; so use this. Panel members should be taking notes throughout, but they need to stay engaged in the discussions.


Don’t forget the basics

This may sound obvious, but it’s often the small details that matter. So, remember to introduce everyone at the onset. You also need to allow the candidate enough time to ask questions at the end and possibly provide additional qualification information.

Make sure you have a prepared closing statement as a professional way to end the interview, including a realistic expectation for the follow-up schedule. This will leave the candidate feeling as though they have been treated professionally. And don’t forget to thank them for their interest and time.

Conducting a panel interview can be of great benefit to your organisation. Not only will it help you make a decision, but you will also be able to get to know a potential staff member better. So if you are going to go down this route, it really is worth making sure you do it properly.

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