I’ve been asked to give a talk next week to a group of hiring managers on how to conduct panel interviews. The company hosting the workshop believes its current process is in shambles and needs to be discarded. Here’s what they told me some of the problems were:

  • Everyone competed asking questions.
  • No one let the candidates finish answering the questions.
  • Candidates thought the whole experience was unprofessional and were turned off.
  • Little was learned about the candidate.
  • Everyone heard something different even though they were in the same room.
  • No one arrived on time, and most of the interviewers hadn’t even looked at the candidates’ resumes before the interview.
  • Each one had a different understanding of the job, so many of their questions were inappropriate, irrelevant or superficial.
  • It was a big waste of everyone’s time.

I then asked why they even conducted panel interviews at all. The leader told me despite these problems, they were still better than having one-on-one interviews. (Can you imagine what these are like?)

When I first became a recruiter, I thought panel interviews were too intimidating so I resisted using them. I had one client who used them as their core process, and after sitting in on a few I became a believer. When organized properly here’s why panel interviews are more effective than traditional one-on-one interviews:

  1. The impact of first impressions and personality biases are minimized. Biases of any type tend to lead the interviewer down a path of asking questions designed to confirm the bias. A structured group interview with a pre-planned set of questions prevents everyone from going off-track.
  2. Interviewing accuracy is improved 20-30 percentage pointsBy combining accomplishment-based questions with behavioral fact-finding, the entire team is collectively discovering if the candidate is both competent to do the actual work, motivated to do it, and a fit with the team and company culture.
  3. It gives weaker interviewers and potential subordinates a means to voice their opinion in a controlled setting. While it’s often important for a subordinate to meet a potential boss, one-on-one interviews are often awkward, with personality and hidden agendas usually dominating the assessment. Participating in a panel also gives weaker interviewers a chance to learn how to properly conduct aPerformance-based Interview.
  4. It changes the focus from yes/no voting to a deliberative evidence-based assessment. Since everyone is hearing the same information, the assessment is much more about how to interpret the evidence, not about generic competencies and whether the person was smart, likeable, and assertive enough.
  5. Candidates get a chance to better understand the job and how potential future co-workers interact. The best people want to work with liked-minded professionals. A well-organized, professional panel interview provides this added benefit.

Checklist for Conducting a Panel Interview

  1. Have all interviewers on the panel review the performance-based job description before the interview. Everyone on the interviewing panel must know the real job requirements before they get a chance to interview and assess the person. The best way to understand a job is to define the 5-6 primary performance objectives describing what the person in the role needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful. Use the STAR format for creating these: define the Situation,Task, Action, and Result. Here’s the quick course on how to prepare these.
  2. Use the Two-Question Performance-based Interview as the organizing tool. This interview is fully described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. It offers significant advantages when used as the basis of the panel interview, specifically: it flows logically, it focuses on past performance, it’s been validated by one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S., and it works.
  3. Assign one leader; everyone else is a fact-finder. Part of the Performance-based Interview is to have candidates describe accomplishments most comparable to those listed in the performance-based job description. This involves a great deal of behavioral fact-finding peeling the onion to understand the person’s actual role, the results achieved and the process used to achieve the results. Fact-finders need to ask these follow-up questions.
  4. Leaders can be fact-finders, but fact-finders can’t be leaders. Rather than competing, interrupting, and asking “favorite” questions, in an organized panel interview the participants support each other. In this case, only the leader can change the primary question, e.g., “Can you describe your major planning project?” while the fact-finders can ask for the specific details. The leader can ask these follow-up questions, too, but the other panelists can’t change the topic or take over the process.
  5. Use a formal assessment scorecard right after the interview to record the findings. The best time to share input is just after the candidate leaves. Using a formal approach for comparing the candidate’s accomplishments to real job needs adds insight and accuracy to the assessment. For this, I suggest a formal scoring template that ranks the candidate on the factors that best predict job success (e.g., motivation to do the work, competency, team skills, cultural fit, etc.). Here’s a link to obtain a sample of the recommended scorecard.

When organized properly, panel interviews are a great tool for saving time, giving weak interviewers an opportunity to participate, avoiding hiring mistakes including hiring someone who normally would have been excluded, and increasing assessment accuracy. Poorly organized panel interviews are a waste of time. The key is to know the job and recognize the different roles leaders and fact-finders play. Panel interviews are truly a team sport, but in too many cases they resemble the first AYSO soccer game played by a bunch of five-year-olds.

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Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. Lou is one of LinkedIn’s top Influencers, and he’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider.