How to Conduct a Panel Interview: 7 Steps for Success
This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
The foundation of a successful panel interview—a recruitment practice that involves a group of team members interviewing one candidate—is thoughtful planning. In their best form, these group interviews allow interviewers to combine their strengths, perspectives, and experiences—leading to effective and comprehensive questions.
Follow these steps to structure a panel interview successfully:
- Select your interview team
- Prepare for the interview
- Schedule the interview
- Choose an effective location
- Start with a welcome/introductions
- Facilitate the interview questions
- Discuss the interview notes
Step 1: Choose Interviewers
When selecting who will interview candidates, it is important to keep in mind the primary stakeholders for the position, who the candidate might interact with regularly once hired, and who can offer the candidate a sense of inclusion within the organization.
Representation matters, and for this reason, it is important to make sure your interview panel reflects the diversity of your organization. Interview panels are often between four and six people and may include:
- A human resources (HR) representative
- The hiring manager
- One to two people from an internal client group that the new hire may interact with regularly
- An individual whose work product will be intermingled with that of the new hire (i.e., someone in marketing)
The hiring manager generally acts as the leader for the interview, setting the tone and asking basic questions. The other panel members may act as the subject matter experts (SME) for areas specific to their skill base but will mostly help the primary interviewer by asking clarifying questions.
Keep in mind: A panel interview is different from a group candidate interview, in which multiple candidates for the same position are interviewed at once. Group candidate interviews are often used by companies in the food service, hospitality, and retail industries that need to hire many employees quickly.
Step 2: Prepare Your Team
Interviewing can be stressful—for the candidate and the interviewers. Before you schedule a panel interview, properly preparing your team is important. Consider the following:
- Share the job description with each interviewer to familiarize them with the position’s requirements before the interview.
- Panelists should review the candidate’s resume to become familiar with their background and determine appropriate questions for the role.
- Each panelist should be prepped on which areas of the business they should focus on and, ideally, given standardized interview questions to reduce hiring bias.
Step 3: Schedule the Panel Interview
Choose whether to hold an in-person or a virtual interview. Traditional face-to-face interviews are best for companies that require employees to show up on-site, whereas virtual interviews are best for filling remote roles or interviewing executive talent that may be located in far-away areas.
Since panel interviews involve multiple people and, therefore, multiple schedules, there must be an effort to synchronize calendars. Determine the best dates and times for your team members, and then allow the candidate to choose from the options. This will ensure that at least one timeframe will work for everyone.
Once you have determined an appropriate time for the interview, create a calendar invite that includes all panelists and the candidate. Remember to provide directions to your office or a link to the virtual meeting. Ensure that everyone has properly working meeting links before the interview.
If you are conducting the interview virtually, consider a video call. Video calls are preferred to conference calls because they allow for a more personal and interactive experience.
Step 4: Set Up a Room for the Interview
If you are holding the group interview in person at your office, choose an effective location. These interviews work best when participants can hear and see each other comfortably. Therefore, avoid very large rooms or incredibly long tables for a few participants.
Round tables assist in the ease of conversational flow, while seating panelists behind a big table facing the candidate can feel like an interrogation. Your best information will come from a relaxed candidate, so ensure the setup is as informal as possible, with panelists sitting at comfortable angles for conversation.
Location is also important for virtual interviews. Whether in the same room or in separate locations, interviewers should find quiet spaces with limited distractions and good lighting.
Step 5: Introduce Each Panel Interviewer
Introductions set a tone, establish trust, and are a great way to reinforce your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Each panelist should introduce themselves by name and title at a minimum. A brief explanation of how their role or department would interface with the open role is helpful to add context for the candidate.
Add a further level of inclusion to introductions by indicating your preferred pronouns after your name and title. This small action helps candidates understand better how you wish to be referred to and, in return, opens the door for others to be their authentic selves. Allow others to state their pronouns as they feel comfortable.
Related: Diversity Hiring: Steps to Create a High-quality Workforce
Step 6: Take Turns Asking Interview Questions
Since one of the advantages of conducting a group interview is immediate access to varying perspectives and experiences, you should leverage the people in the room.
The hiring manager will often act as the “lead” during a panel-style interview, facilitating the conversational flow and line of questioning. But, it’s also important that other panelists ask appropriate clarifying questions as well. For instance, if the panelist is an SME, they should use their expertise to ask questions about the candidate’s experience.
Your questions should be open-ended to allow the candidate to elaborate and explain their skills and experience. Some examples include:
- Describe a project you took the lead on and the outcome.
- Explain how your experience has prepared you for this role.
- How do you prioritize tasks on a daily and weekly basis?
Check out our Best Interview Questions guide for more ideas.
To avoid penalties and lawsuits, it’s important to ensure your interview questions and hiring practices are fair and don’t violate any labor laws. Ensuring that all panelists know which questions they are asking is key.
Related: Common Illegal Interview Questions & How to Avoid Them
Step 7: Collaborate Following the Interview
The final step in conducting a panel interview is to discuss the notes taken during the interview and collaborate to make a decision. Using an evaluation form and scorecard (discussed further in our Free Interview Evaluation Forms & Scorecard Templates article) during the interview process can help gather all thoughts on the candidate.
Each individual panelist should take their own notes during the interview—citing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. Once the interview has concluded, the panelists should gather to discuss the candidate and compare notes. The hiring manager can then make the final hiring decision using those notes.
Pros & Cons of Panel Interviews
Panel interviews can be an effective step in hiring a fantastic new employee. In a competitive job market where timing is crucial, conducting a panel interview is a great way to include key decision-makers in one step rather than multiple separate steps.
However, you should be aware of the pros and cons of conducting panel-style interviews:
|Opportunity to explore multiple perspectives and experiences||Without order, it can make for a sloppy outcome and format|
|Shorter turnaround time for decision-making||Can be a time-consuming process during interviewing|
|Reduce overall bias||Results can be unsuccessful if the panel is not clear in their analysis|
Panel interviews can be a valuable tool to assess whether or not a candidate could make a great hire by reducing bias, adding multiple perspectives, and leveraging expertise. By following our steps on how to conduct a panel interview, you can find qualified hires to fill out your team. Building a strong team will be a foundation for scalable success and is well worth the time.