The foundation of a successful panel interview—a recruitment practice that involves a group of team members interviewing one candidate—is thoughtful planning. This includes selecting which team members will participate in the interview, preparing your team, and deciding which questions each interviewer will ask the candidate.
In their best form, these group panel interviews allow interviewers to combine their strengths, perspectives, and experiences—leading to effective and comprehensive questions.
Follow these steps to successfully structure a panel interview:
Step 1: Choose Interviewers
When selecting who will interview candidates, it is important to keep in mind who the primary stakeholders for the position are, who the candidate might interact with regularly once in the position, and who might be able to 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 members of the panel may act as the subject matter experts (SME) for areas specific to their skills base, but will mostly help the primary interviewer by asking clarifying questions.
Keep in mind: A panel or group panel interview is different from simply a group interview, in which multiple candidates for the same position are all interviewed at one time. Group interviews are often used by companies in the food service, hospitality, and retail industries that need to quickly hire many employees.
Step 2: Prepare Your Team
Interviewing can be stressful—not only for the candidate, but also for the interviewers. Before you schedule a group panel interview, it’s important to properly prepare your team. Consider the following:
- Share the job description with each of the interviewers, so they become familiar with the requirements of the position before interviewing candidates.
- Panelists should review the candidate’s resume to become familiar with their background to ask 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 interview 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 dates and times that work best for your team members, and then communicate the open schedules to the candidate for them to choose from. This will ensure that at least one timeframe will work for everyone.
Once you have determined an appropriate time for the group panel 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 prior to 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 panel interview in person at your office, it is best to choose an effective location. These interviews work best when participants are able to hear and see each other comfortably. Therefore, avoid very large rooms or incredibly long tables for a small number of participants. Round tables assist in the ease of conversational flow, while seating panelists behind a big table facing the candidate can tend to feel like an interrogation.
Remember, your best information will come from a relaxed candidate, so ensure that the setup is as informal as possible, with panelists sitting at comfortable angles for conversation.
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 including their 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.
A further level of inclusion can be added 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, as well. Allow others to state their pronouns as they feel comfortable.
Step 6: Take Turns Asking Interview Questions
Since one of the advantages of interviewing in a group panel format 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 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 a SME, they should use their expertise to ask questions about the candidate’s experience.
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.
Step 7: Collaborate Following the Interview
The final step in conducting a group panel interview is to discuss the notes taken during the interview and collaborate to make a decision. Using an evaluation and scorecard (discussed further in our Free Interview Evaluation Forms & Scorecard Templates article) during the interview process can help put together 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 use those notes to make the final hiring decision.
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 group panel interview is a great way to include key decision makers in one step of the process, versus multiple separate steps.
However, you should be aware of the pros and cons of conducting group panel 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|
Group 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 serve as a foundation for scalable success and is well worth the time.