Panel Interview Strategy: A How-To Guide
As with any interview, care taken in planning the interview will often affect your success in several ways—the panel's and/or your interviewer competence and interest, the quality of the information obtained, and the candidate's perceptions of the interviewers and your organization. Keep in mind, candidates will also be making observations, forming impressions, and making important choices.
In preparing for a panel interview, there are several points to keep in mind beyond the normal preparation for a one-on-one interview.
Tips for Panel Interview Effectiveness and Benefits
When making room arrangements, try to set up the room in as informal a way as possible; this will enhance the opportunity to get candid information from a more comfortable candidate. Panel members should be seated at comfortable angles visible to the applicant. Avoid seating panel members behind a massive table or facing the applicant as if it were an interrogation or a trial by jury.
Panel members should be selected based on the specific contribution they can make to the interview process. The panel generally should consist of three to five members. Whenever possible, the panel should represent the diversity of your organization and should be identical for each candidate for a specific role.
Select and brief a panel member as the facilitator for the panel; see the facilitator role description below.
Ensure that each panel member is trained in effective interviewing techniques (e.g., behavioral) and briefed in advance regarding their role in the meeting. Ideally, meet together as a team 10 minutes before the start of each interview to brief for the specific candidate. Take this time to review the candidate's resume, application, and the position requirements to be questioned during the interview; assign appropriate questions to be used, and assign each panel member which questions he/she will use to lead the discussions.
Listen, and listen carefully. You have an advantage of "extra ears" to pick up on key details and nuances from the candidate. Every panel member should be taking notes but also staying engaged in the discussions taking place.
Even though each panel member will lead with predetermined questions (ideally from an interview guide), any panel member at any time can ask a probing follow-up question for more detail or clarification. This will not only enhance the likelihood of additional key information being captured but also demonstrate the engagement and rapport with the candidate with the entire panel.
Allow the candidate enough time at the end of the interview (at least 10 minutes) to ask questions to the panel and possibly provide additional qualification information not previously covered.
Have a prepared closing statement (see facilitator role below) as a professional way to end the interview—including a realistic expectation for the follow-up schedule. The candidate will always want to know.
Don't forget to thank the candidate for his or her interest and time—remember that the candidate is an invited guest.
Role of the Facilitator
The facilitator should be an individual who is trained and experienced in the interviewing techniques/approach to be used in the interview—not necessarily the "highest ranked" person on the panel. And this person should be skilled in establishing rapport with candidates.
The role of the facilitator is one of leadership—not domination—and of mediation. Also, his or her role is to ensure a flow is maintained during the interview (and assist with diminishing domination from any one panel member) and to keep the schedule of the allotted time.
Generally, the facilitator will often be responsible for the materials to be used by the panel—candidate resume, application, interview guide, job description, etc.—and ideally have these materials ahead of time for each panel member to review in advance.
The facilitator will also outline the "game plan" for the interview with the panel prior to commencing the meeting: assigning lead questions and reminding the panel to listen carefully, take notes, and interject follow-up probing questions when appropriate. This person may also brief the panel on certain areas for more emphasis or depth of questioning depending on the candidate situation.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the facilitator will lead a discussion with the panel as to the candidate's responses, qualifications, and ratings for each area questioned during the interview. Then interview records should be collected from each panelist and ratings transferred to an evaluation form—this form will then become part of the candidate interview record.
Each panelist should be reminded that the entire interview and selection process is confidential.
Role of the Panel Member
Panel members are more effective when they are prepared in advance for their interview roles: particularly if their roles vary from panel to panel, the preparation becomes more essential even for the most experienced panelist.
Each panel member should be trained in conducting a lawful interview and have experience in maintaining the general structure of an effective interview. Panelists should be briefed on and aware of their role in the interview and the selection process (i.e., advisory, decision-making, questioning, etc.).
Before each interview, panelists should be available to discuss the interview instructions, assignment of questions, and any last-minute information regarding the candidate.
Each panel member should keep in mind the structure of the panel interview: rotating lead questions, following up with probing questions when necessary, taking notes, and keeping mindful of time and schedule. No single panel member should dominate the discussion or the final selection decision. Each panel member should observe, record, and evaluate the candidate individually with respect to the requirements of the position.
At the conclusion of the interview (after the candidate has been escorted out), the panel members should remain to discuss and evaluate the candidate. Lead by the facilitator, the panel will determine the candidate's suitability based on job-related qualifications and make a decision for the next step in the process. Panel members should be prepared to discuss their ratings, pointing out the basis for their evaluations, comparing their decisions, and supporting observations.
The panel interview can be a very effective process providing a great venue to explore a candidate's true qualifications, but only when it is well prepared, facilitated by an experienced team member, and consists of trained and prepared interviewers. The risk of a "train wreck"is real when the guidelines mentioned above are left to chance.