Making Panel Interviews Work for You

I normally recommend against Panel Interviews for most technical positions. However, I’ve recently worked with a group whose panel interviews were quite successful. The positions were for a senior technical leader and a manager, so the candidates needed to be able to present and discuss issues to several people at once as part of their positions.

Before the panel interview, the hiring manager performed an extensive phone screen. Once the candidate was invited in, the hiring manager worked with the interview team. The interview team organized into three groups of three people for each panel. Each group had three areas to ask about in one-hour long interviews. The hiring manager was first, the three panels were next. One of the panels had responsibility for lunch, so they added another half-hour to the interview. The HR rep was last to interview the candidate.

Each panel defined their questions and practiced their questions. They decided who would take the lead and who would follow up with other questions. Each panel estimated they spent about an hour in preparation before any interviews. In addition, they each of them spent about 10-15 minutes reviewing resumes from candidates before the interview and chatting about who would ask what in each specific interview.

The candidates recently started, so I don’t know yet about how well each person is working out. But the organization seems happy with their success with panel interviews.

Here’s what made these panel interview successful:

  • The positions are senior positions, where people are comfortable being in a position of speaking/presenting to multiple people. These are not junior positions or inexperienced candidates.
  • The phone screen was necessary to make sure the in-person interview didn’t waste the interviewers’ time.
  • The panel teams prepared their questions and practiced their questions and interviewing style.
  • The panel interviews were longer than the individual interviews.

So, I’m ready to revise my stand on panel interviews. I still don’t think they’re appropriate for every position, but if the position is senior, and if the interview team prepares and practices, they can be a useful tool in your interview toolbox.

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