There's quite a lot that any hiring team must decide to get the most from the hiring process and reach the best possible hiring decision. An important first step is to decide on the interview format.
This decision on format makes a big difference in the job search experience, so it's important to consider your options. A common consideration is when to rely solely on individual interviews and when to introduce a panel interview.
When you default on the interview format, you risk losing the opportunity to get to know a candidate in a new way. Panel interviews allow for a unique exploration of culture chemistry that's hard to get with any other interview format.
To bring some clarity on the matter, we’ll first dig into what the panel interview is. We’ll then discuss when this format is the best option and give you tips for successfully conducting it. We’ll also show you 11 sample panel interview questions you can use or adapt.
What Is a Panel Interview?
Panel interviews have different connotations for different teams. Here we mean a type of group interview that involves two to five team members who interview one candidate. The job seeker is presented before the entire group, and each panelist takes turns asking planned interview questions.
A panel interview is different from back-to-back style interviews that involve a job seeker coming onsite for a series of individual interviews. In a back-to-back interview, the interviews are scheduled in blocks with various decision-makers — the job seeker rotates through interviews with the different team members.
A panel interview is also different from group interviews where candidates are pooled in a group and interviewed en masse by one or two moderators. In a panel interview, there is typically only one candidate but multiple team members who ask the questions. The goal of a panel interview is for each panel member to represent a different element of the business and assess the candidate from their unique perspective.
The goal of any hiring team is to minimize risky hires, and the panel interview does this by observing how a candidate responds to team members and their questions. From this collective experience, the panelists can reach a well-rounded hiring decision.
How Do Panel Interviews Work?
A panel interview provides a unique opportunity to have the most relevant decision-makers in one room with the candidate. Panel interviews are typically a late or final round of interviews once a candidate has gone through at least a screening interview.
It's best if the panel members are kept to a maximum of five to avoid overwhelming the candidates. Additionally, panel interviews will often meet with multiple candidates on the same day to mitigate disruptions to team productivity.
Panels may include the hiring managers, human resources, recruiters, and any team members or higher-up who would work closely with the candidate if hired.
The interview format is largely a question and answer format, but the candidate must sometimes give a presentation as part of a panel interview.
It helps for human resources or the hiring manager to act as the facilitator of the interview to help keep time and organization. Everyone should be well aware of their role in the interview process, whether it’s to represent the company culture, facilitate, or assess the candidate’s skills. Your preparation can create a calm environment where the candidate will feel at ease and represent themselves much better.
The panel interview format gives insight into a candidate’s behavioral cues, body language, ability to communicate with a group of people (panelists), navigate questions and follow-up questions, and multitask under pressure. It simulates a fast-paced environment, like a start-up, where there are often many balls in the air on a given day.
When Is a Panel Interview Format the Best Choice?
A panel interview format applies to all industries but is most commonly used by government agencies, non-profits, schools including higher education facilities, and various consulting companies. It's a useful format to reach a consensus in a time-saving manner, and it involves many key stakeholders.
The shared interview experience can help reduce bias, increase assessment accuracy, and promote greater diversity among hires.
Panel interviews can be a helpful training opportunity for any hiring managers who are new to their role or team members who may one day have a hand in hiring and want to see how to conduct interviews.
If the term “culture fit” or “culture add” is on your job description, chances are the panel interview is a wise choice. That’s because it can test a candidate’s ability to fit into your company culture better than individual interviews can.
Panel Interview Tips
To reap the rewards mentioned above, consider the following:
- Ask every finalist the same prepared questions.
- Outline the agenda at the start of every interview.
- Establish a lead facilitator from the panelists.
- Ensure there is a balanced and diverse representation of panel members in the room — Prelude does this intelligently with the “Attributes” feature.
- Schedule buffer periods between panel interviews to debrief.
- Prepare a scoring system so that candidates are evaluated against the most important criteria.
- Consider the candidate experience and how to make the candidate comfortable during the process.
- Emulate your company culture in the room.
- Always leave time for the candidate’s questions.
11 Common Panel Interview Questions
If you're new to conducting panel interviews, it can feel overwhelming. As long as everyone has a clear sense of their role during the interview process, it should be relatively easy to transfer your interviewing skills to a panel interview format.
Here are some sample questions to get the ball rolling:
- Can you tell us about a time you experienced conflict within a team and how you managed it?
- How do you respond to negative feedback?
- What kinds of methods or tools do you use to keep organized?
- Tell us something about you that isn't listed on your resume.
- What is the most difficult decision that you had to make in a previous position? What was your process in reaching your conclusion?
- Describe the accomplishment you're most proud of and how you achieved it.
- Can you share an example of a difficult task you've had to learn quickly? What steps did you take to learn it?
- What is an example of a creative solution you came up with that benefitted your organization in a previous role?
- How do you like to be managed?
- How do you know when you're succeeding in your work?
- Tell us about a time when you led by example.
Panel Interviews Test Company Culture Fit
An obvious benefit of bringing panel interviews into the hiring process is you can "walk the talk" of your company culture for the candidate. It also allows you to observe the chemistry between current team members and a candidate and speed up the hiring process.
Where LinkedIn, resumes, and individual interviews can give you a sense of a candidate's skills and experience, panel interviews also allow a group of people the candidate will work with to explore their chemistry with the candidate.
While it may seem nerve-racking to pause the workday so the involved team members can conduct this type of interview, a panel interview can be a valuable investment in the hiring process. However, finding a time that works for everyone can be a hassle. To more easily schedule panel interviews, you can use Prelude to eliminate manual coordination.
The next time you have a new candidate, try incorporating a panel interview to see the many ways it can benefit your team and candidates alike.