A well-organized panel interview can really reap benefits for your business when it comes to hiring the most talented person to fill a position.
As I explained in my previous Inc. article, such a panel interview can minimize the impact of first impressions and personality biases and dramatically improve interviewing accuracy. Weaker interviewers feel more comfortable voicing their opinions. And the process becomes more deliberative, versus yes/no voting.
In contrast to being rushed in and out as one of a series of 30-minute interviews, job candidates also get a chance to better understand the position and how potential future co-workers interact--a crucial need for top talent.
All of these benefits, however, are for naught if the panels are poorly organized. Here are five steps to ensure a panel interview achieves what it is supposed to, and is not a huge waste of time:
1. Have all interviewers on the panel review the performance-based job description before the interview.
Everyone on the interviewing panel must know the real job requirements before they interview and assess the candidate. The best way to understand a job is to define five to six primary performance objectives that describe what the person in the role needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful.
2. Use the two-question, performance-based interview as the organizing tool.
This type of interview is fully described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. Here's a link to the one-minute version. The big point is that it offers significant advantages when used as the basis of the panel interview, since it flows logically, it focuses on past performance, it's been validated by one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S., and it works.
3. Have only one leader with the rest of the panel fact-finders.
Part of the performance-based interview is to have candidates describe accomplishments most comparable to those listed in the performance-based job description. This involves a great deal of behavioral fact-finding to understand the person's actual role, the results achieved, and the process used to achieve the results. Fact-finders need to ask these follow-up questions.
4. Leaders can be fact-finders, but fact-finders can't be leaders.
Rather than competing, interrupting, and asking "favorite" questions, participants in an organized panel interview support each other. In this case, only the leader can change the primary question, e.g., "Can you describe your major management accomplishment?" while the fact-finders can ask for the specific details. The leader can ask these follow-up questions, too, but the other panelists can't change the topic or take over the process.
5. Use a formal assessment scorecard right after the interview to record the findings.
The best time to share input is just after the candidate leaves. Using a formal approach for comparing the candidate's accomplishments to real job needs adds insight and accuracy to the assessment. For this, I suggest a formal scoring template that ranks the candidate on the factors that have been shown to best predict on-the-job success (e.g., motivation to do the work, competency, team skills, cultural fit, etc.). Here's a link to obtain a sample of the scorecard we suggest using to capture all of this information.
When organized properly, panel interviews are a great tool for saving time, giving weaker interviewers an opportunity to participate, avoiding hiring mistakes (including hiring someone who normally would have been excluded), and increasing assessment accuracy. Poorly organized panel interviews are a waste of time. The key is to know the job and recognize the different roles leaders and fact-finders play. Spending 30 minutes organizing these roles upfront can save the endless hours involved in hiring the wrong person.