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Panel Interviews Are Four Heads Better Than One

October 1, 1996
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Fiona C. Cribb, senior human resources coordinator at Arthur Andersen in North Sydney, Australia, says:
Panel interviews historically are associated with the rigid recruiting processes of large bureaucracies. This unfortunate association, coupled with the concern that panel interviews may intimidate some candidates, has tarnished the reputation of what can be an effective and time-efficient approach to candidate selection.

Panels are most effective when comprised of three to four stakeholders— preferably the recruit’s prospective line manager, a key customer, an HR representative and a prospective peer. Ideally, all panelists should be coached in behavioral interviewing techniques.

Prior to the interview, panelists should jointly agree with the mix of competencies—knowledge, skills and attitudes—required to fulfill the job role and the desired degree of proficiency expected in each area. They should prepare interview questions targeted to these competencies.

One panelist should be appointed facilitator. The facilitator’s responsibilities will include introducing panel members to candidates; explaining the interview structure; facilitating clear communication during the interview; keeping the interview on track; and ensuring all competencies are satisfactorily probed and that no one panel member dominates the discussion.

Questions that are asked early should help relax the candidate and establish the flow of conversation (questions about recent work experience or educational background are strongly recommended). Then, panelists should move through their preagreed questions, retaining sufficient flexibility to follow any leads into other areas relevant to the position.

Following each interview, panelists should evaluate candidates twice across each competency—first independently, then as a group. This ensures no one individual view dominates the eventual decision. Panel interviews aren’t universally appropriate, but their advantages make them worthy of serious consideration.

Caroline-Anne Tylko, human resources manager at The Westin Hotel, Ottawa in Ontario, says:
Some managers believe everyone who will be collaborating with the incumbent should be included. But a 12-member panel not only can intimidate candidates, but also can hinder the evaluation/decision-making process—rendering it more difficult and becoming too time-consuming. Panels can be kept to a minimum by steering individuals who absolutely want to have input to submit questions to panel members ahead of time.

Panelists also should be trained. Proper training helps the panel commit to the process, develop targeted and legal questions, define potential responses, collect and evaluate relevant data, and make good hiring decisions. Training also ensures the most important factor in the process is highlighted—the candidate.

Trained panelists can ensure a candidate’s self esteem remains intact by simply paying attention to panel behavior. Curtailing behavior such as staring out the window, whispering, passing notes, doodling or brushing away imaginary lint during the interview, can make a candidate feel more valued, confident and comfortable.

Finally, the chairperson doesn’t have to be an HR representative, but a good facilitator. The chair is responsible not only for greeting the candidate and introducing the panel and interview format, but also for facilitating the entire process. It’s the chairperson’s responsibility to make sure office politics and personal agendas don’t interfere with the best candidate being hired.

Personnel Journal, October 1996, Vol. 75, No. 10, p. 111.

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