Top tips for conducting effective panel interviews

Materials World magazine
1 Sep 2016

Shaun Simmons shares his experience of conducting effective panel interviews.

Panel interviews are becoming increasingly common and the job market is now more competitive than ever, with companies looking for ever more rigorous ways to test candidates abilities and select the best talent. When going for an interview, the unknown is always what tends to scare people the most. During my time at Cordant Technical Recruitment, I have interviewed many candidates, and my personal experience has taught me that the best way to conquer interviews is to be prepared – both as an interviewer and an interviewee.

I have seen an increase in panel interviews over the past few years. They are a great way of screening job seekers and finding the right talent. A panel interview is what it says on the tin – one interviewee facing a panel of interviewers. It benefits the company by offering a chance to open up a dialogue with a candidate in a different environment than a typical one-to-one interview.

You may often read interview preparation articles focusing on the point of the view of the candidate, but it is interesting to consider exactly what the interviewer may be thinking and what companies look for.

Why choose a panel interview?

There are many positive reasons for choosing to interview candidates in a panel situation. Bringing together all the decision makers in one room helps to gain a rounded view of a candidate, speeding up the process and meaning you are less likely to lose out on a talented candiate.

However, from the candidate’s point of view, it is a very daunting process and this can, in turn, affect performance. Therefore, choosing the right panel is very important – if members of the panel are there just to 'make up the numbers' it can be highly unnerving. Make sure that all members of the panel are there for a reason.

The best way to prepare

Panel interviews only work if you take the time to research each candidate by reviewing their application. It is also worth checking psychometric profiles or the candidate’s social media presence – those are good ways to get a proper insight to the person you are hiring.

Having an application form that every candidate has had to fill in is another good way of forming an initial impression. Assessing interviewees based on the same format rather than different styles of CV is an effective way of directly comparing candidates.

Interviews are a two-way process. It is a great chance for candidates to get a feel for your company, learn about how the business works and assess whether the job is for them. On average, prospective employees will see four companies before accepting a job offer – it is as much their decision as it is yours.

By learning about the candidate beforehand, you are better prepared to ask questions that will help the interviewee excel and aid you in making the best decision.

What are the best questions to ask?

Interviews should be structured in such a way that you can identify the key elements of a candidate’s experience and suitability. I have found a scoring sheet useful – style of answers, body language, technical or sales knowledge and so on. It is also a good idea to test the interest of the applicant by asking them about their knowledge of the job. If they are truly interested in the role, they should have taken the time to research your company.

There are four different styles of questions that I have always found guarantee you pick out the best candidate.

Competency – these should be based around the candidate’s CV and their competency to fulfil the specific role.

Motivational fit – allows you to compare your company’s values with how a particular candidate likes to work.

Theoretical – these are a great way of finding out the candidate’s opinions on particular topics.

Leading – encouraging a candidate to tell you what you want to hear, unveiling their true intentions.

The key is preparation – ensuring you know your role on the panel, what questions you are going to ask and doing your background research on the candidate. Panel interviews, when conducted correctly, are an excellent way of deciphering the best candidate for the role you’re offering.

Shaun Simmons is Managing Director of Technical and Engineering at Cordant Technical Recruitment, providing specific engineering sectors with highly skilled technical professionals. His specialist industries include aerospace and defence, automotive, energy and mining.