Tips for Conducting Panel Interviews

Spring is in the air, at least in California, and with it comes the hiring season. So many interviews!

Whether you are a part of a hiring committee for your church, a staff member in a large corporation, or a start-up looking for potential colleagues, interviews are a critical part of expanding any team. As we work with our staff to engage candidates, the panel interview is quickly becoming a favorite mode of exploring candidate qualifications and team fit. While many interviews are one-on-one with recruiters or hiring managers, an interview conducted by a panel of stakeholders can provide beneficial information about how specific applicants may engage with the culture, processes, and team. Below are some procedural tips that will assist you as you prepare, conduct, and debrief a panel interview of a job candidate.

Prepare

  1. Select a small panel of people familiar with the role being filled: no more than 4 participants, preferably of supervisor, peer, and subordinate roles.
  2. Familiarize the panel with the job description. 
  3. Familiarize the panel with the candidate application(s).
  4. Nominate a facilitator to manage the time and conversation. This doesn’t need to be the most senior member of the team, but someone who can manage the conversation and fill in when the questions lag.
  5. Nominate a panel member to take notes. Details and specific answers will help you remember and accurately compare candidates.  
  6. Brainstorm questions the panel will want to ask. You may want to ask the same questions of all candidates for the sake of comparison. Some examples of questions could include the following:
    1. What is a past accomplishment you are most proud of?
    2. What do you find most annoying in working with people?
    3. What do you value most in a company culture?
    4. If we had you do X project, how would you lead/work with the team through that?
    5. What does your desk (and/or desktop) look like?
    6. What has informed your philosophy/theology/practice of. . .
    7. Leadership style. . .organizational practices. . .value in relationships?
  7. Assign questions to the panel interviewers to diminish the amount of lag time between questions and keep the conversation moving. 
  8. Be confident when asking and answering questions.  Don’t be apologetic about asking a question or suggest that the question was assigned to you. Own it!
  9. Be ready to give a brief introduction of yourself and your role in a sentence or two. Include how long you have served in your role.
  10. Avoid unlawful questions regarding age, disability, family, or national origin.
  11. Be ready for questions the candidate may ask you, including how your role interacts with the role being hired.

Interview

  1. Welcome the candidate and explain what the process for the panel interview will be.
  2. Introduce the candidate to the panel and have the panel introduce themselves.
  3. Ask the questions. While you may ask the same questions of each candidate, feel free to ask additional questions for clarification.
  4. Leave some time at the end of the interview for any final questions the candidate might have. Let the candidate know what the next steps are and who will be communicating with them next and when.
  5. Post-interview debrief.  Have the record keeper take notes on the debrief as well.

Observation

  1. Watch the way the candidate addresses different individuals in the room or on the screen.  Older/Younger? Male/Female? Remote/Present?  Job ranking?
  2. What does their body language communicate? Eye contact?  Phone usage?
  3. Does the candidate interrupt? 
  4. Did they answer the questions you asked? Are they listening well? 
  5. Are they curious?

Debrief

  1. Weigh “Likability” and competency. You may want to sit and have coffee with them, but can they do the job and engage with the team? They may do a great job, but do you want to sit and have coffee with them?
  2. Consider if you would want your desk to be next to the candidate’s. Will they contribute well or be a distraction?
  3. Discuss how you think the candidate would work with the current team.
  4. Debrief all interviews.  Compare your experience with the candidates.  Be ready to give strengths and weakness for each candidate, including weighing skills, culture, interaction, and specific answers.
  5. Give written feed back to the hiring manager.

These tips will help you be prepared to confidently engage candidates who sit before you. As with any interview process, you want the candidate to walk away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for your church or company. Likewise, you want your staff to walk away confident that they were able to give their best observations in the hiring process.

The process isn’t everything, but it is still significant!

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