Recruiting and Staffing

Goodbye Firing Squad: Why Panel Interviews Are Bad for Hiring

Group interview

If there’s one truly divisive aspect of the hiring process, it’s the panel interview.

Some companies swear by it, claiming that this stressful test is a good way to test a candidate’s mettle. Other companies decry it as nothing more than an ineffective and off-putting leftover from the HR manuals in your grandfather’s attic.

Interestingly enough, opponents of the panel interview have recently become much more vocal than the supporters, and today more and more companies are turning away from what some have called the “firing squad” interview format.

To help us understand this new phenomenon, we asked several anti-panel HR pros to explain their theories on why this traditional hiring device is bad for business. Here’s what they had to say.

Panels can compromise candidate responses

Panel interviews can be incredibly stressful for candidates, much more so than one-on-one conversations. This added burden tends to affect their behavior, making them appear to be much less confident and competent than they really are.

“The panel-style interview can be intimidating to candidates, especially if questions are asked rapidly with minimal opportunity for the candidate to ask his or her own questions,” says Michele St. Laurent, the director of recruiting at Boston-based Insight Performance. “This could result in the candidate not performing at his or her full potential, thus causing the company to miss out on a candidate that may actually be qualified.”

Roberta Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting and a regular blogger for Fast Company and ERE.net, puts it more bluntly: “Imagine what it would feel like standing in front of a shooting squad,” she says. “That’s what it feels like to many when they are faced with a row of people ready to take aim and fire their questions. You’ll get much more honest answers when candidates are relaxed and their guard is down.”

Group thinking isn’t clear thinking

As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth.

This is especially true of job interviews. When you’ve got multiple hiring managers providing input, it’s far too easy to end up ignoring the best candidate and settling instead on the one candidate that everyone agrees upon.

“People interpret information differently,” says Chris Delaney, the founder of UK-based Employment King. “While one interviewer may receive a candidate’s response positively, the next might mark the response as a red flag.”

To add to the problem, panel interviews rarely end up being fair assessments.

Several of our experts testified that, more often than not, one interviewer dominates the questioning. This leads to a one-sided interview, and a clouded impression of the candidate is the result. “When most of the interviewers are following the leader of the panel, you aren’t going to be able to make a fair judgment about the candidate,” says Delaney.

Panel interviews don’t endear you to candidates

Interviews are a two-way street. While they help you determine whether a not a candidate is a good fit for your company, they also help that candidate determine if your company is a good fit for his or her career.

As Marsha Murray, president of Murray Resources, says, “Panel interviews are not conducive for building rapport between the interviewer and the candidate.”

Caroline McClure, the principal of consulting service ScoutRock, elaborates. “In the panel interviews I’ve witnessed, the candidate often sits in silence while the panelists furiously take notes. It sends the message that the candidate’s time is not valued. A panel interview compromises the two-way assessment. Even worse, it sends signals to the candidate that the hiring entity lacks sophistication.”

Two’s Company – anything more is a crowd

Though our experts all have their own opinions on why panel interviews aren’t as effective as other interview formats, they all seem to agree on the best alternative. Instead of interviewing by panel, stick to a two-person team instead.

“You should never interview alone,” says Olark CMO Sunir Shah. “Pair up. That way you have another person to provide perspective on your opinion.”

That sounds like solid advice from where we’re sitting. By keeping your team small, you can learn more about candidates while simultaneously giving them a better impression of who you are and what you do.

So if you’re looking to hire a new employee for your company, it might be a good idea to put the panel interview to rest. If these HR pros are correct, you’ll be surprised to discover just how easy it is to find quality employees when you abandon the firing squad.

This article originally appeared on The Resumator Blog.

Don Charlton is a Web entrepreneur, developer and speaker. His company, TheResumator.com,, helps employers hire with confidence. Contact him at don@theresumator.com.
  • Jim Schreier

    The false assumption that all panel interviews are “firing squads” and have the problems identified in this article is a disservice to HR.  I strongly advocated against panel interviews for years for the very reasons stated.  I then learned about how panel interviews should be conducted and I’ve trained scores of managers and HR professionals in a panel interviewing technique that works, has none of the problems identified here — and is respected, even enjoyed, by candidates.  Credit clearly to Lou Adler’s Performance-Based Hiring which is clearly described in his books and publications.

  • http://twitter.com/ongig Ongig

    You’re right, panel interviews can be gruesome and unfocused if done incorrectly. But if the panel interview isn’t set up to be such a competition for the panel itself, it can actually become a great hiring strategy AND employment engagement strategy.

  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    I don’t agree – I once had a panel interview and it was intimidating but it went very well. I had 3 top level executives grilling me but I got the job when many didn’t. I look back at that moment and I feel very proud.

    I think panel interviews increase the self-confidence of the team member.

  • http://www.internaldrive.com/jobs Summer Jobs

    I do like the last part of this article talking up interviewing as a pair. “By keeping your team small, you can learn more about candidates while simultaneously giving them a better impression of who you are and what you do.” I couldn’t agree more :)

  • Olufunmi Lateef

    This is a sure fact! Some candidates are natural charmers and can play to the gallery of interview panelists during  interview giving an inaccurate view of their real skills and potentials but when it’s time for the real job to be done, they are found wanting. Two men interview panel is best as recommended.

  • http://www.facebook.com/renee.torchia.1 Renee Torchia

    As with any tool, the panel interview should be used when it makes sense. If you’re going to ask 17 people to interview a candidate, as did a former employer of mine, the candidate may thank you to get a few at a time out of the way instead of dragging it on for weeks. Also, if the candidate will need to engage say, an executive team for presentations, etc., this is a good way to gauge how s/he will handle leaders who come to the table with different perspectives and interests at stake. Last, as others have stated, the tone of the interview can be just as acid or helpful in a panel as a 1×1. Although certainly there is an intimidation factor of walking into a meeting with more people, either way, most employers bring the same baggage whether meeting 1×1 or pulling up to the table.

  • http://www.recruitingtoolbox.com/ Ben Gotkin

    Interviews in any format are often done poorly if the interviewers have not been trained to effectively engage candidates in an open, friendly conversation. Panel interviews don’t necessarily to equate to ‘firing squads’ and won’t be effective if they do. If the panel goes in with assigned roles and questions, if they understand how to effectively probe in a conversational manner, and if the candidate is informed in advance that there will be a panel interview, then a panel interview can work quite well and carry a number of benefits. One benefit is that you can include more people in the process without increasing the amount of time that a candidate is spending in your process. This is particularly helpful when you have a panel of peers that you want to assess a candidate’s skills and fit for the team. A panel can also be very thorough in capturing candidates responses, multiple ears are often more effective than one. Ultimately, I find a mix of one-on-one interviews and panel interviews can be very effective when I work with and provide interview training to our clients.

  • Judy Clark

    The article points out that any positive technique can be handled badly. It isn’t that a panel interview is in and of itself a bad process, but the examples given in the article suggest that a panel interview can only be handled one way…badly. That simply isn’t the case. Done well, with consideration for the candidate, no overbearing leader, thoughtful questions, a clear agreement between the panelists of what characteristics are like to be a best fit for the positions, etc. can produce an outcome where the candidate has met several key people, has begun to better understand the organization, and where the organization can select someone who can be accommodating and flexible with a variety of different individuals. It is all about “how” the interview is conducted, not about how many people are present.