Goodbye Firing Squad: Why Panel Interviews Are Bad for Hiring

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Jan 17, 2014
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes readers ask about past TLNT articles. That’s why we republish a Classic TLNT post every Friday. 

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, 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-basedEmployment 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.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.
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