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By: Kyle Robertson on May 25th, 2021

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Do Panel Interviews Help or Hurt Your Executive Search?

Talent Acquisition

Job candidates generally hate panel interviews. If you’ve ever experienced one, you probably understand why. It’s overwhelming to find yourself outnumbered by strangers who are taking turns lobbing interview questions at you. It’s a lot of pressure, and that kind of pressure can be counterproductive as candidates get too flustered to give detailed answers.

But when you’re interviewing an executive, don’t you want to see how they perform under pressure? After all, they’re auditioning for one of the most important roles in the company. You need to observe them in stressful situations, and a firing squad-style job interview sure is stressful.

It’s true that you want to see how executive candidates perform in different situations. However, a panel interview may not be the best way to assess people, even at the highest level.

What is an executive panel interview?

Panel interviews consist of a group of people from across the business who interview a candidate at the same time. This type of interview saves time, as you don’t have to schedule one-to-one meetings with individual interviewers.

When you’re interviewing an executive candidate, the panel might consist of the CEO or CFO, another member of the C-suite, and a senior stakeholder such as a department head. The interviewers take turns asking questions, and the questions are usually pre-prepared.

In theory, this is the most efficient approach to interviews. In practice, that’s not always the case.

Recruiting the Best Guide (1)

The problem with executive panel interviews

Executive candidates can find this format just as intimidating as everyone else. They’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out the group dynamic and trying to impress each interviewer equally. That effort can distract them from answering questions in depth – which is the whole point of the interview in the first place.

There are other issues too, such as:

  • Lack of connection: When candidates are outnumbered, they tend to become more defensive and mindful of their words. This makes it hard to establish a real connection with the candidate, which means that you won’t get a true sense of their personality. Without that, you won’t be able to judge their compatibility with your culture.
  • Scheduling: It’s hard to get four busy people in a room together. When those people are executives, it can take weeks to find a suitable calendar window. Waiting for the panel to become available might extend the recruitment process, increasing the risk of losing a great candidate.
  • One voice dominates: A single interviewer can sometimes take over the meeting, especially if they’re the CEO. The result is that the other interviewers don’t get an opportunity to ask vital questions, which is contrary to the entire purpose of a panel interview.
  • Bias reinforces itself: Panel interviews might seem like a good way to tackle hiring bias, as you have so many different perspectives. But human beings are often less objective in a group. We unconsciously pick up social cues from others, and that affects our own behavior. So, if one interviewer takes an instant dislike to a candidate, the others are likely to follow suit.

Choosing the right interview technique is a vital part of your hiring process. The pressure-cooker panel interview approach can sometimes backfire and leave you unable to identify the right person. Not to mention the fact that an unpleasant recruitment experience may give your ideal candidate second thoughts about accepting your offer.

4 alternatives to panel interviews

When you’re recruiting at a senior level, you’re working against the clock. Talented candidates always have other options, so they’ll go elsewhere if your recruitment process takes too long.

But how much time do you actually have? That depends on the candidate. If they’re excited about the job and engaged with the interview process, they may wait a little longer for a final offer. That’s why it’s important to have a friendly recruitment experience right from the start.

1. Use the team interview format

Team interviews usually involve just two interviewers. They share the interview duties between them, so one person will ask questions while the other takes notes. After a while, they swap roles. This approach allows you to combine interviews, much like a panel interview. But the two-person team gives each interviewer a better chance of engaging with the candidate.

2. Conduct interviews over Zoom

The pandemic forced most companies to move their interviews online, using platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Remote interviews allow for a great deal more flexibility, so you can schedule one-to-one chats at a convenient time, rather than getting everyone into a single meeting room. With remote interviews, it’s also easier for others to observe the conversation, either by dialing in or reviewing the recording afterward.

3. Schedule interviews by order of importance

Each interview is a chance to introduce the candidate to more senior members of the team. As you approach the final close, you’ll want to get a top-tier exec to get involved in the process. This approach demonstrates to candidates that you’re serious about hiring them, and it shows that they are important to the process. An applicant might wait a little longer for your final offer if they’ve just met the CEO.

4. Consider a non-traditional interview

One of our clients, a CEO of a high-growth government contracting company, invites the candidate for a dinner with the CEO’s spouse and the candidate’s partner. This is a great example of a creative way to forge a connection with potential candidates. If you create a unique recruitment experience, candidates are more likely to stay engaged with the process.

The advantages of bringing in a recruitment consultant

Great candidates often disappear during the interview stage. Sometimes, they accept an offer from a rival employer that moved a little faster. Other times, it’s because the interview process gave them second thoughts about your company.

A recruitment consultant can help you build HR processes that increase your chances of getting the right person for the job every time. Services like retained search are essential when you’re hiring an executive. They’ll help you perfect every aspect of your hiring process, helping you make a great first impression on your potential executive candidates.