5 tips for running better group interviews

Group interviews, sometimes called panel interviews, enable multiple members of an organization to interview one candidate at the same time. In addition to saving time (thus improving the ever-important time-to-hire KPI), group interviews allow panelists to ask insightful questions that leverage multiple perspectives, which improves the accuracy of the interview process.

While the term “group interview” can also be used to describe interviews where a single person is evaluating a group of candidates at the same time, for this article, we’ll focus mainly on panel-style group interviews.

Two or more interviewers working together can create multi-faceted conversations with a candidate in a way that one-on-one interviews cannot. As a result, they help vet the candidate’s skills, as well as their cultural and organizational fit, more completely.

But even more so than one-on-one interviews, group interviews must be carefully prepared ahead of time to ensure that the interview is useful for the company,, and the candidate is satisfied. Here are some tips to keep your group interviews lean, well-organized, and productive for everyone.

1. Know when to use a group interview

Though they often end up saving you time, it’s important to know that group interviews are resource heavy. They involve a great deal of coordination, time commitment, and scheduling, so only deploy them when they can really be a benefit to the hiring process. Phone screens and early interviews that you’re using to assess a candidate’s qualifications are better conducted one-on-one with a hiring manager.

As a final evaluation step for a top candidate, however, group interviews can be very beneficial. They are a great opportunity to see how a candidate interacts and fits in with their potential co-workers. Amanda Morgan, the Senior Marketing Manager at Vyond, says that “Before anyone is hired at Vyond, they go through at least three 30-minute group interviews with people from various departments. It is invaluable to have this kind of team feedback from the people who will be working cross-functionally with the potential new hire.”

Roles that involve customer relations, sales, or human resources are all great opportunities for group interviews because these functions often rely heavily on building relationships and skilled interpersonal interactions. A panel interview can be a good tool for testing problem-solving and interpersonal skills required in a role.

However, positions that do not require employees to interact with others regularly may not benefit from a group interview; in fact, conducting one might be detrimental. Chris Lake, Head of Marketing at Vestd, said that group interviews can be “tough for people who are more introverted than others, and it might not be the right way to conduct an interview for certain roles (e.g. non-customer facing positions).”

2. Pick the panel carefully

Once you've committed to using a group interview as part of your process, consider the makeup of the panel that will conduct the interview. You want to pick a team of people who will give the most nuanced evaluation, allowing you to leverage different perspectives to assess the candidate.

Don't go overboard here. Not only is it incredibly intimidating for candidates to face down a panel of six or more interviewers, it's probably not necessary. Two or three interviewers should be able to assess a candidate thoroughly. Discussing and reconciling a handful of evaluations, rather than half a dozen, will be easier as well.

When you're picking your panel members, aim for diversity amongst interviewers. That might mean people from different departments, or a mix of peers and supervisors, or employees with different skill sets. Chris Lake says, “It's a good idea for multiple people to interview candidates from across the business and not just from within the relevant department.”

3. Plan out the interview's structure ahead of time

Treat the panel interview as a long, structured conversation with the candidate. One person, usually the hiring manager, should act as the lead during the interview. They should guide the conversation and ask the initial questions. Everyone else involved will act as fact-finders by asking follow-up questions that allow your team to dig deeper and keep the conversation going.

Chris Lake says to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak: “Everyone should have a voice and be able to ask questions and develop lines of conversation. People behave differently in groups, and the loudest voice often comes to the fore. So you have to make sure the group is well-balanced, and that everyone can participate.”

Without proper planning, a group interview can easily descend into confusion, with people firing off interview questions at random. Carefully structure the interview so that each candidate is asked the same set of questions. This will not only make the interview go smoother, but it will make your evaluations simpler and more fair.

Plan out a loose “script” for the interview beforehand. Sofia Quintero, the CEO of EnjoyHQ, recommends that you “start a Google doc and let everybody share their questions before the [interview].” Make sure you have questions that cover each attribute you’ll be assessing and that every panelist has a chance to interact with the candidate.

4. Prepare the candidate

Job interviews can be stressful, and group interviews even more so. The more prepared a candidate is for this type of interview, the more comfortable and at ease they will be.

Include as many helpful details as possible in the interview confirmation email you send them ahead of the interview. In addition to the format of the interview, share with them the following:

  • The names and positions of everyone they will be speaking with so that savvy candidates can research the interviewers in advance

  • Whether or not they should prepare something for the interview, such as a presentation

  • What they should bring, such as a portfolio of their work

  • Whether you intend to assess a technical skill via an exam or project

It's up to you to provide the candidate with all the information they need to prepare; it's up to them to use what you send.

And don't forget the room setting. Instead of having the candidate face a long table of interviewers, which can be intimidating, try to construct a conversational seating arrangement, such as around a circular table. Brian Nolan, co-founder of Sellbrite, says, “I like it to be more conversational than an interrogation, so don't have all interviewers sit on one side of the table with the candidate on the other side. Instead, maybe do it over lunch or coffee.”

Candidates who are more relaxed will give better, more insightful answers than candidates who are stressed. So strive for a tone that is casual, not adversarial.

5. Know what you're evaluating for

Finally, make sure that your interviewing panel is prepped and well-informed about the candidate and the goals of the interview. Consider meeting with the group 10 minutes before the interview to review the candidate's work history and other resume details. Remind the interviewers what they should be looking for and highlight any specific concerns you have about the candidate.

Multiple interviewers mean multiple candidate assessments, which need to be reconciled in order to make a final decision about whether to continue with the hiring process. Consider creating a rubric ahead of time that interviewers can fill in with their impressions. That way, everyone is using the same structured criteria when evaluating the candidate. You may consider scoring candidates on a scale of 1-5 based on their core competencies or on attributes such as communication skills, openness to collaboration, or problem-solving abilities. Using a numerical scale, alongside qualitative feedback, makes it easier to collate and parse feedback data post-interview.

Different Perspectives, Better Assessment

Ultimately, the greatest benefit of a group interview is that it allows your team to evaluate a candidate from multiple points of view at once. Two or more perspectives on the same conversation can reveal nuances, differences in communication style, and other details. Multiple opinions can also help reduce subtle hiring biases that cause you to waste time on unfit candidates or skip over really great ones.

Not every business uses group interviews in their hiring process. Some hiring managers find them impersonal or too intimidating to candidates. But when coordinated and deployed properly, they can be a powerful tool for making sure you're hiring the right people for your organization.

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