How to conduct a group interview

As a recruiter, you understand all too well the impact that each new employee has on the success and efficiency of your company. A great hire can bring huge improvements and excellent return on investment, while a faulty one can hurt morale, productivity, and your bottom line.

To improve hiring success rates, many businesses are revamping their interview process by using group or “panel” interviews in the candidate selection process. If you’re wondering how to conduct a group interview, the following overview can get you started.

More interviewers = more benefits

One key benefit of panel interviews, says Diana Meisenhelter, a partner with Riviera Associates, the global human resources consulting firm, is that by participating in the interview process, team members gain a vested interest in the hiring process and in seeing that new employees succeed. Plus, she adds, panel interviews suit the company culture of many modern businesses, which tend to foster close ties in and out of the workplace.

Define the job, not the person

However, Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group and author of Hire with Your Head, cautions that a panel interview requires more than simply dragging a few more chairs and bodies into the interview room. The first task in learning how to conduct a group interview, is to define the job the candidate will have to do and not focus on what kind of person you think will be the best fit.

“When you begin by defining the person, for instance, ‘I need a salesperson with five-to-eight years’ experience, a college degree, and who’s friendly and warm with good interpersonal skills,’ you’re looking for the wrong thing.” Adler recommends defining the job first. For example, “‘I need someone who can bring in $2 million in sales’ or ‘I need a salesperson to open up a new territory and generate $500,000 in sales.'” If you do that, says Adler, conducting an interview becomes much easier and more effective.

Get everyone on the same page

Derek Gagné, CEO of the Vancouver-based Talent Edge Solutions, agrees, noting that everyone on the panel needs to be on the same page before the interview process begins. “If you’re going to do a panel, have a list of specific questions that the interviewee is asked and have a rating system you’re going to use,” says Gagné, “so, at the end of each interview each panel member can compare apples to apples.”

The hiring manager or team lead is not the only person who needs to know how to conduct a group interview. Team members on the panel need to have:

  • A single set of expectations
  • A common understanding of what the employer is looking for
  • A grasp of what the general flow of the interview will look like
  • A pre-determined method for assessing candidates’ answers
  • Training on questions they are not allowed to ask

And in terms of your team interview strategy, Adler advises having one person lead, with everyone else taking a supportive role, asking secondary, fact-finding questions.

Consistency matters

Meisenhelter adds that members of the interview panel should know ahead of time what the process will look like. Are they merely consulting on the decision, or does everyone on the panel have to agree before an offer is made?

While many businesses may prefer less formal or structured interviews than some larger corporations, Meisenhelter emphasizes the importance of maintaining consistency from one interview to the next. Interview preparation is key. “There is a whole science to panel interviewing,” she says, “but no matter how you go about it, especially if you’ve got a lot of candidates, you want to make sure you ask the same questions, look for the same answers, and establish consistency around the evaluation process.”

Don’t give in to bias

Adler has one final piece of advice for hiring managers or recruiters learning how to conduct a group interview, and it applies whether you’re meeting with candidates one-on-one or as part of a panel: watch out for personal prejudices in the interview.

“In the first two or three minutes, people will often decide whether they like a candidate,” he says. “The problem with these quick judgments is that they create an emotional bias. So, if you like the person, you ask softball questions; if you don’t, you ask hardball questions.”

Instead, Adler recommends waiting until the end of the interview to make an assessment, after you’ve collected all the evidence objectively. “I still struggle with this,” he says. “I’ve been interviewing for 30 years and I still get sucked in by that one.” This is where predetermined, standardized questions and a rating system can come in handy.

Bring in top-tier candidates

Even before you try to figure out how to conduct a group interview, focus your efforts on recruiting better candidates. If you’re not improving your recruitment strategies and you’re still bringing in mismatched applicants, it won’t matter how good your interviewing skills are. Get started by signing up for Monster Hiring Solutions, where you’ll receive expert recruiting advice and the latest hiring trends.