Ask the Headhunter: How to manage gang-up ‘panel’ interviews

BY Nick Corcodilos  August 12, 2014 at 11:19 AM EDT
You don't have to subject yourself to a panel interview; it's okay to ask to meet one-on-one with the manager, headhunter Nick Corcodilos says. Photo by Flickr user Cote.

You don’t have to subject yourself to a panel interview; it’s okay to ask to meet one-on-one with the manager, headhunter Nick Corcodilos says. Photo by Flickr user Cote.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I was taken aback recently when my HR department scheduled me as a part of a panel interview. When I queried our hiring team, they claimed this was the “latest thing” and it provided a “challenging atmosphere for the candidate while minimizing expenditure of company resources.”

I was on my way to register my discontent with the HR VP when my Blackberry indicated the interview had been cancelled because the candidate had accepted another offer. That didn’t shock me — I wouldn’t accept a panel interview, either. Shortly thereafter, the HR VP “innovator” left to “pursue other career opportunities.” Good riddance!

This doesn’t mean some other “idea person” in our company won’t try to resurrect this sort of thing, but not on my watch. I believe in giving each candidate a chance, as much as possible, to “do the job.” It’s much more productive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for candidates meeting the teams they will work with, just not in a formal interview environment. Is this panel interview approach really creeping into our already dysfunctional job interviewing system?

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Kudos for the continuing wisdom emanating from your Ask the Headhunter empire! Your straightforward approach is a win-win for employers and candidates and removes the HR-injected “smoke and mirrors” from the hiring process. It certainly has helped me in many ways. Good luck and keep ‘em coming!

Nick Corcodilos: Thanks for the laugh, and for your kind words. No, I don’t see ganging up on a job candidate as a new trend — although in some organizations this has long been routine. Innovative HR VPs… unfortunately, they’re not a trend, either.

It’s refreshing to hear from a manager who doesn’t support contrived methods of assessment. It seems that many HR execs think the more over-defined the interview process is, the better. They’ll accuse me of being a yokel, but whatever happened to just talking with someone and working together, to figure out if there’s a match?

I believe that a simple, engaging, no-tricks, personal interview experience is what gets people’s attention and interest. The more direct and one-on-one the assessment, the better. As you point out, there are good ways for candidates to meet the entire team. Candidates are sick to death of “the process.” They want to work with managers and people who truly want to get to know them. The happiest candidate is one who is hearing about the work that needs to be done, and who’s being asked how he or she would help do it. I encourage you to go that route at your company.

A thorough assessment can include other activities, but any interview should start with a respectful, “working” meeting — not a confrontation by a gang.

So, what should a job applicant do when the employer schedules a panel interview? Like the candidate who took the other offer and declined the panel interview, the manager who asked this question has the answer: “I wouldn’t accept a panel interview.” What you do, of course, is up to you. (Maybe you like panel interviews!)

While an employer may be taken aback, there’s nothing wrong with saying you’d prefer to meet the hiring manager one-on-one, and that you’d be glad to meet the rest of the team if that first meeting goes well. Remember — the candidate gets to judge the employer in an interview, too, and doesn’t have to proceed with more discussions unless the experience is satisfactory. Alternately, if you find yourself stuck in a panel interview, try this: How to Beat The Stress Interview.

You can get relief from situations you don’t like by politely and firmly saying no. It’s the sign of a credible job candidate.

Dear Readers: Are panel (gang-up) interviews legit? If you’re a manager, do you do panel interviews? What has your experience been?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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