The panel interview, when done correctly is an excellent tool for assessing the skills of a professional expected to lead or be in front of people as a subject matter expert.
Some positions that would be good candidates this type of interview;
VP Business Development
Technical Support Manager
In each of these positions the person is either in charge of a number of people where he/she would need to command the respect of the people or presents to people outside the company and would need the skills to handle an audience where he/she is outnumbered but represents the company or products to a group of customers or people.
Some examples where it would not be appropriate include:
A/R A/P clert
These positions all report to one individual or do not meet the test where they need to command the respect of people within or outside the organization.
How to Conduct a Panel Interview
This type of interview should be a fully participatory exercise where one person does not dominate the time or content. There should however be a primary moderator who serves 2 purposes. The first object is to make sure the interview stays on tract and does not deviate from it's intended purpose. The second function is to be sure each participant has an opportunity to question the candidate.
Sample panel format ideas.
A candidate is given a generic topic to present before the panel. It is followed by some Q & A and then followed up with more traditional interview questions.
The purpose of this type of interview is to see if the candidate has good presentation skills and can communicate a message, ideas or concept.
Skeet Shooting Format
A candidate is put in front of a panel and questions are fired at him/her to gauge reaction to a highly stressful situation. Obviously the key here is to make sure it is not too stressful or the candidate may not want to work for you!
In this format, each panelist is tasked with asking questions related to a particular role or function of the given position. For instance, one person could be charged with asking technical questions. One person could be charged with asking management style questions and another charged with examining the persons past positions and work history.
The purpose of this type of interview is to insure that all types of questions are asked of the candidate. By having specific panelists charged with covering specific topics, it is more likely the interview will not go off on a tangent where important questions are not asked.
My personal favorite type of panel interview type is the Role Format. In this format, if the panelists to their jobs correctly, each candidate will be asked the same questions and the panel can evaluate without bias which person had the best answers.
Benefits of Panel Interviews
Time Saver - Having 4-5 panelist meet for 1-2 hours takes less time than 4-5 one on one interviews
More Focused - Sometimes one on one interviews can be chatty and take on a social aspect. That may be part of an assessment but it is not the best use of interview time.
No Hidden Agendas - When panelists are put with peers, any hidden agendas can easily be seen and dealt with by the panel or moderator. This is not true in a one on one interview.
Apples for Apples comparison - A panel interview allows multiple sets of ears/eyes see and hear the same presentation. Each person on the panel will have a different focus or take on what a candidate says or does. This means on the whole, the group will probably come up with a more accurate assessment of the candidate. In one on one interviews, things can be misinterpreted and only add confusion to the process. This is especially true the the Role Format panel interview.
There are some downsides to a panel interview but most of it relates to the stress or intimidation of a candidate being before a group of strangers. Letting the candidate know ahead of time to prepare for this type of interview is the best way to prevent an otherwise qualified professional from failing miserably!