Selection Panels – Are They Working?

Within higher education, a key stage of the recruitment process is the ‘panel interview’.  Having participated in many of these over the past decade we have been struck by the apparent variability in their conduct and effectiveness. 

The aim of the panel interview should be to provide an environment which will enable the panel members to gain the highest quality information from a candidate, so as to be able to make an informed appointment decision.  It is equally important that the interview is a positive experience for candidates, ensuring that they gain a good understanding of the role and a positive impression of the institution.  Ultimately candidates should leave with enhanced interest in the opportunity and institution (not a reduced one).

Universities invest significant time and financial resources in the interview process and consequently it is important to maximise its effectiveness. A few points to consider are as follows: 

  1. Size of Panel – Bigger is not always better.  While it is important that the panel be representative of key stakeholders, a large panel can result in compromising the ability to effectively interrogate the candidate and build rapport between panel members and candidate.
  2. Questions – Framing of the interview questions is critical.  They should be brief and unambiguous.  The least effective tend to be those that are too general, those which include multiple sub-questions, or those that are not sufficiently specific.  Question preparation is key.
  3. Attending to the Candidate – Recruitment is about the little things and this is true of the interview process.  There should be adequate time allowed between interviews, candidates should be met and escorted in and out of the room, they should be managed so they do not encounter other candidates and be provided with presentation aids and a comfortable environment.  Such preparation leads to a more relaxing and consequently positive experience all round.
  4. Referencing – The panel needs to devote sufficient time to considering the merits of the referees (not only their reports).  Are the referees nominated best placed to comment on those areas the panel is seeking to investigate (someone who has collaborated with the candidate on research is unlikely to be able to comment on his or her management skills)?
  5. Conducting the interview – It is important that the candidates feel that they have had sufficient opportunity to ask questions (and engage with the panel) as well as understand the next steps in the process.  Rushing the interview leads to a far inferior result.

More attention to the conduct of the interview process is likely to lead to better outcomes all around and ultimately, reduced appointment risk. 

Rohan Carr
November 2013

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