At a glance:
- Selection panels can bring diversity and objectivity to all Board and C-Suite appointments.
- Panel interviews must balance having a structured approach, with the freedom to dig deeper when required.
- An open and safe environment must be created to effectively assess candidates through panel interviews.
Widely used in the public sector and for commercial C-Suite and Board level appointments, selection panels are a useful mechanism to assist with the recruitment process.
Lloyd Smith, Gerard Daniels Co-Founder and Director, has significant experience designing and serving on selection panels, and in bringing third party perspective to panels on behalf of clients. Here he describes the value in this approach, and explains how to optimise the design and performance of selection panels.
How can panels shape successful appointments?
By their design, selection panels naturally bring diversity and objectivity to the recruitment process.
Having diverse representation on selection panels helps to maximise the positive impact of diversity on hiring decisions. While differences of perspective and opinion can bring clarity to the role criteria for successful candidates, and healthy discussion to the post-interview debate.
“Moving through the interview process collectively, and with diverse input, provides greater certainty for selection panels when making final recruitment decisions,” says Lloyd. “Where appropriate, selection panels benefit from diverse representation of age, gender, discipline and level, and there is additional value in seeking independent, third-party input to this process too.”
By offering multiple interpretations of their skills and experience, selection panels allow candidates to be fairly, and objectively assessed, and various tools can be employed to further eliminate bias and maintain this objectivity. “To ensure impartiality, any potential conflicts of interest must be declared and assessed early on during the design of selection panels,” Lloyd adds.
Designing and delivering effective selection panels
Once all interviews are complete, selection panels must be able to confidently determine not only the skills, experience, and growth potential of each candidate, but also their demeanour, cultural fit, and overall suitability. This requires panels to take the right approach when preparing for and performing interviews, and for effective decision-making processes following the interviews.
Designing structured interviews
According to Lloyd, to be effective, panels need some structure around how they operate.
“Selection panels need the right balance between having structure in their approach, and scope to investigate further when required,” he says. “Ideally, panellists will ask a series of consistent, pre-determined interview questions against the selection criteria, but also have the freedom to ask supplementary questions on particular statements and assertions that candidates make.”
A structured approach also helps panels to eliminate unconscious bias between the first and last candidates. “Typically, the first candidate interviewed is the least likely to be successful, because often the panel is still feeling its way through the process and refining questioning at this stage,” says Lloyd. “By asking largely consistent questions across all interviews, it is much easier for the panel to fairly and equally assess all candidates at the end.”
Using active listening
Lloyd rates active listening as one of the most important skills in any recruitment process, and one that is particularly important during panel interviews.
“Members of selection panels must have the ability to really listen to what candidates are saying, to observe their body language and to understand the true meaning behind what they say and do during interviews,” says Lloyd. “One benefit of the panel interview format, is that it allows more time to listen, to absorb information and to devise ways to interrogate statements when required.”
Stimulating healthy discussion
Differing opinions and perspectives can aid in achieving good appointment outcomes, and Lloyd urges panels to harness these differences to help foster healthy discussion.
“Taking a short amount of time immediately following each interview to write down individual thoughts and observations will reduce the likelihood of panellists’ views being swayed by others,” says Lloyd. “Being clear in your own thinking also prevents group think from influencing your decision.”
Creating the right environment
During any type of interview, it is important to create an open environment where people can speak truthfully about their experience and capability to perform the role. The more that a selection panel can do to make people feel comfortable, the more effective this process will be. Often the panel chair will lead the interview by providing some context around the organisation, the role, and the expectations of the role, allowing candidates time to listen, settle in and take stock.
“Candidates must be treated with respect and feel safe to answer questions honestly, rather than providing answers that the panel wants to hear – which does nothing to aid in appointing the right person to the role” says Lloyd. “Feeling comfortable to speak openly is also important for each candidate’s due diligence, to know that they are in fact suitable and capable of performing the role.”
Reaching a decision
Selection panels offer many benefits, however the panel’s ability to reach a collective decision can at times be challenging. While diversity of perspective supports healthy, constructive discussion, it can also create quite different points of view, and some panel members may struggle to change their decision if the panel is not aligned.
“Most panels do manage to reach a unanimous decision, but when a panel member isn’t in agreement it’s important to understand their concerns and explore their validity,” says Lloyd. “Thankfully there are tools – like further questioning and reference checking, and psychological testing – that panels can use to work through this.”
What can panel interviews do for your brand?
It is easy to overlook the branding opportunity that the hiring process presents.
“During successful interview processes you will meet someone who will be invited to join your organisation, and some who won’t. Regardless of success all candidates will take their experience away with them and likely tell others about it too,” says Lloyd. “To enhance your brand and reputation, ideally all candidates will leave the room as advocates for your organisation, by virtue of the diversity represented in your selection panel, and the positive culture and professionalism on display.”