The Problem with Panel Interviews

Panel Interviews remain prevalent in the public sector, so what the problem with them?

Well, this modus operandi invariably underperforms against more modern interventions – especially when it comes to Diversity.

From my perspective, they are the root cause of many of the issues that Government Departments, Policing, Education, Local Government, the NHS and other institutions, seem to face with transformation. I’ll even go as far as to say that they are the reason that the public sector cannot transform at pace. Yet, these bodies form the social foundation of society and should be joining up to ensure this country drives forward improvement, post pandemic. They need new thinking.

Panel Interviews provide us with a window through which we can view the reason such bodies cannot match the speed of change of the private sector. Organisations that use a panel approach tend to get stuck in a rut. This is because panels don’t appear to appoint those with fresh thinking – the divergent thinkers, the introverts or those with controversial views. Instead, this current way of operating encourages mediocre appointments – those who are already known to the panel or already work in the sector. They perpetuate last century’s economic thinking. There, I have said it!

Built by people who like panel interviews for people who are good at panel interviews – they tend to count out those who are divergent

If you’ve ever had a panel interview and were told that you’ve been pipped to the post by someone who ‘performed better on the day’ – it was possibly the response of Leader who already had someone lined up for the role. Many also know that panel interviews don’t work!

And let’s think about that term ‘performed better on the day’. Who wants am ‘Actor’ on their team?  Surely, they are looking for in-depth know how, nowse and expertise?

Why run them?

So, why are they so popular?  Here’s my view:

They are easier to conduct for the interviewer

The interview lasts an hour at the most. Some as little as 45 minutes, so as a member of an interview panel you might get to ask 1-2 questions, probe a little, take notes – then all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the performance. It’s a lot less stressful.

They are efficient

At least as far as organising goes. If you had 6 interviewers conducting an hour long, one to one interview with five candidates, that’s 30 hours of interviews that need to be scheduled. That could take several days!

Reduce bias

The most touted reason is that they reduce bias by allowing multiple panellists to observe individual candidates performance – to probe their competency. This is so that they can discuss competencies together and end up with accurate ratings for all candidates.  Advocates reckon they are also more dynamic and interactive than one-on-one interviews.

Hiring Squad

Panel interviews are said to test our mettle. The idea is the interview will reflect how candidates will respond to stress on the job. A sort of Firing Squad approach. It’s certainly much more intimidating to sit opposite 3-5 people than just one. But one hopes it is not a reflection of the stress, control and toxicity these organisations operate within.

The Icing on the Cake

The best bit is that they allow the Chair to ask questions such as:

Have you anything in your past that would cause this organisation embarrassment?

What sort of a question is that?  Years ago, I dressed up as Edith from Allo Allo – my son looked pretty embarrassed!

Do you feel you have had a fair chance at interview?

Top Tip. If you have had a panel interview and you are someone who thinks differently from the way the majority thinkthen the answer should be a resounding no.

The Problem

The issue is many incredibly gifted, hard-working, creative and introverted people tend to perform terribly when placed in such situations. Why would you want to count them out?

Many candidates prefer to get under the skin of the business, get curious and reflect carefully on how we can make a difference. Old fashioned interview processes like this don’t have the capacity to uncover such strengths.

Truth is, panel interviews are intimidating. They tend to make candidates who are new to them appear to be much less confident and competent than they really are. Thus these institutions miss out on their wealth of expertise because they are looking for conformity – not difference. That’s the problem with panel interviews.

Here’s why we believe they increase bias:

Lack of information.

If you have 6 on a panel and a 45 min slot per person, they are akin to speed dating. They certainly do not accommodate the type of meaningful conversation about capabilities within the timeframes and structure. The benefits outlined above come at the expense of really getting under the skin of a persons expertise.

Better the devil you know.

Thus panellists are therefore more likely to choose the candidates they already know. They simply don’t have time to dig deeper in to candidate expertise that is required but has not been covered in the time frame.

Group Think

If you interview on your own – at least any bias is your own.  In a panel set up, one interviewer may receive a candidate’s response positively, the next might mark the response as a red flag. Invariably, due to group think, the group mood tends to go in one direction – positive or negative.


Unfortunately, it is fact of life that the ‘Highest Paid Persons Opinion’ counts. If the Boss clearly rates the candidate, then some panellists are more likely to keep quiet and go along with his/her ratings, to be seen in a favourable light. After all, he/she controls the pay review, progression and so on. Perhaps the Boss has done very well out of the way the institution operates? (I said my view was controversial) Panel interviews rarely end up being fair assessments.

Adding insult to injury

To add insult to injury, some organisation even put a Diversity specialist on the panel, asking questions about your views on Inclusion. Well, here’s one view – start by ditching panel interviews. They are more likely ‘count in’ those candidates who are good at doing panel interviews, conforming to tradition or those you already know but ‘count out’ those who see life in a different way to you.

Remote Panel

At the best of times, panel interviews are not conducive to building rapport between the interviewer and the candidate. Add Zoom into the mix, with it’s lack of social cues and conducting remote panel interviews is a recipe for disaster….or at the very least, mediocre appointments.

That’s the problem with panel interviews.

Encouraging Diversity and Inclusion

Recruitment at every level would benefit from a different approach – because we are all diverse. Problem is some Leaders don’t seem to be able to to get their head around it.  In other organisations, panel interviews are policy!

Take a look in the mirror – does your organisation really need another you? Or does it need a yin to your yang. Seemingly opposite or contrary forces are actually often complementary.

Ditch the Firing Squad Approach

If you’re looking to recruit a new employee for your company, it might be a good idea to bury the panel interview. You’ll be surprised to discover just how easy it is to find talented employees when you abandon the approach.

Smart Leaders that do recognise that many in society do not perform well in this type of process, are beginning to make radical change, so they build the best teams. Leaders that don’t step up to the mark will miss out on the myriad of diverse and different perceptions which help them offer better services and products.

There are better ways of getting to know ‘would be’ candidates. We have plenty of fresh ideas up our sleeve that will ensure your recruitment process leads to equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging.

Question is – are you are brave enough?  Let’s arrange a catch up.  You can email us on and we will set up a discovery call.

Meanwhile, have a read about a better way of recruiting strategic leaders, here.