October 17, 2011

How to manage gang-up interviews

Filed under: For Managers, Interviewing, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the October 18, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager indicts “panel” interviews and says he’d never consent to one — or conduct one. Are panel interviews a bad idea?

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?

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!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

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’s 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.

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

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36 Comments on “How to manage gang-up interviews”
By Nathalie
October 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Nick, out of curiosity how much direct hiring have you done? Do you only recruit or do you conduct interviews and make hiring decisions yourself? I ask because you have strong opinions about the best way to hire and I’m wondering if they’re founded in real life hiring experience or theory.

By AM
October 18, 2011 at 2:34 am

Hmmm. I haven’t had a panel interview, but I’ve always thought that I’d prefer one. Why? Because, compared to a series of 1-1 interviews it seems to me a group interview would more honestly expose the personalities and dynamics of the “group,” and would be less susceptible to a personality mismatch leading to a blackball by a single interviewer. (This is assuming that I trust in my basic intelligence and competence – which I do – and also that I think I’m a match for the job, i.e. I’m trying to “reveal” rather than to “hide.”)

Whether in a group or 1-1, I’d try to “do the job,” as you recommend. But I’d rather impress them all at once, in a situation that most closely resembled a real-life work group project.

A group interview gives the competent interviewee a chance to hit the ball out of the park. Six 1-1 interviews give the interviewee six chances to shoot himself in the foot, or just to get unlucky.

By JenK
October 18, 2011 at 3:33 am

If I understand you correctly on what a panel interview is, then I really don’t understand the problem. In academia, almost no one is hired in the town they live in, and I would think that the kind of people you’re trying to attract as clients also move across the country for jobs. Do you really think it wise to travel and consider moving somewhere new without getting to know as much as possible about the new situation? It is normal for universities to have candidates meet the entire dept, people who work in similar specialties in other depts, get together with grad students, go through the HR bs, and meet the dean and perhaps the provost as part of the interview. The process usually includes a couple meals, a formal presentation and a guest lecture in a class, a campus tour, perhaps a tour of the area. All those things are going to be important factors in one’s future success. Why on earth would I want to meet with just one person? This makes me view all your other advice much more skeptically.

By Underemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest
October 18, 2011 at 6:07 am

I prefer a panel interview to a “rotating interview”, where three or more people interview me in succession. Even though I’ve actually been hired as a result of this kind of interview, I prefer the opportunity to address concerns or clarify my capabilities comprehensively, and a group sometimes makes this easier.

Also, you can sometimes assess the company dynamics by how the panel interacts.

Sometimes I’m informed of the process beforehand, sometimes not. When a panel interview is unexpected, my favorite icebreaker is to calmly hang my jacket over the back of my chair while saying, “I suppose you’re all wondering why I called this meeting . . . ”

If I don’t get any smiles, I work to conclude the interview early, and exit as quickly and as gracefully as possible.

I take my profession and my work seriously, but I need to work with people who have a sense of humor.

And, of course, if the panel is beginning the stress game, I inquire why, and ready myself for an even quicker and less gracefull exit.

Whether I meet with a panel or one-on-one, I’ve found the biggest time saver to be a tour of the actual arena I’ll be working in.

I’m beginning to pass on interviews that don’t offer this on the first visit.

By A. Rick
October 18, 2011 at 7:05 am

Nick, in your example of the “perfect” interview, you described how the hiring manager, when he realized that he had a winner on his hands, immediately dragged in his entire team.

When done properly, that is how an interview should be done every time. You have a brief phone screen done by the manager, ideally one who is capable of getting a rough feel of the candidates technical capability. Only then do you bring in the team for the ‘real’ interview, which is done by the team itself. In this interview, the only rules are: “Keep it professional”, and “Keep it friendly”.

I have participated in both sides of this equation, both as a hiring manager and when I was the one being hired. I would much rather do a “panel” interview then the typical ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’ approach that you usually see.

Typically, as you have noted in previous columns, because of poor pre-screening, the hiring process drags on and on, and people who have ‘real’ work that needs to get done, get tired of wasting their time with candidates that never should have gotten past the phone screen.

Instead, the actual interview process becomes an ad hoc affair and you get folks who were dragged in at the last minute. Most people doing the interviews haven’t even read the candidate’s resume until they walk in the conference room.

With a ‘panel’, those who have prepared for the interview tend to dominate the questioning and the candidate gets to see the group’s actual dynamics in action. Also, when the candidate gets hit with a bizarre question, one of those questions that comes completely out of left-field, usually someone in the panel will call foul on the questioner.

In my freshmen psych class, they said that, as a general rule, well-prepared people will perform better when they have an audience, and those who are not well-prepared will do worse.

After thirty years in the IT industry, with all the job interviews given and received that those decades imply, I am a strong advocate for having a friendly, chatty group discussion, that is couched in problem solving setting that provides the candidate with the opportunity to demonstrate real proficiency in the required skill sets.

By DLMS
October 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

I once had a panel interview. I sat in front of 5 people who lobbed questions at me in rapid-fire fashion.

I did see the dominant personalities emerge (two of them).

Personally, I did not like this interview technique. I prefer one-on-one with the hiring manager. If that goes wells, then meeting the team members is next.

By A. Rose
October 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

I had an interview with an organization, where when I arrived, it was 6 interviewers on one side of a long conference room table and me on the other side. If I had any idea this was going to happen, I never would have taken the interview (never mind funded my own trip out of pocket!).

The good news is that no one from HR was present- just the hiring manager and members of “the team”. The sad part is that in following up afterwards, I couldn’t get any other response (for 3 months!) except for “I’ll have to check with HR to see what I can say” and “check the website for updates”.

How was I to know this was going to happen? And do I swear off self funded trips? I had an interview request, just this morning (after a lengthy phone interview 3 weeks ago), where I am being asked to self- fund my trip back to the same city with a similar organization. Is the same thing going to occur?

By Jim Trainor
October 18, 2011 at 9:42 am

Panel interview suggestions. Find out who, in the room, is the decision maker. You can do this with prep-work leading up to the meeting. You will want to focus some, not all of your attention to that person. Be ready to ask a question when something isn’t clear. Have several “tell me about a time when” stories well rehearsed.

By Chris Walker
October 18, 2011 at 10:14 am

‘Stress Interview’ & ‘Panel Interview’ are not synonymous. Peppering the candidate with questions, interrupting the answers and the other lovely features of stress interviews aren’t dependent on the number of interviewers in the room. I’ve had 1 on 1 interviews with overbearing louts and panel interviews that were pleasant, productive conversations about the work, the organization and how I might contribute.

In my agency, all interviews are of the panel variety, and I think we conduct them respectfully and professionally. One downside: getting 3 or 4 busy people in the same room at the same time often drags the process out. Not a good thing for either party.

By Erika
October 18, 2011 at 10:39 am

I am surprised to see a few fans of group / gang-up interviews here. They are not all conducted the same way, which can account for differences in reaction. I have had a few that were very hostile / reliant on “words games” and trying to trip up candidates. I have had others that were more laid back.

@JenK,
If you read the actual article, Nick clearly does not recommend that you meet with just 1 person, so no need to view his other advice “much more skeptically.” Read it again.

@those that like the group dynamics exposed,
This is a good point. I do not want to work anywhere where I will be made miserable. However, I do not want to meet the team until I’ve met and worked with the hiring manager and we mutually agree that there appears to be a fit. I also concur with DLMS that questions are lobbed in rapid-fire with little real opportunity to provide in-depth meaningful answers. (I work in a highly technical field.) Introverts are dead meat in “gang up” interviews even though they may be the best candidates for certain jobs.

I am tired of disrespect in interviews generally and @ A Rose, I would not be doing self-funded trips. If they are serious, they can put some “skin” in the game! Employers— stop treating my time and resources as “free!” Otherwise, you will be left with the more desperate candidates.

By Charlie E
October 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

My former job interview process included a ‘panel’ interview. It started with a meeting 1-on-1 with the VP, who gave me a basic skills test (interactive! and instructive…), then a 1-on-1 with the manager, then the HR rep, and finally, a meeting with the whole team. Since this was a support position where communication was critical, this actually worked out well. I got to meet the entire team, but it wasn’t a stress interview so much as a meet and greet opportunity.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 18, 2011 at 11:43 am

(@Nathalie: I’ve interviewed and hired many people for operations I’ve managed. I’ve seen hiring from many vantage point, but I’ve never worked in HR.)

Interesting views on “panel interviews!” I don’t think I misinterpreted the experience of the person who submitted the question — but I think I failed to distinguish between that and group meetings with candidates that actually work.

A. Rick and Erika correctly point out that I’m a big advocate of “bringing in the team” to talk and work with a candidate, and A. Rick does a nice job of discussing what happens in interviews. Perhaps the way I cast this Q&A was my error of semantics. When I think about “panel interviews,” I see highly-structured Q&A sessions in which the candidate is peppered with scripted questions in a highly-orchestrated setting that isn’t very congenial. I don’t think that’s legit.

Lots of other folks define panel interviews as friendly opportunities to talk with several people on the team that might hire them. And I’m all for that.

I’m guilty: I’ve long had a bias against panel interviews because I’ve seen too many that are bureaucratic gang-ups of the type described by the person who submitted the question. So I riffed on his frustration.

Having said all that, you guys have clearly distinguished between gang-ups and effective group meetings. And that’s what this forum is all about – separating sh!t from shine-ola, or what’s bad from what’s good.

Panel interviews aren’t all gang-ups, and I apologize for painting with such a broad brushstroke. Nonetheless, I’m with DLMS: The first interview should be one-on-one, with the hiring manager, to establish mutual interest before the rest of the team is brought in. And if the manager doesn’t offer, the candidate should ask to meet the rest of the team.

By LT
October 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm

“Candidates are sick to death of ‘the process.'”

Word. From the perky receptionist greeting you with “Janey said you want to fill out this pile of forms.” to “This will be a meeting with HR, but not the hiring manager. He is busy.” The process is broken.

IMHO, a candidates meeting with a pile of forms and HR should be reserved to absolute last, where the offer has been accepted and the hiring manager is simply telling HR when the candidate’s first day will be.

By Suzanne C.
October 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

The science behind a panel interview is that the more observations, the less bias so theoretically a panel interview would be a better practice than one-on-one.

At my company we have at least 3 interviewers present, but we ask one question at a time and allow the candidates time to go back. We explain the process and the logic and try to make the candidate feel comfortable. We have a culture of mutual respect so we try to model that in everything we do. We use the same questions and the same panel for every candidate. Recently I participated in hiring three new colleagues and they are all great fits so I believe that speaks to the process.

But I agree about the so-called stress interview. I had an experience with one once and stood up in the middle and told them that I could tell it was not going to work out. If you want to simulate how a person reacts under stress there are at least a dozen better ways to do that than to behave like idiots.

By dacker
October 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I have endured a panel interview just once and it was the worst interview I’ve ever had in 30+ years.

It was not your usual panel interview as it was done, believe it or not, over the phone. Besides myself, there were eventually 6 other people on the line, including several who joined late and interrupting the interview. The 6 people were in 4 locations which was the perfect setup for people to talk over each other. I could not tell one person from another. Talk about crash-and-burn!

I knew I’d blown the interview for obvious reasons. I tried a “mea culpa” with the recruiter, apologizing for how it went though it was clearly the process which was a disaster and not me. It didn’t work, perhaps for the best.

By Karen
October 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I once had a gang interview at a small college, but I didn’t know it was a gang interview until I got there and walked into a room with about 6 people on one side of a long table and a chair for me on the other. The odd thing was, this position was basically an office assistant position that maybe paid $11 an hour. You would have thought they were hiring a vice chancellor. I made it through, went home, immediately wrote a thank you note, taking myself out of the running for this very “prestigous” clerical job.

By Will
October 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Hi Nick,
Great article. In my past life I was a teacher and as such I was on the receiving end of many panel interviews and let me tell you, they are no fun! You don’t know who to look at and it’s impossible to develop a rapport when there are 6-10 people interviewing you. I have also “enjoyed” the see 6 different people in an afternoon interview; that’s a bit better but they are expecting questions and I already had my questions answered by the first two people and maintaining enthusiasm during so many interviews in one day is a challenge. It was more like what I imagine speed dating would be like, and that was something I was never interested in trying.

I have also been one in a line of people doing the interviews as well and have come to the conclusion that too many people are involved in many hiring processes – probably so that the decision-maker can cover his backside with sign off from “everybody.” I find it best for the hiring manager to do the initial interview, then his candidates can meet the team for their approval. But in business and academics it isn’t often done that way … the decision-makers want candiates screened and scrubbed first.

Erika pointed out that introverts are at a disadvantage in a panel interview and as an intovert (according to Myers Briggs) I can agree. That style favors the extroverts.

By Omar Schmidlap
October 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I vaguely recollect being interviewed by panels more than 20 years ago. So if the panel-interview approach is “really creeping into our already dysfunctional job interviewing system,” it’s been creeping there for a long time.

By Dave
October 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Panel Interviews can be a good idea, but are often mis-used (like a lot of thigs) and viewed as the end all and be all of interviewing.

I think the key is keeping the number of people involved to a minimum and not creating a hostile environment. All the parties involved also need to be on the same page regarding selection criteria and who asks what.

I think one of the better interviews I had: One on one with a Director who asked high level management type questions – i.e. “how would you deal with these type of deadlines.” 2nd part of the interview was with 2 people who I’d be working with, and they asked the more nitty gritty technical questions.

By marybeth
October 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Nick, thanks for another great discussion. Keep up the good work!

I think panel interviews can be successful for both the interviewers AND the candidate if they are handled correctly. I think the hiring manager should conduct a one on one interview first, and if s/he thinks the candidate is a good fit, then it should go to a panel interview so the team and the candidate can suss eachother out. As a candidate, I once had a great interview with the hiring manager, but a hellacious interview with the team, which I was grateful for because the hiring manager neglected to mention that he didn’t interact much with the team, so getting along with him didn’t mean too much if the team was disfunctional. As a candidate, you really need to assess both. Plus, some managers are so far removed from the day-to-day duties that having a team interview will give you much better insight into the job, the culture, etc. And sometimes you might learn something about the manager from the team, too. That happened to me at another interview. The team was dropping hints about the manager and giving eachother significant looks–nothing was said overtly, but it was the hints, the eyerolls, and what was left unsaid that told me a lot about what it would be like to work there. The team seemed fine and it was obvious that they pulled together and worked very hard as a unit, but that their manager wasn’t much of a manager. I thanked them for their time and asked to be removed from consideration.

I agree that the kind of panel interview Nick described isn’t useful unless you’re planning to be an appellate attorney or law professor teaching moot court to first years. And Will is right–that kind of rapid-fire interrogation suits extroverts best, not introverts. An introvert can learn how to manage that kind of interview, but won’t enjoy that kind of back and forth. In that kind of interview, they’re looking to see how well you can think on your feet as well as the quality of your answers. It works in industries where you have to know your stuff and be able to make quick decisions, but I would think that in other industries, they’d want you to be able to research the issue, and give measured, reasoned, thoughtful decisions and answers. Shoot from the hip and think about it later usually doesn’t work too well.

By Eddie
October 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

This is not something new, I was on one of those panels 20 years ago. We turned the agenda around to focus on the HR department and it’s policies and practices. (basically waterboarded the Director of HR in front of the candidate). Needless to say, The group interview concept went away like real fast.

By Lisa
October 19, 2011 at 2:12 am

My two cents:
I have done numerous ‘structured interviews’ in which you have to name the situation, the action and the result of what you did. The interviewers then scale you on 1-5 of how well you do. There are typically 4-6 of these types of questions. The problem? It is cold, indifferent and if you thought you can bring your portfolio to show the actual work you have done…think again…they will tell you to put it away as it might be considered biased.Mmanagement is not allowed to deviate from HRs tight-fisted structured interview process.
Another type I had was the hours long interview. I interviewed with the manager, a team lead, HR, then met the director, then they wanted to drag me to lunch. By that time I had already been there for 4.5 hours for a job that only paid 70k per year. I was more irritated than anything that this overzealous manager wanted to consume six hours of my day, when I quickly learned in the first two hours what I really needed to know… Run fast as hell.

By Nic
October 19, 2011 at 7:03 am

Yes, all bullshite meetings, and no results. I know one individual who works at a major firm where they do this group interview crap, and at the end of the day the person they wind up hiring each time is never the most qualified resume, but any fool off the street who is not a threat.

I have been told that people have come in or submitted resumes with both degrees and experinece, ready to do a Nick and show them what they would do. (Yes, I was surprised to hear that so Kudos to you Nick some out there get it,) yet they have some moron field manager who ends up bringing in some other moron who they will consistently hire, that winds up to be often former store clerks or worse. Why? They do not pose a threat to the people interviewing them.

THAT is the trend, see if the person is a good FIT Good fit: A person is breathing yet doesn’t have the business practical understanding, polish and swiftness to wind up taking our jobs!
And I have to laugh because each time the phoney HR director whose favourite line is “I want to reach out to you” that line I cannot stomach but also apparently tells each one of these idiots, “Oh, I am X THE CORPRATE HR DIRECTOR! I am SO PLEASED to have you.” I was on the floor laughing.

No wonder American business is falling down the drain or more like deep in the sewer.

By DLMS
October 19, 2011 at 8:28 am

I don’t understand why all this dysfunction is perpetuated. It seems to me that simply sitting down with a candidate and talking about the work makes the most sense.

Don’t employers get it? The current hiring methods are not working. Is anyone out there listening?

By Nick Corcodilos
October 19, 2011 at 10:23 am

@DLMS: Are you suggesting that this is somehow at the root of “the talent shortage?”

By Charles
October 19, 2011 at 11:31 am

I loved the idea of starting it with a slight touch of humor. I also like Nick’s idea of taking charge. One of my favorite ways is to expose the ground rules and players. Rather than just taking a seat and wondering if it is going to be a congenial meeting or an interrogation is a major stress by itself.

Nothing turns the table like bold questions. If they don’t introduce themselves, their position and roles or quickly run through a rapid fire intro, slow it down. “Since it is my first time to meet each of you please take a moment to tell me who you are and the role you play”? or “Since I was not expecting a panel or group interview, are one of your key objectives to impose stress and see how I deal with it or do all of you have equal weight in the decision of new hires”? (The last part can be incredibly revealing)

Those possible questions may seem too bold the way I wrote them. But when you ask somebody if they are going to intentionally stress you, and they say “no” (but originally intended to)they may think twice about being too abrupt.
Likewise if they say “yes” you have taken off the masks and can deal with it up front.

If the weight of the panel seems to be disproportionate to the anticipated stress of the job or even the pay scale, then ask. At no point do you have to make a statement but only ask questions.

Nothing will take the wind out of the (aggressive) sails like them saying “yes to the stress” and you sitting there calmly with a smile, adjusting yourself and then saying ” I am ready to begin”

Now it is your meeting.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm

@Charles: You close with a very powerful point. A candidate must be able — and unfraid — to take control of an interview. You need not be brash, or rude or even insistent. Just diplomatic and business-like. As you point out, you learn a lot very quickly when you indicate that you have certain standards in such a meeting, and you expect them to be met. Controlling the interview is a huge objective, while making the interviewer feel you are the most cooperative and friendly person they’ve ever met.

Key thing: If, after asking questions like Charles has suggested, the interviewers reveal anything but candor, you must be willing to walk away — just like the proverbial customer on the used car lot. You can’t want that red sportscar so much that you let yourself begin negotiating a bad deal.

By DLMS
October 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

To answer your question Nick, yes.

Is it any wonder why the talent walks away?

Just as Charles indicated, you can take control and decide whether or not to pursue a job. The good ones walk away.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm

@DLMS: Let’s put two and two together. Companies cry in the business press that there’s a talent shortage. A huge talent shortage. That means it’s a job hunter’s market, if you can do the work.

So what are employers doing? Dumbing down the recruiting and hiring process and treating job applicants pretty poorly.

What are job hunters doing? Toeing the line, fearful of breaking the rules, and incapable of walking away from a lousy deal.

What’s the answer? Educated job hunters. Stop fooling around with the crap on job boards and the goofy solicitations from scammers who “will find you a job.”

Pick your companies carefully. Find out who the manager is that you want to work with. Decide whether he or she is worthy. Then get in touch with them and offer to fix their talent shortage “without the stuff and nonsense.” Offer to help them get the job done.

What are they gonna say, Jump to the back of the line and wait your turn?

But there’s a massive talent shortage…

If everyone doesn’t realize this thing called The Employment System is totally broken, then there’s a lot of suckers out there waiting for Godot.

By Chris Walker
October 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I have a friend who is placement director at the Cleveland branch of a national computer training company. She applied through the corporate site but also found out the name of the local manager and sent him a resume and cover letter. In her first interview, the manager asked if she had applied on line. She said she had. He told her that her’s was not one of the resumes forwarded to him by corporate. So the person actually hired had been screened out by the ‘swill pot’ (Nick’s term!)ATS system. She was lucky that the manager was even allowed to talk to a candidate that had not come to him from on high. Talent shortage, eh?

By Nick Corcodilos
October 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm

@Chris Walker. Good one! The hiring manager broke the rules from the get-go, by interviewing a candidate outside the system.

Reminds me of an old client from way back when I first started headhunting. My boss introduced me to the HR manager and told me that was the only route for doing business with the company. So I took a search and submitted a candidate, who was interviewed by a hiring manager. The HR manager then called and told me they liked the candidate but would not pay a fee “because we already have the candidate’s resume in our files.”

“So why didn’t you bring him in before I introduced you to him?”

No answer. “We can’t pay the fee.”

They paid the fee after I spoke to the hiring manager and explained that HR was trying to circumvent our agreement. From then on, the hiring manager worked with me directly and he handled HR.

Another candidate screened out by the system, hired, fee paid. That was when I realized HR was a racket. Not because they buried a good candidate — we all make mistakes. But because HR tried to hide its mistake at my expense.

Talent shortage? Yep. The hiring manager quickly saw where the talent shortage was, and cut that deparment out of the process.

Can you top that? ;-)

By marybeth
October 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm

@Karen: I used to work in academia, and the only reason I can see for using a panel interview for a clerical position is if the job requires you to be a sec’y for the entire dept. so you’d be answering to many bosses and juggling their demands. If the position you interviewed for was sec’y to the dean or to the dept. chair, then that’s different–you wouldn’t be doing work for the rest of the faculty, and you’d have one boss. I wasn’t a sec’y in my academic job, but the dept. had one sec’y for 45 faculty spread out in 3 buildings. She ran around like a chicken with her head cut off and had a hard time keeping up with the demands because it was a case of too many chiefs, not enough indians. None of the faculty talked to eachother, so they had no idea that others had already dropped work on her and still expected her to drop everything and do their jobs. I didn’t envy her. I can’t even see a panel interview for faculty, although I saw it all the time. Most faculty, once hired, are more like independent contractors than members of a team. They teach, research, write and publish, and get grants independently. They might be asked to serve on committees with others, but often that only goes to tenured faculty or those on the tenure track. The only times they’re required to be in are when they have class and for office hours (and for meetings, which can be often if you’re an administrator like a gpd or dept. chair or once in a blue moon if you’re adjunct faculty). Lots of them don’t like much less get along with eachother–lots of petty jealousies and big egos, and staff (secretaries and professional staff) pretty much run the day-to-day operations, and even many staff jobs can be very independent. At my job, I had more dealings with the graduate school than I did with other staff and faculty in my own dept. I could go weeks or longer without seeing or hearing from my boss, but I talked to grad sch staff several times per week.
@Nick: The whole “talent shortage” is a myth hyped up by HR because they don’t want to do the work involved to find and hire the right person for the job. They’d rather run apps and résumés through a computer program and let the computer do the work. They’d rather set all kinds of ridiculous parameters, including “no unemployed wanted” than actually talk with people, look at their records and see if they can do the job. Your client had a few brains and saw where the problem was. He couldn’t get rid of HR, but he could circumvent their policies. I wish more managers had the guts to do that rather than cave to HR and to some stupid computer program that screens out good candidates for no good reason. There’s a talent glut out there, lots of good people who are unemployed and who could do jobs but HR can’t see past its nose and won’t do anything unless the computer programs approve. Maybe businesses should rethink the whole concept of HR–return them to doing payroll and benefits, and leave the hiring and recruiting to others. How’s that for a “radical” idea? :)

By DLMS
October 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

Great idea Marybeth. Let HR do payroll and benefits and leave the recuirting and hiring to the others. I agree totally.

We have a temp filling in for one of our staff who is on medical leave for several weeks. She is quite competent and does the job well. She wants to apply for an open position. It will be interesting to see if she gets past the HR gatekeepers. Our HR department and some managers are wedded to the idea that if you have the right letters after your name (PhD, MBA, etc.), then you are qualified. I’m not belittling those advanced degrees, but having one does not make a person a good fit for the job.

We have two hiring mistakes now. People who had the right letters after their name but have had a tough time getting up to speed after a year or more on the job. One of these individuals is still struggling and has been here for over two years.

The “talent shortage” is due to a lack of laziness on the part of employers who prefer to let a computer program do their thinking for them (running apps and resumes as mentioned by Marybeth).

By Val in L.A.
October 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

Unemployment in L.A. County, CA has hit 17%. Education is one of the industries that is hardest hit, since govt coffers are in dire shape. I am an elementary sc hool library coordinator. Last summer, I was called to a panel interview (very commmon in my field). However, the new twist was that they interviewed three of us at one time. Yes, I was insulted because I was hugely overqualified if anything. I think they wanted to go with the laid off internal candidate but wanted to pick my brain so she could learn. Disgusting, but its tough out here. They should either write a new constitution for this state of blow it up.
Thanks for all your great advice.

By Tux in SV
November 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

In my field panel interviews typically happen because the candidate has time constraints — either he has a current job that he’s wrapping up that he can’t spend much time away from due to getting critical things done (what, you think we’d want to hire away someone who’s *not* doing critical things for his current company, or *doesn’t* want to get those critical things done), or because there is another employer interested and we want to squeeze in an interview beforehand to see whether we can get him. I personally prefer panel interviews due to the time savings involved compared to sequential interviews — been on the interviewing side once, been on the receiving side twice, offers were involved in all cases (accepted twice, declined once for reasons unrelated to the interview format). On the other hand I’ve never been at a panel interview where there had not first been a lengthy phone interview with the hiring manager to establish interest on both our parts. And none of this was done in a confrontational manner, we were all interested in seeing how we helped each other and interacted as a team, not in “gotchas” — the “gotcha” type folks are jerks that are going to be a pain in the rear to work with / for, and pretty much an indication that it won’t work.

The first of these panel interviews was, BTW, in 1999. So definitely *not* a new concept…

By Darren
July 2, 2014 at 3:17 am

Yes I have most of my interviews ganged-up with two or more junk interviewers in one room like they have nothing better to do at work. I was not hire by any of the firms. I didn’t like it. What is their motive having junk guys all asking stupid questions, one after another or simultaneously. I lost my concentration easily trying to answer all the questions directed toward me. I look at those employers as I will not want to work for them POS. I also noticed they don’t hire you after the interview like in the past. They said they still continue to interview other candidate. This in itself is a bias selection of an individual either racially or skill wise. It just allowing the companies to be stupid based on their personal preferences. Also I notice most employers have racial identity craps and the protected veteran craps. You can go hire the junk soldiers out walking on the field of desert. Hire a dumb ass and your company will be one.

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