Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Panel Interviews are Here to Stay

As we acknowledged in the previous post, panel interviews are miserable. In our next post, we will explain best practice for participating on a panel. In this post, we will help you come to terms with the fact that panel interviews are here to stay.

Let's talk about why panel interviews exist at all. There was a time not so long ago when typical procedure was for a manager to run the entire selection process, back to front, on their own. They might even be responsible for recruitment of the position. They would assess the applications, decide who to phone screen (and what questions to ask), decide who to bring in for interviews (with complete autonomy about how to conduct those interviews), and make the choice on their own. 

This was typical practice. Virtually no oversight at all. The manager did whatever they wanted in the interviews and made selection decisions based on whatever criteria they felt like. It is abundantly clear now why this was such a terrible practice. Every manager thinks they know exactly how to spot the right person for the job. They don't. It is a huge problem today, even with carefully developed hiring processes, training on bias, and oversight every step of the way. The issue was immeasurably worse back when bosses were off the leash. 

The fact is, people tend to hire people who look, think, and act like they do. Since white men predominantly have been in management positions, white men tended to continue being hired. It is not that white men are trying to just hire white men (usually). It's that, because they tend to have a common set of experiences and understanding of the world, the answers a white man gives will resonate more easily with another white man. This is true of anyone. Black women will tend to have an easier time connecting with other black women, people who speak English as a second language will have things in common with other ESL individuals, etc. (Note: Using a structured interview with behavioral interview questions will help keep the conversation exclusively on job-related information, cutting down on this problem considerably.)

One very obvious way to fight this bias is to get more opinions involved. The logic is straight forward. If you want to ensure that your organization hires a diverse and varied group of individuals, make sure that a diverse and varied group is doing the hiring. Hence, panel interviews. 

The logic is so direct that, regardless of how well panel interviews actually achieve the outcome, they undoubtedly appear to help. It became a legal liability not to do panel interviews—if only one person did the interview, a candidate could argue bias based on some protected class. If the panel was made up of a diverse set of individuals, it becomes much more difficult for a candidate to claim they were discriminated against, even if the organization continues to disproportionately hire white men.

Once one organization in an industry started doing panel interviews, everyone else followed suit. The others couldn't give the first company the competitive advantage of being able to say they were unique in the practice. It spread across industries, more quickly in those who are risk-averse about appearing to break the law (government industries, obviously, were very quick to take up the practice). Now, panel interviews are ubiquitous across the United States.

Thus, we have three very strong reasons to do panel interviews: 

  1. Bosses fail terribly at checking their biases. If left to their own devices, they tend to hire people similar to them, even if only unconsciously.
  2. It becomes a legal liability not to do panel interviews.
  3. It is industry standard. It is extraordinarily difficult to go against the grain, even if there is a better way. (And, let's note, this blog is not saying the old way was better. It was much worse.)

Winston Churchill is attributed with the quote, "Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried.” Perhaps the same should be said of panel interviews. We're stuck with them. Look forward to next week, where we will explain how to proceed when you find yourself on one.

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