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One Against Many: The Job Interview Gauntlet

Panel InterviewIt's rare for someone to go through his or her professional life without facing what I call the job interview "gauntlet" — a situation in which not one person, but a panel or group, conducts the job interview. In my career, I've faced several forms of the interview gauntlet. You may have experienced some of them too. Here's how I would describe various group interview processes, and what you might expect out of them.

Individual Followed by Gauntlet
Hiring manager does the first interview; a panel does the second

The hiring manager knows the skill set and personal qualities needed in the position, and may conduct first interviews with, say, five candidates, then winnow that group to the two or three who seem most likely to be a good fit. Those top candidates move on to the gauntlet. They come back for second interviews with a group of people that may include the hiring manager, plus his or her boss or top assistant, and maybe one or two would-be co-workers. Each member of the group then contributes feedback to the hiring manager, sharing their impressions of the candidates' qualifications and potential fit.

Where does it work best? In most cases, this is the best possible scenario in a company in which the hiring manager has a lot of authority and is a good judge of talent, but wants feedback from others to ensure he or she hires the right person for the sake of the entire organization. Put another way: The hiring manager probably doesn't have a fragile ego. If you as a candidate face this scenario, rest assured that you made the first cut. If you came away from the first interview with a strong impression of the place, chances are you'll be relaxed in the second interview.

Sequential Gauntlet
Hiring manager begins first interview, then hands it off to one or more individual interviewers

Unlike the previous example, the interviewing takes place in one long session. While it sounds like a timesaver, this structure is actually time-consuming for both sides. If one party is late, it can throw off the rest of the day. It also opens the door for repeat questions in each successive session, which can annoy the candidate. Theoretically, everyone should emerge with a clear picture of each candidate at the end of the process, but in reality there's a good chance that some critical questions will not have been asked, and as the hours go on, the candidate is bound to lose steam (and possibly interest in the job).

Where does it work best? Not to be cynical (OK, maybe a little), but this method could be effective if the interview is an endurance contest and the organization is trying to gauge a candidate's stamina. Or, if the hiring manager isn't completely sure of what he or she wants, yet has at least a baseline skill set and experience level in mind. I faced this form a few years ago. After three hours of interviews, I was told a couple weeks later that they filled the position from within (Assuming they were being honest, if they had the talent within, why was I interviewed in the first place?)

Gauntlet Followed by Individual
First interview with panel; second interview with the ultimate hiring authority

I faced this a few years ago when I was entertaining a career switch to the classroom. The panel included a veteran school administrator, two teachers, and two parents. Considering that smiles in the group were rare, and I like to connect with people on a personal level, it was a bit intimidating to say the least.

Where does it work best? This is best if the organization — hierarchical or not — is trying to fill a job in which it wants someone who's comfortable talking in front of a group, or a job in which the candidate would be accountable to more than one person or interest group. From the candidate's point of view, the first interview could determine if this is an organization you'd be comfortable working for. If you get a bad feeling in your gut, chances are you don't want this job. In my case, it was pretty clear that I wouldn't be called back, but since the person I would have reported to wasn't there, I didn't leave with a good impression.

There are probably other forms of the job interview gauntlet. For instance, one school I'm familiar with has teacher candidates do "auditions" in front of a class of students to see how well they can grab and hold their attention and whether the students would find the material new and refreshing. While an administrator is present, the students are also asked for their feedback on the would-be teacher, if at least to validate the administrator's assessment.

Whatever form of interview gauntlet you face, try to maintain your confidence (or fake it), despite the intimidation factor inherent in any one-against-many situation.

Can you identify with one or more of these forms of the job interview gauntlet? Or are there other forms you've experienced that you'd like to share with us? Please drop in a comment below.

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