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Hiring Tips & Insights: How OfferZen Uses the Panel Interview to Hire Great Developers
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How OfferZen Uses the Panel Interview to Hire Great Developers

26 August 2022, by Nic Botes

Interviewing is hard for everyone. As a hiring manager, you’re under pressure to make the right choice for your team. Here’s how OfferZen uses a panel interview to gather multiple perspectives and make a team decision about the best candidates for our tech team.

Conducting a panel interview to hire developers.

What is a panel interview?

Once a candidate completes our take-home tech assignment, we ask a few of our team members to review their work. If they’re successful, we move them to the next stage of our process: a panel interview. In a panel interview, we invite multiple team members to join the hiring managers to discuss the candidate’s tech assessment.

This also gives our team a chance to ask the candidate questions and test for aspects like cultural alignment and motivation.This stage of the process helps us to gather the information we need to make informed hiring decisions on behalf of the whole team.

The benefits of a panel interview

Bringing multiple perspectives to the table

The panel interview allows us to get different perspectives on the candidate. Each team member is unique and brings their own point of view to the interview. They will ask questions that the hiring manager might not have considered, that will ultimately help provide a complete picture of the candidate’s potential.

We select the team who attends this interview based on their different strengths and diversity of thought. For example, we have one team member who is great at asking in-dept questions about products. Another is better at testing for the cultural and team aspects.

We split our questions in categories to reflect this — technical, mindset, culture, and more.

Simulating the team experience

It’s unlikely that a new hire will be bombarded with rapid-fire questions when they’re on the job. Stand-ups and team huddles tackling technical issues are a more realistic scenario. A panel interview simulate this experience.

Creating a situation where a candidate can interact with team members of different backgrounds and seniorities benefits both them and the company. Both sides get the chance to assess working styles and mindsets.

For the candidate, seeing and hearing from other team members gives a realistic glimpse into what it’d be like to work in the team. This helps create a sense of inclusion and belonging. On the company side, you get to see how the candidate would collaborate with existing team members and whether they’d add to your culture.

For example, if you’re hiring for a senior role, having junior developers in the interview is important. They’re most likely going to interact with the candidate the most and need support and guidance from them. It’s valuable to see how that relationship might play out.

When discussing the candidate’s assessment, you’ll get to see how well they mesh with the team. It’ll also show you how they receive, process and apply feedback they receive in real time to reveal their ‘people potential’.

At OfferZen, this helps us decide whether we’ll proceed to the final interview stage: the sim day. This is where we find out what it’s really like to work together.

Saving time in your hiring process

A panel interview combines a technical discussion, a culture interview, and meet-and-greet with the team into a single interview. This reduces the number of steps in the interview process and gives the potential hire the chance to meet the team.

A drawn out interview process is among the top five pain points for developers in both the Netherlands and South Africa. When you’re competing for top talent, a streamlined strategy is best.

How to approach the panel interview

While a streamlined process is one of the biggest advantages of a team interview, time limits present a major challenge.

Working through large quantities of information in an hour-long session can mean that a candidate’s answers to open-ended questions might create uncertainty or require follow-ups. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to get around this:

  • Prepare your team: Get input from your team to create a hiring document containing insightful questions you can use to build common ground with the candidate. We like to keep the panel interview conversational, and think of these as guidelines for the line of questioning. What you discuss in the actual session might change, but agreeing on a rough outline will help you avoid repetition and overlap in questions.
  • Know what you’re looking for: Make sure the team is familiar with your role scorecard to make an objective decision about who can do the job.
  • Identify key team members: Choose team members with strengths in different areas – like technical skills, mindset and culture – to assess different aspects of the candidate.

Ticking these boxes will ensure that you have the best chance of hiring the right person for the team.

Questions to ask in the panel interview

Here are some of the questions we use in our panel interview. Starting with an opening question and following it with one or two questions from each of the categories below will help you to determine if someone is the right fit for the role and your team.

And, if a take-home tech assessment is part of your process, don’t forget to ask follow-up questions about that.

Opening question

  • Since we last spoke, has anything about the role been on your mind? What have you been thinking about?

Technical questions

  • Which tech stack excites you the most, and why?
  • When was the last time you had to work on a problem that was unfamiliar to you?
    • Follow up: How did you go about learning about that area?

Questions to deep-dive into behaviour

  • Can you give me an example of when you worked with a remote team? How did you communicate efficiently?
  • Tell us about a time you really screwed something up. How did you handle it and how did you address the mistake?
  • Can you give me an example when other teams were not aligned on your team’s vision/mission. How did you resolve the situation?
  • Can you share an example where your team failed to execute? How did you handle this?

Questions for team leads

  • How would you describe your management style?
  • Can you give an example when you successfully led a team. What made it successful? What leadership style did you use?
  • Can you share an example when you inspired a team, unifying them around a vision?
  • Can you share an example where you stepped in to lead your directs by example?
  • Can you give an example where you struggled as a team leader. What was the situation? What did you learn?
  • Can you share an example when you motivated a team with lower morale to turn the situation around?

Questions to test motivation

  • Which product (besides OfferZen) do you want to work on and why?
  • What’s an exciting project you’ve worked on recently?
  • What are you looking for in your new role? ie. team fit, environment, culture, role responsibilities.

Questions to test self-awareness

  • How do you know when you’re doing a good job?
  • How do you keep yourself functioning and operating well? What approaches have you found work for you?
  • What are you really good at, but never want to do anymore?
  • If we asked a group of people you have worked with recently what would they say they love most about working with you?
  • What would the same group of people say they find frustrating about working with you?

Questions to test for mindset and cultural add

  • What type of tutorials and talks do you watch?
  • What type of books do you read, and what podcasts do you listen to?
  • How do you learn to be better at management? What resources do you use?
  • What are mental models you like, literature that resonates well with you?

After the interview

Have your team fill in the role scorecard individually after the session, so that each person’s feedback is as objective as possible. Then, arrange a debriefing session with the team as a whole.

Our ideal outcome is to be as certain as possible that we want to hire the candidate. We can then move ahead to the final step of our hiring process, the simulation day. This is where the candidate gets a glimpse of what an actual working day in the team is like.

Thanks to OfferZen team member Nick van Noordwyk, who contributed to this article.

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