What Is the Psychology Behind Panel Interview Questions?

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Posted by: David Garcia February 01, 2022

An effective interview ensures you are hiring the right people for your team. The questions you ask are the building blocks for an illuminating discussion, but how can you know you’re asking the right ones? 

The answer is psychology. 

An interview is an opportunity to get the most information about a candidate. The discussion can reveal a lot of insight into who they are as a person and how they will fit into your company culture—it’s the stuff you can’t locate on a resume. 

However, it might come as a surprise to learn that what you ask isn’t the most important thing, but why you’re asking it. All of that comes down to psychology.

In this guide, you’ll find some of the best questions to ask when interviewing a candidate and why you should be asking them. Use the questions below and understand the psychology behind them to craft the most effective panel interviews

Why Is Psychology Important in Panel Interviews?

Before we get into specific examples, let’s talk about why psychology is a crucial part of a panel interview. 

All human interactions are underpinned by psychology. Our brains are wired to figure out who we are speaking to, not only by the words they use but also via their body language. The verbal and non-verbal cues become even more enhanced in a job interview setting, where interviewers do their very best to ascertain whether this candidate is the right fit. As an interviewer, knowing the psychology behind some of the questions will put you in the best position to make an informed decision.

It is often the case that in interviews, the questions you pose will have a double meaning. You can analyze the answer provided, but you can also gain insight into how the candidate processes problems. It is highly valuable information you can only get by understanding what you need to look for in an answer.

In panel interviews, these indicators of a candidate’s internal reasoning are even more critical. Panel interviews usually center around scenario-based questions, meaning there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, it’s up to the panelists to determine whose responses reflect the kind of candidate that will most benefit the company. 

But the more people involved in the hiring process, the more room for ambiguity in deciding who is the best candidate. Understanding the psychology behind interview questions will allow all the panelists to have similar benchmarks for analyzing the candidate’s response. 

Below are some questions commonly asked in interviews, most of which are likely familiar to you. For each one, we will explain the psychology behind it so that you know why you’re asking it and what to look for in a response. Let’s get into it.

1. Name a time when you had to…

These questions get candidates to talk about a time they used a particular skill or mitigated a stressful event. The surface level of this question is easy to understand. You want to know that your candidate is capable of navigating high-pressure situations. However, there is a psychology behind this question too.

One of the best indicators of future actions is previous behavior. They give us direct insight into how people react to difficult circumstances. How they convey that information can give you lots to work with too. Are they confident about how they responded? Would they act the same way again? This question can reveal a lot without sounding invasive. 

2. Tell us something that isn’t on your resume.

Similar to the previous question, this forces a candidate to think on their feet. It also provides insight into what kind of company they think you represent. They will want to answer you in what they believe to be the right way. Therefore, their answer will reflect what they think you want to hear. Their assumption in itself can be pretty revealing.

It is also a very open-ended question. Candidates can take it in any direction that they want to, whether professional or personal. The content they decide to share with you also says a lot about them and their values. It is also an excellent opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate their personality, as they may tell you about a hobby or particular interest they possess. 

3. Tell us about a time you had to think creatively to solve a problem.

Consider the purpose behind this question a mixture of one and two. You want your candidate to demonstrate previous experience, but you also want to see their creativity get to work. This query is a more direct way of achieving both things but is still open enough to allow the candidate to show their character. 

With these hypothetical scenario questions, pay close attention to how a candidate answers rather than the specific story they share. It will give you an idea of how they may react when presented with a similar situation if they worked for you. That is precisely the kind of insight you’re looking for from an interview. 

4. A colleague interrupts you to ask for help when you are already busy; how do you respond?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on the candidate when performing an interview, but you also need to recognize that they will be a part of a larger team. How they work with others is of paramount importance, even if they work alone. Why? Because disagreements between colleagues can prove highly detrimental to both work and health. 

Asking this question will give you insight into how your candidate may work with others. Again, it’s essential to understand that the content of the answer isn’t necessarily the most important part, but how they tackle the question. If they effectively dismiss their hypothetical colleague with no hesitation, that could be a red flag. If they provide solid reasoning for not helping their colleague, that shows an ability to prioritize. Focus on how they justify their response. 

5. Your supervisor has made a decision you disagree with—how do you respond?

The psychology behind this question is very similar to the above, only here we deal with their relationship with authority figures rather than colleagues. 

Disagreeing with a supervisor isn’t always a bad thing. It can show strength of character and a capacity for individual thought. However, pay close attention to how they explain their response. That will tell you a significant amount about their personality and how they may conduct themselves in a professional setting. 

6. What do you find irritating in others?

This is another highly open-ended question, which is precisely why it can be so effective. All of us get irritated sometimes and have our list of pet peeves. Knowing this can build a clearer image of who a person is, which is what you’re trying to do during an interview. What we dislike is just as much a part of our personality as what we like, after all.

The psychology at play here is a personality assessment. The applicant may have the perfect resume and proper credentials, but how do they react when irritated? 

This question is also a great way to sense a candidate’s sense of humor, as they may describe their pet peeves with some levity. This question can help lighten the mood of the interview, especially if you give one of your pet peeves as an example beforehand.

7. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Whether they have a long-term plan in mind or not, this question can be revealing for a candidate to answer. While the professional climate can be unpredictable, it doesn’t necessarily mean employees should abandon all career and life plans. Some candidates may remain somewhat vague with their goals, and others may provide considerable detail. The depth of the response is in itself very telling.

The answer to this question can give a hint about their likelihood of retention, which can have considerable consequences for employers, given how costly employee turnover can be

If the candidate sees themselves rising in the ranks at your company, that’s an excellent forecast that they are likely to stick around. But if the answer is vague or hints that they hope to have moved on in five years, you can surmise that your open position is just a stepping stone in their mind. 

With this question, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a definitive right answer. Everyone operates differently, and some individuals may have no concrete plans in mind. It isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. If they are upfront about that in the interview, then at least you know you can count on their honesty. 

8. What is your greatest strength/weakness?

Last but by no means least, a question that has appeared in countless interviews before and remains popular. From a psychological perspective, this question can be particularly illuminating. It can indicate significant self-awareness in addition to a candidate’s understanding of what you want to hear. 

It may also be a test of their honesty too. If the interviewee says their greatest weakness is that they are almost too committed to providing excellent results, you know they aren’t the most transparent. 

Remember, it’s about how they answer, rather than the content of the answer itself. 

Find the Right Hire

Interviews can prove enlightening when it comes to screening candidates. The process turns resumes into humans, for which you can get a real understanding. However, even the greatest interviews can go awry, and you could end up with a candidate you never anticipated.

At ScoutLogic, we provide numerous screening tests to ensure the person you hire is who they say they are. From professional to educational screening and more, we provide you with the assurance that your newest staff member is the real deal. 

Ready to find out? Get in touch today!

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