The Problem With Local Government Recruitment Panels – A Debate?

Hello PPMA members and friends

Hamish Davidson, Chairman of senior level recruitment company Davidson & Partners has written a very interesting article recently in the MJ highlighting what he sees as the problems with recruitment panels.

He talked about the standardised questioning approach often taken in recruitment interviews to tick the equalities box and both he and I (Richard Crouch, PPMA Vice-President) agreed that it doesn’t do anything for getting the best out of recruitment, nor equalities.

To read what Hamish had to say, click this link – Hamish Davidson MJ article 23rd August 2012

This is a link to my response, which also appeared in the MJ – Richard Crouch MJ letter 13th September 2012

I’m keen to find out what you think about recruitment panels.  What are your panels like?  Do you agree with Hamish and I, or do you have another view?  You can tell us your thoughts by clicking on the ‘Comments’  button above.

I look forward to an interesting debate!

Richard Crouch – PPMA Vice-President

By | 2017-07-30T12:23:22+01:00 October 1st, 2012|Categories: Richard Crouch|4 Comments


  1. Mary Hope 1st October 2012 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Really glad to see you pick this up Richard. I enjoyed Hamish’s parody of the worst of panels. And like him, as an Executive Search Consultant, I have sat through some ‘interesting’ experiences and as an officer enjoyed the experience of being sat in the middle of the horseshoe of 15 Members and 3 officers. Hopefully I was not the lowest common denominator when appointed! I do think it is the job of good consultants to wean traditional authorities away from the archaic practices – after all that is part of what you pay for – advice.

    What I would disagree with is that it is the panel system that means that ‘risky, adventurous and different candidates tend not to get appointed’
    In this climate when there are a plethora of well qualified, experienced and talented people on the market who have the experience of actually doing the job, and when the climate itself is so full of risk and there are fewer roles at senior level.. not many appointing managers are going to turn their backs on them.
    I have not noticed the appetite for those risky, outside the box candidates to be any greater when decisions are being made about the final shortlist or when the recruitment panel is made of of 3 rather than 13. And I’m not sure that any other sector is any different. Except perhaps the Civil Service where they recruit for skills not knowledge and expect people to learn about the job content on the job.
    I just not sure that people appointing to the most senior jobs in local government really get ‘transferable skills’, or that it is acceptable to take six months to learn the job, or that a fresh pair of eyes might make all the difference and in the current market they really don’t need to.
    What I can say is thanks to those 18 panel Members in Tamworth, who did take the risky candidate – me – straight from manufacturing and a woman and appointed me as a Chief Officer – but it was a while ago.

  2. Richard Crouch 1st October 2012 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Mary I think makes some good observations here and I agree with her. I suppose the issue is one of risk and how much we are willing to take in recruitment. I have to say that of those candidates where I’ve taken most risk, theyve tended to be very good employees. So, a big question for me is how much of this risk is real or perceived? As someone said to me a few years ago ” we seem to try and find as many reasons as we can why we shouldn’t appoint than reasons to appoint”. Perhaps we ought to be a bit more ‘glass half full’ here?
    What does anyone else think?

  3. Hugh Griffith 3rd October 2012 at 9:05 am - Reply

    It is said that the ideal interview length is 12 seconds!
    Having been through more initerviews in the commercial sector than in the public sector and having interviewed more people in the former and much less in the latter, I can honestly say that the public sector are no worse at interviewing whether by panel or by individual, than our private sector commercial counter-parts.
    Quite possibly the worst interview panel I had the misfortune to endure was with a very commercial firm of solicitors. Each had their own pre-agreed questions to ask, regardless of who was sat in front of them.

    Q. “In your limited work experience can you think of an example where you have managed a group of people successfully?”
    A. “I’m 42 and have managed teams of over 200 people”

    Q. “Where do you see yourself in 30 years time?”
    A. “I’m 42…..I hope I’m still alive, but truly retired”

    Q. “We are a commercial law firm, how would you go about gaining the respect of clients who may view you as young and inexperienced?”
    A. “I’m quite flattered but you haven’t actually read my CV have you?”

    The point is, interview process should be about the candidate, their fit with the organisation and the role. Firing a set of pre-determined questions at candidates merely demonstrates a lack of imagination, interest and preparation. It is my experience that panels are the worst for this and I have also been the member of an interviewing panel and been presented with my ‘quota’ of questions to ask (none of which I have ever stuck to). As human beings we have a desire to conform; as human beings in the public sector we have a desire not only to conform but to be seen to conform to every aspect of what is correct and unchallenging. Therefore we find ourselves in a situation where we are happy that the panel confomred with all its statutory requirements but find ourselves with candidate responses often as boring or banal as the questions being asked (my favourite being “How would you set up the stage for a string quartet?”) Interviewing as a panel we can often feel pressure to ask a set of questions that do little to explore the individual’s character, desires, realistic contribution to the role, development and the real things we ought to know about how that person might fit in the role/organisation in years to come. We have a tendency to interview on the basis of Day One expectation and when that expectation isn’t delivered, blame the candidate not the selection process. If we genuinely ‘get to know’ the candidate, they and the interviewer or panel are given the opportunity to consider what is deliverable by Day 365 or even further into the future.
    Panel’s are often comprised of very different people with different views and different expectations and accordingly they need to find common ground upon which they can agree whether the candidate is good, bad or indifferent. They rule out ‘risk’ in recruitment because collective agreement on the definition of and acceptance of risk is almost impossible to derive. Individual interviewers will ‘take a punt’ on a candidate who has that ‘something’ that they can’t define; a panel would need to agree what that something was and whether it was what they collectively believed was needed.

    At a time of incredible difficulty in the public sector where the focus is seemingly on getting the right people at the top to deliver us all from the evils of ‘austerity’, taking a punt and going with individual instinct is possibly a better strategy than using an agency to identify their perception of the ideal candidate, interviewing as a panel with opposing and possibly conflicting objectives and then choosing that candidate upon which the panel all agree fits some of the bill, some of the time. Planning for the ordinary rarely delivers the exceptional. Perhaps, if we are in search of the “unreasonable man” to deliver progress, we ought to be less reasonable and reasoning in our approach to ‘risk recruitment’.

    Why 12 seconds? Research apparently demonstrates that we make our minds up about whether we like someone enough to consider employing them in the first 12 seconds of an interview. If they have the experience and qualifications, what else do we need to know?

  4. Raffaela Goodby 3rd October 2012 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    I just want to say I love your Harry Potter references Hamish 🙂

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