Human Resource Job Interview Tips and Questions

If you're serious about landing a good human resource position, you'll need to make sure you adequately prepare for the interview process--it can be rigorous and challenging. Notwithstanding a growing job market, competition for HR positions is intense, so setting yourself apart from other job candidates during the interview process is crucial. To do this you need to be familiar with the type of questions hiring managers are going to ask, as well as the skills and qualifications they're going to be looking for.

Before we get started we recommend you first review the following articles. They'll provide you the knowledge you need to become proficient--even skilled--at interviewing.

Having just reviewed the three articles above, you should be familiar with the ins and outs of effective interviewing. So now let's talk about the HR interview.

The Skills They're Looking For
One of the keys to setting yourself apart from other job candidates is to emphasize throughout the interview process that you possess the skills that make a good human resource professional. Below we're going to identify and address each these skills in detail--and in order of importance.

  • 1. Employee Relations
    The most important skill hiring managers are looking for in HR candidates is the ability to strengthen the employer-employee relationship. It's your job to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have the ability to identify and resolve employee concerns, and develop a work environment that is satisfying for both employer and employee alike.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Identify a time when you were involved in a conflict between employees and the employer. How did you work to resolve their differences in a respectful, yet efficient way? What skills did you use? How did you address each party's concerns and come up with a mutually beneficial/agreeable solution? Identify an experience you can share with the interviewer that highlights your ability to resolve discrepancies between employees and the employer and improve the overall employee-employer relationship.

  • 2. Recruiting
    Recruiting is among the top skills hiring managers are looking for in HR candidates. It's also one of the most important functions of an HR department. Attracting, hiring, training and retaining top talent is the cornerstone of most successful corporations. The interviewer will be looking to see if you communicate clearly, are easy to connect with, persuasive and have the ability to negotiate--all traits of good recruiter.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Have you ever interviewed or evaluated a job candidate? Have you helped a previous employer find a new employee to fulfill a specific function? Identify a direct experience you've had assisting in the recruiting process or experience that shows you have the skills of a good recruiter.

  • 3. Human Resource Management
    Hiring managers want to see that you have direct experience in human resource management, or that you have the skills required of a human resource manager. Critical thinking, interpersonal communication, leadership and management are all skills required for effective human resource management. Show the interviewer that you possess these skills and you'll set yourself apart from the competition.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    The best way to demonstrate this skill is to share with the interviewer a time when you were directly involved in human resource management with a previous employer. Alternatively, share an experience when you managed a project or group of people and your management abilities made a positive impact. Explain how this experience has better prepared you for the HR position you're seeking.

  • 4. Scheduling
    Scheduling skills are important for human resource professionals. As a human resource manager you'll be required to handle various tasks simultaneously and accomplish many diverse projects each year. Having the ability to prioritize tasks, develop effective plans, and manage your time efficiently is critical if you want to be a successful HR professional.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Have you ever had a job that required you to schedule? Have you ever been involved in a project where you were required to organize and prioritize tasks? Have you been in charge of something (school project, vacation, wedding, etc.) that required you to complete specific tasks by a specific time? Find an experience you can share with the interviewer that demonstrates you have the ability to schedule and prioritize tasks efficiently.

  • 5. Administrative Support
    Many HR departments, especially those representing mid-size to large corporations, are required to provide administrative support for other divisions and departments. During the interview, hiring managers will be looking to see if you have the ability to provide vital administrative support such as administering assessment, staffing activites, scheduling meetings and making arrangements for staff. Administrative support is not something found within the typical job description of an HR professional, so the interviewer will be looking to see if you're the type of person that will perform above and beyond the call of duty.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Again, administrative support is not something that falls within the traditional job description of human resources, so sharing examples of when you've gone the extra mile or performed duties above and beyond your job description will indicate to the interviewer that you will be good at providing adminstrative support. You may also want to share an experience where you supported others, or one that demonstrates you're team player dedicated to the success of the team.

  • 6. Business Administration
    It's important for HR professionals to have a basic understanding of business administration concepts and principles. Understanding the business side of things will allow you make more informed HR decisions that have a positive impact on the entire organization and increase productivity.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Have you had any previous jobs that required a strong understanding of business? Have you completed any college courses or training programs in business? Find a few strong examples that demonstrate you have an understanding of business administration and operations. Be ready to explain how these experiences make you a more effective human resource job candidate.

  • 7. Labor Relations
    Good labor relations is one of the more important HR skills and abilities. However, many job candidates either don't have experience with labor relations or come to the interview unprepared to show they have this skill. If you want to stand out from other candidates, be prepared to show the interviewer that you have the ability to effectively manage labor relations.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Do you have any past work experiences where you were required to manage relations between the labor force and upper management? Were you ever required to find a positive solution to a workplace conflict? Have you assisting in resolving a disagreement between employees? Share a direct example that demonstrates your ability to manage labor relations, or share an experience that shows you have strong interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills.

  • 8. Organizational Development
    Human resource professionals are responsible for attracting, developing and retaining skilled and talented employees. Those candidates who can show they have the ability to communicate effectively, influence others and understand how to develop and grow a productive workplace will be extremely valuable to potential employers.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    What have you done for a previous employer to positively impact their workforce? Have you ever conducted employee training? Have you ever been involved with employee development? Find activities that you've conducted or participated in that you can use to show your strength in organizationaldevelopment.

  • 9. Accounting
    Accounting is the language of business. Anyone involved in business should have a basic understanding of accounting principles and concepts--including HR professionals. HR professionals need accounting skills in order to create budgets, put together financial plans, create proposals that make sense and develop performance measurements.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Ever kept track of finances for yourself or an organization? Have you had a class in accounting? Have you put together a budget and kept track of expenses? Find an experience you can share with the interviewer that demonstrates your understanding of basic accounting principles and concepts.

  • 10. Spreadsheets
    HR professionals are constantly working with spreadsheets. Having the ability to create worksheets, enter data and work with basic formulas in Excel is an important ability job candidates should have. While most interviewers will assume you have a basic ability to work with spreadsheets, it may help to show them you're able to use Excel to manage information, create performance reviews and generate basic reports and graphs.

    How to demonstrate this skill
    Either you have the ability to use Excel or you don't. We recommend that you study up on how to use Excel, review a tutorial, or take an introductory course in Excel Spreadsheets.

Whether it's through a previous job, personal experience, or education, you need to be able to demonstrate to the interviewer, using real experiences and examples, that you possess each of skills above--with particular focus placed on employee relations, recruiting, and human resource management.

Another key to interview success is being able to highlight and quantify the results of your successes. Anyone who has been in the field at least a few years can say they have the skills required to get results, but hiring agents and interviewers are looking for candidates that can show, with real numbers, that they've achieved meaningful, measurable results.

Common Job Questions for HR Candidates
Why do you think you qualify for a human resource executive's/manager's position?

With this question the interview is trying to see if, and how, you indentify with the role of being a human resource executive or manager. The best way to answer this question is by relating your qualifications--based on work experience and education--with the position you're seeking.

Sample answer:
One of the most important attributes of an effective human resource manager is the ability to connect with those you work with in order to help them meet their goals, follow company policies, grow professionally and contribute to the growth and development of the company. Working as a human resource manager for the last 10 years, I've learned how to connect with others on a human level, help them reach their full professional potential and become productive team members who dedicated to the overall success of the organization. During my last role as a human resource manager our department had an annual turnover rate of under 6%--far better than the average for our industry. With the assistance of my team, I developed a work environment that attracted, developed and retained the best talent.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as an HR professional?

This is a question any job seeker can expect in one form or another during the interview process. However, it's particularly important for HR candidates to answer this question in the right way.

Before arriving at the interview, thoroughly review the qualifications and specfications for the position you're seeking. Indentify the qualities and skills you have the make you a strong candidate for the position. Prepare examples from your previous work experience to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have strengths in these areas. The HR qualities that most interviewers are looking for include knowledge, intuition, flexibility, versatility, focus and the ability to connect with others on a human level. Sharing other skills, such as familiarity with industry specific software, will also be seen as a strength.

It's okay to share a real weakness, but make sure the weakness works to your advantage. You don't want to share a weakness that puts into question your integrity, character or ability to fulfill your job.

Sample answer:
Over the years working as an HR manager I've learned that an HR department's success can only be measured by the success of the organization it represents--and I've developed several successful HR teams. However, my greatest strength as an HR professional is my ability to connect with people. I've found that without this ability, knowledge of human resource management and organizational development is not as effective. My ability to connect with people on a human level is what has led to my success as an HR professional.

One of my weaknesses is my tendency to get very involved in helping employees deal with their problems--but always within company limits. However, I think this connection with stuggling employees helps me better understand where they're coming from and offer solutions that help them progress and become more productive.

What do you consider to be the most important qualities of an effective HR Executive/Manager?

This is a simple question that requires a simple answer. You want to clearly state each quality and then explain why an HR Executive/Manager should have the quality.

Sample answer:
An HR manager should be knowledgable, versatile, intuitive, flexible and above all else possess a human touch for working with people.

Knowledge of proven human resource management and organizational development processes, procedures, and strategies is essential to managing an HR department--and developing a top notch organization. However, an HR manager must also be versatile and flexible. Sometimes things don't go according to plan and the ability to adapt and move forward is just as important as the knowlegde of how to run an HR department. However, knowledge and flexibility alone, without the ability to connect on a human level with those you work with, is ineffective. The ability to communicate effectively, connect with people, and help them develop their skills and talents for the good of the team and organization is the most important quality of an effective HR executive or manager.

Why did you choose HR as your career?

The most common answer to this question goes something along the lines of "I chose a career in HR because I love working with people". It's also one of the worst answers you could provide. If the interviewr doesn't start laughing, they're probably thinking that you're just saying this to get the job.

A more effective way of answering this question is to indentify some of the routine tasks an HR manager has to perform that are of interest to you, and share these with the interviewer.

Sample answer:
I love discovering and recruiting new talent. Before I became an HR manager I worked as a talent scout for Company XYZ. I chose a career in HR because it blends my love of recruiting with other interests I have, such as behavioral science and organizational management.

What is personnel management?

This question is designed to test your knowledge. Hiring managers want to make sure you have a good grasp of human resource management concepts.

Sample answer:
Personnel management involves managing the welfare and performance of employees. It includes conducting job anlyses, planning personnel needs, recruiting, conducting exit interviews, payroll, record keeping, selecting the right people for the job, employee training and coordinating benefits programs.

What is the difference between Personnel Managment and Human Resource Management?

It's not uncommon for people to use these two terms interchangeably, but they're not the same. This question is designed to test your knowledge--and quite possibly your ability.

Sample answer:
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they're actual quite different

  • Human resource management is proactive in nature and focuses on development of policies, practices and functions to create a better tomorrow for an organization. Personnel management is more reactive in nature and focuses on routine employee management and administrative tasks.
  • Human resource management is more comprehensive in nature as it involves managers from all departments in the employee development process. Personnel management is a more independent process that often only includes a handful of HR personnel.
  • Personnel managment primarily uses compensation, bonuses and rewards to motivate employees. Human resource management employs more involved strategies to improve individual and overall employee performance.
  • Personnel management is actually a subset of human resource management. However, personnel managers are often required to perform human resource function and human resource managers are often required to perform personnel management functions.

What is 'Span of Management'?

Span of Management, also referred as Control, refers to the number of subordinates a manager manages.

What are the different factors that determine the 'Span of Management'?

The factors that determine the Span of Management include the size of the organization, the tasks that must be performed to keep working going, the complexity of the production process and the extent to which IT can assist in the process.

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