Why you need to take an interview with HR seriously

HR Manager interviewing a candidate for a job

Because candidates tend to see a job interview with HR as less of a test of their expertise, conducted by someone who doesn’t know or understand what the job entails, they can be tempted to dismiss it as a bit of a formality and not put in as much effort.

But there are good reasons to take the HR element of selection just as seriously, and to make sure you are prepared for both types of questioning. Here’s why and how:

Why HR interviewers need to be taken seriously

In some companies, the HR interview takes place before the line manager’s interview. This means that HR can act as a powerful influence on the next round, especially where the interviewer is a senior member of staff of long standing and influence.

Line managers may well look to their HR colleague to help them decide between candidates with similar experience and expertise. In such a situation, other aspects of what you offer – such as your potential to integrate with a team, or how well you might fit in with the company’s culture and values – could suddenly become very significant.

Also, of course, any formal conversation with a representative of an organisation that you’d like to work for should be treated with care and respect, as you simply don’t know how that conversation will be reported and made use of internally.

Another point to bear in mind is that many line managers are now trained to ask HR-style questions, so even in the absence of a dedicated HR professional their perspective may well still be represented.

“Some people don’t take the HR element as seriously as they should,” warns Özlem Simsek, Managing Director Belgium. “But in some institutions where the HR person is really embedded in the business and takes a very hands-on approach, they can actually have a power of veto on chemistry grounds over a candidate who is otherwise technically competent.” This is one area where a recruitment consultant can really add value, she says: “A good consultant will know the companies they’re working with, and understand the different approach and potential influence of the HR function in each.”

Two different styles of questions to prepare for

HR interviews tend to be more driven by company values, while interviews with line managers are more operationally and skills focused. Make sure to tailor your answers accordingly in order to appeal to each interview style.

Think of the line manager as someone who used to do your job, and now manages his or her successors. “When you meet with a line manager, they know the ins and outs of the actual role. They’re more about the nitty-gritty, more process-driven,” says Özlem. The HR manager, on the other hand, is looking at your potential appointment in the wider context of the company as a whole. Will you fit into the culture? Will you support and nurture its values? Do you have the potential to develop yourself and eventually others too? Are you likely to be happy with the sort of package on offer?

While the line manager wants to know if you can do the job, the HR manager wants to know what you’re like. “The line manager will want to drill straight down into the detail of the work, but with an HR manager you can expect more of a focus on soft and transferrable skills,” advises Ozlem. “So be prepared for a lot more questions like ‘Why are you interested in our firm?’, ‘How much do you know about us?’ and ‘What skills can you bring?’”

Candidates in HR interviews are also likely to be asked competency-based questions using the STAR technique, such as: “Tell us about a time when you experienced conflict at work and how you dealt with it”. “These can sometimes trip people up because they can’t be answered in a simple formulaic way, but you can at least try and anticipate likely scenarios that you might be asked about,” adds Özlem.

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