Five tips for acing a HR job interview

by Janie Smith10 Jul 2014
Regardless of how long you’ve been in the HR profession, chances are you’ve conducted job interviews – maybe a couple, maybe a couple of hundred.

You know what you’re looking for in candidates, how you want them to respond to questions and behave during the interview process.

So being a recruitment expert must make you a pro at being interviewed for HR jobs, right?


Jo Skipper, director of the HR recruitment company The Next Step’s Melbourne office, told HC that client feedback highlighted a number of areas in which HR candidates stumbled in job interviews.

1.Be prepared

It sounds like Jobseeking 101, but make sure you research the company and if possible, the person who will be interviewing you.

“There are lots of tools to get access to that information on the internet. Reach into your networks to find out what they know about the company,” said Skipper.

She suggested going back to a basic interview preparation, utilising STAR technique – situation, task, activity, result – to constantly bring the focus back to what you have achieved and how you achieved it.

2.Don’t just regurgitate your background

“What we tend to find is in a softer market, like it has been, where there are a lot of people competing for roles, candidates get so excited about the opportunity to share their background and experience and just want get it out in one hour, they hardly stop to draw a breath. That’s the biggest piece of feedback that I get from clients,” said Skipper.

It’s important to remember that the interviewer has questions and doesn’t want the candidate to simply regurgitate their entire life experience, she said.

Instead, think about breaking down your career into relevant chunks.

“If you’ve got a 20-year career and you’re asked to tell someone about your career journey, you can chunk it into things like your foundation career, where you got the skills and experience that set you on the path towards phase two, the next horizon, when you maybe moved into a management role.

“Think about a couple of pieces you want to share about that phase two role, and if you’re in your third horizon, an executive role, what are some key components you’ve been able to demonstrate in that third horizon?”

3.Explain the “why”

Skipper said HR candidates needed to be able to demonstrate business acumen as well as technical expertise in an interview.

“A lot of the time, that’s linking to the “why” – if you’re going to implement a particular strategy or you’re about to do something, there’s always a reason why, but often in interviews, candidates don’t communicate what the reason was.

“If you’re about to go through an organisational change or you’ve implemented a new cultural initiative, what was the reason? Why was HR required to take the organisation from A to B? For an external person, they want to know the why. Lots of people forget to do it.”

4.Match your experience to the company’s needs

Candidates should look at the themes running through organisation and focus on where their background matches one or two of those themes, rather than the scatter gun approach of, ‘Let me tell you about 20 things I can do’, said Skipper.

“The person sitting in front of them really wants to think, ‘They’ve got some really deep skills in some areas I’m particularly focused on, that are keeping me awake at night’.”

5.Talk numbers

The easiest way to communicate what your role was in interacting with the business and how you built that relationship is to bring some of the numbers into the conversation, said Skipper.

“When you’re talking about restructure or reorganisation, instead of talking about making 50 people redundant, talk about how by this organisational change, the cost saving was XYZ. Or by relocating a contact centre to a lower-cost area, this is what the business saved.

“Talk about it in revenue savings or the increase in customer satisfaction. By HR delivering on one or two components, how did that change the employee engagement score or the external customer net promoter score?”

Talk in commercial-style language rather than HR jargon and make sure your points are results-focused.

And remember to keep it simple.

“Often HR [professionals] like to demonstrate their knowledge and experience because we’re very passionate and it’s a knowledge-based profession – people get into HR because they are interested in organisational dynamics, people, psychology, all of those complexities. It’s broadening that out into how all of those components make an organisation much more effective than it
had been previously.”  


  • by Matilda 14/07/2014 9:40:14 AM

    I am one good example of this. Several years in HR and have done major restuctures and undertaken many HR projects in a temporary capacity but when I am on the other side of the fence being interviewed I get very nervous and bable, its so embrassing and I just can't seem to overcome this as such I am still actively seeking a permanent HR role. I prepare for interviews very well and have my examples but every panel lool fo rdifferent things, I take the feedback received on board and prepare for the next interview but it will not be good enough. I've walked away confident at some interviews but was not successful because the panel was looking for something different than what I have given.

  • by Delia 15/07/2014 12:54:50 PM

    Matilda, at next interview, try interviewing them! Ask what they are particularly seeking, what attributes; then you can pitch yourself accordingly. My sister did this; and then said that she didn't think she was what they needed; her skill set was more suited to other aspects of the particular occupation; and thanked them for their time. They were so impressed, not only did she get the role, they streamlined the tasks to suit her abilities. While it may not always work out that way, there is no harm in trying. Good luck.

  • by Matilda 18/07/2014 1:42:31 PM

    thank you will give it a go

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