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How to answer common interview questions for HR roles

HR professionals need to be a great many things at once: organised, friendly, efficient, reliable, diplomatic, and much more besides. So, in their search for the right candidate, interviewers need to present questions that explore and test these characteristics.

Researching the type of questions you may be asked and preparing how you will answer them successfully is a great way to ensure you feel confident and able to make the very best impression throughout your interview.

There is a good chance that many of the questions will be scenario or example based but this is nothing to worry about. Throughout your career so far, you will have faced numerous challenges, encountered many people and honed your problem-solving skills to a fine art. Therefore, finding an example shouldn’t be an issue, deciding which one you will use could be more of a challenge.

Q. What skills do you need to be a successful HR professional?

It may seem like a strange question, after all they know what skills they are looking for so why ask? Well, this question isn’t quite what it seems, it is designed to test your understanding of what makes HR different, not necessarily the general skills required. It goes without saying that you need to be hard-working and a team player, but these characteristics are not unique to the profession. Think instead about traits that stand out, such as:

Diplomacy – you will be handling sensitive issues on a regular basis.

Diligence – working on important contracts and documents means attention to detail is vital.

Communication – all employees need to communicate well, but in HR, communication and active listening skills are everything.

Flexibility – unexpected challenges will happen often, so flexibility is essential.

This is just an overview of some of the essential traits that make you an excellent HR professional, no doubt you can think of plenty more things you do that mark you out from other professions. Top marks if you can back them up with examples of how you have used them in your past experiences.

Q. How have you dealt with a difficult HR challenge?

A version of this question will almost certainly be asked. As an HR professional you need to be a logical, tactful problem-solver so the interviewer is looking for some insight into how you have exercised these skills in your past experiences.

Take this opportunity to show off your problem-solving skills using a particularly difficult challenge. Select a problem you didn’t cause but that you did solve. Ensure that it can be explained quickly and simply with insights into what your resolution options were, why you chose the option you did, and what the result was.

Q. Why are you leaving your current job?

This is a question designed to test your diplomacy. Talk negatively about your current employer, and you may come across as tactless, but honesty is always the best policy, so you need to find a way of providing a positive reason for leaving without fabrication. Something involving progression is the obvious choice, with a focus on developing skills and facing new challenges rather than money or simply boosting your CV.

To avoid any negativity, it may be worth saying some positive things about your current employer. Talk about the things you’ve liked, and how they’ve helped you develop. And then use this as a foundation to explain how and why you want to develop further.

Q. What are your career ambitions?

This is a common and vitally important question that requires a carefully balanced answer. Ambition is an attractive quality; it suggests an eagerness to learn and develop. However, being overly ambitious can be quite the opposite.

Talk about why you like the HR profession and what you aim to achieve, perhaps even why you chose HR as an industry.  

Q. How do you accept criticism?

This question seeks to examine how balanced and reasonable you are. As an HR professional feedback is something you will be handling often, some of which may well be directed at you. It is easy to answer simply with ‘all feedback is welcome, and you use it constructively and rationally’. No doubt this will be the same answer given by every candidate so do try to expand on yours. Focus on why criticism is a good thing; how open debate typically encourages a resolution, even if you initially disagree with the criticism. Overall, we come back to think terms of skills and development rather than specific roles and companies.

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