For the last two and a half years, I have recruited top HR talent in the Chicagoland area. Several times a week one of my candidates remarks something to the effect of "Wow, it's really weird being on the other side of the questions" during or after their initial interview with me.
I've learned HR professionals often aren’t as prepared as they could be for interviews. They assume their experience on the hiring side of the table means they have mastered interviewing skills. But it’s still possible for HR professionals to make mistakes, and what is worse, HR professionals usually hold each other to higher standards. Mistakes and unpreparedness can disqualify an HR candidate faster than in any other business sector because "the candidate should have known better."
Regardless of whether they’re an entry level candidate, a seasoned recruiter, or an executive level HR professional, HR professionals should prepare before their next interview. Here are 6 tips on how to ace the interview, from the other side of the table:
1. Never assume it’s the same process
Never assume the interview process at prospective employer will mirror that of a current employer. Avoid this assumption by over-preparing: candidates should print their resume in case the company doesn't have one already printed. Come suited even if it's a casual work environment. Be prepared to sit in an uncomfortable chair or to not be offered water or coffee, or not get a tour of the office.
If any of these awkward moments happen during the interview, don’t assume it's a terrible place to work. The company may not realize how their interview process comes across to candidates. If the HR candidate gets hired, they will already have a great suggestion of how to improve the company's candidate experience!
2. Don’t assume they interview the same
Just because HR professionals conduct an interview in a particular way does not mean the interviewer will do the same. Be prepared for any style whether it's behavioral, stress, structured or unstructured.
Look up the interviewer on LinkedIn…it will help you be more prepared and knowledgeable.
If candidates go into an interview with someone and don't know they went to the same school, were both college athletes, or worked at the same company but three years apart, they are failing themselves and losing out on a valuable talking point. The interviewer may bring it up, and then the candidate is a deer caught in the headlights, and they’re toast.
3. Take advantage of your interviewing background
Most HR professionals have a list of questions they ask candidates in every interview, but do they have answers to those questions? Have they sufficiently researched the company and people they’re interviewing with? Are they holding themselves to the same standard as they hold their own candidates?
Most HR veterans have met all-star interviewees in their time. Learn from them! What stood out about those candidates? What can be mimicked about them? Have a list of questions prepared to ask the interviewer, and use the best questions you've been asked!
4. Don't overstate experience
HR professionals interview all day long. They also are among the best networkers in the business. Chances are, the person candidate’s interview with has either interviewed someone from the same company or knows someone in the company's HR team, possibly the candidate’s direct boss. If HR candidates overstate their experience, the interviewer will know.
5. …but don't understate experience either
If a candidate’s title is HR Generalist and they’re interviewing with the HR Manager, they may assume the HRM knows what their responsibilities are… after all, a generalist is a generalist, right?
Wrong. Titles may mean different things at different companies, so have a breakdown of how time was spent in previous positions, and have detailed examples of the projects you were involved in for each "bucket."
6. Beware of the conversational interview
An HR-specific pitfall I’ve observed is when HR professionals feel immediately comfortable with their peers in an interview, and the conversation flows. This can be a great thing, and I highly recommend they let their personality show, demonstrating to the interviewer how they would be a great fit within the team.
However, candidates often get too casual. They let slip a confidential matter which may be a big red flag to the prospective employer. They will talk. Way. Too. Much. And most importantly they will spend so much time being chatty that they won't do what they came there to do: highlight their experience, make a case for themselves, and share examples of past accomplishments and future potential in a new organization.
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