Your human resources (HR) department is integral to your organization’s success. Therefore, hiring HR professionals with the right skills who align with your company’s mission and values is essential. To discover the best HR candidates for your organization, you need to conduct effective HR interviews with interview questions that are not solely focused on abilities but also address attitude and culture fit.
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10 best HR interview questions to ask candidates
The questions you ask in an HR interview tell you a lot about a candidate’s work experience and ability to fit in with the role and organization. Strategically ask questions that will help you identify pertinent information like skill capability, attitude, responsibility and cultural fit. We spoke with several small business owners and HR experts to identify the top interview questions you should ask in every HR interview. [Related article: Why HR’s Organizational Structure Matters]
1. Describe a time you had a conflict with a fellow employee and how you resolved it.
“One of HR’s main roles in any workplace is to help mediate these kinds of conflicts, so gauging the candidate’s familiarity and comfort with workplace conflict is key to finding the best candidate.” – Darrell Rosenstein, managing partner at The Rosenstein Group
2. Tell us about a time you failed, how you handled it and what it taught you.
“This gives you the chance to see how the candidate manages risk and how honest, vulnerable and humble a candidate is about their mistakes or failures. Someone who pretends like it was all fine or who blames external circumstances without taking any responsibility will send up red flags. It also lets you see how reflective the candidate is, how well they handle criticism and rejection, how resilient they are through their actions following the failure (such as, did they try again? Why or why not?) and whether they acknowledge the role of others in their successes and failures – no one does anything totally alone and credit goes a long way and [it] also speaks to the character of the candidate.” – Alari Aho, founder of Toggl
3. What have you learned about yourself in the last week?
“This is a great question that can really help you get the sense of a person’s focus and motivation. We all continue to grow and learn every day, so asking somebody to introspectively think about this on the spot can give you an impression of how well they are able to self-manage, learn and change when they need to while also giving you an impression on which areas they believe to be important (such as Is it something work-related? Self-care related? Skill-related?) There is not necessarily a correct answer but can help a candidate to open up and for you to learn more about them.” – Andrew Roderick, CEO of CreditRepairCompanies.com
4. Give me an example of a time when you had to win over a key decision-maker to your way of thinking.
“The ability to influence effectively is an important part of being a successful HR business partner at any level within an organization. You need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the challenge and show how you communicated your idea effectively. What proof did you require to know that this had been achieved?” – Sue O’Donovan, managing consultant for HR recruitment at Nigel Wright Recruitment
5. Describe your previous/current company from when you were hired and what improvements you made while you were there.
“Their answer will tell you a few things so listen closely. Are they using I’s and me’s or are they crediting their team and others? Have they changed the company at all from the time they initially joined? Using this question will uncover things about the way that person works with others and their ability to bring change to an organization ― both being vital qualities for role success.” – George C. Mazzella, director of business development at Aspiration and investor in Loft Orbital, Peek and Diamond Age
Teamwork is crucial to workplace success. Your HR rep is responsible for improving teams and company culture. As such, hiring an HR rep who can successfully work with others to impact an organization is key to building strong cross-cultural teams.
6. How would you spend your first week on the job here?
“This question can open up so many doors to learning more about how a person works and what they believe to be key focuses for joining a new team, giving you a clearer idea of how they might work and how this suits your business. For example, they might say that they will focus on researching what was done in the past, showing that they have a focus on details and won’t change something just to stamp their authority on it. They might discuss getting to know the team and learning about the dynamics and roles, showing you that they are a team player and will probably work well with everyone. There are good and bad points to each answer, but it helps you see which fits more with your style.” – Jase Rodley, founder of Dialed Labs
7. What career achievement do you feel most proud of?
“While it’s necessary to find someone who will do the job effectively, you would still like to recruit a person who is proud of their work. By encouraging the nominee to share their favorite job accomplishments, you give them a chance to share their career highlights … you understand the way of working that makes them feel happy and [are able to] decide if they are comfortable with what their position would involve.” – Matt Scott, owner of Termite Survey
8. What would you do in this hypothetical scenario? (give scenario)
“How well does the candidate come up with a solution? How long does he or she take to answer? Does he or she appear confident in the answer? Is the proposed solution something you would actually recommend yourself or is it totally off base? Don’t just pay attention to the answers; examine the applicant’s mannerisms as well. Body language and tone instantly tell you if he or she is the confident type, a natural orator or a nervous wreck.” – Antti Alatalo, CEO and founder of Smart Watches 4 U
Body language can reveal a lot about a person regardless of their job title and nonverbal communication can impact individual and company success. Check out our article on common body language mistakes to avoid in the workplace.
9. Pitch our product to me as if I was a prospective customer.
“This challenges the candidate not only to show they have researched our company but to demonstrate they can craft a persuasive message that shows an understanding of our customer and how our product benefits them. The delivery is not as important as being able to show that they can identify with our culture and core values.” – Gilad Rom, founder of Huan
10. If I let you run this business for a year, what would you change?
“This lets me know two things: First, did the candidate actually research my company? If they can’t answer the question, then they probably didn’t, which usually isn’t a good sign. Second, the question lets me know what a candidate might do in my business if left unsupervised. If our visions align or if I can see how their way of thinking can benefit the company, that’s a big plus.” – Tory Gray, CEO and founder of The Gray Dot Company
These questions are a jumping-off point. You want to tailor your HR interview questions to your company goals and the specific job position you are trying to fill. Avoid asking discriminating questions that violate equal employment laws, such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age and disability.
How to prepare for an HR interview
To get the most out of each HR interview, create a standardized hiring process that remains the same across all candidates. Here are a few steps you can take in that preparation process:
- Review the candidate’s information: Before each interview, review the candidate’s resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile and other supporting documents. This will teach you basic information about the candidate so you’re not wasting time asking questions to which you already have the answer. It also lets you identify any immediate concerns you may want to ask the candidate about.
- Prepare a list of standardized interview questions: Create a standardized list of questions to ask each job candidate. This allows you to facilitate a fair and equitable hiring process, making it easier to compare candidates directly. Consider the list of questions above.
- Create a unified interview panel: If you have a panel of people conducting interviews with one candidate, make sure each interviewer is informed and properly prepared to address their specific section of the interview. Having a unified interview panel is the best way to get a comprehensive review of each candidate.
- Prepare interview answers: In addition to having solid job interview questions, prepare interview answers. Candidates will want to know general information like the job description, salary (pay range) and benefits, so be armed with this information.
Another essential component to creating a fair and thorough HR interview process is time. Set aside a designated amount of time for the interview so you can give the interviewee your full attention. The average interview runs between 45 minutes and an hour.
An HR person can impact your business significantly. However, if you’re not sure if your business needs to hire an HR professional just yet, here are 7 signs it’s time to hire your first HR person.
Importance of the HR interview
HR does a lot more than simply resolve employee conflicts. An HR manager is responsible for important functions like maintaining legal compliance; managing payroll; administering employee benefits; creating an employee handbook; developing company culture; and recruiting, hiring and onboarding new employees. Because of this, you must conduct effective, legal and nonbiased HR interviews to ensure you have the right people in place to help run your business.
An interview is a two-way street ― a candidate is interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them. A good HR interview process with the right questions can attract the best HR professionals and ensure you do not make a bad hire.
Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.