As a job seeker, you can often expect to speak with an HR professional before moving onto interviews with employees within the department for which you’re applying.
It’s critical you prepare well for your HR interview. Oftentimes, a company uses their HR department to screen candidates and decide which candidates are most qualified to move forward in the interview process.
But an HR professional has different goals when interviewing than your direct hiring manager does. While your hiring manager will ask questions specific to the role, the HR professional is interested in gaining broader insights regarding culture fit and whether you demonstrate the company’s values.
I spoke with Alexa Matthews, a recruiter here at HubSpot, who pointed out some additional benefits to the screening process — “It’s an opportunity for a great first impression. In the first call, a candidate can often convey things that are not written on their resume. We take that information so that we can be their advocate and make recommendations to hiring managers throughout the process.”
Additionally, Alexa mentioned initial interview screens help candidates learn more about the role and evaluate their interest in the company. At the same time, these initial interviews help HR professionals set a candidate up for success, by learning what is required of the role, and providing the candidate with feedback throughout all stages of the interview process.
To help you prepare for any questions you might receiving from an HR professional, we’ve cultivated a list of nine, along with the best sample answers.
HR Interview Questions and Answers
1. Tell me about yourself.
One of the more traditional questions in this list, “Tell me about yourself” is nonetheless a helpful question for HR professionals to get a sense for how this conversation will go, and in which direction they should steer future questions.
Ultimately, you’ll want to be prepared to describe past roles, how those roles demonstrate your strengths, and what you want in a company and role moving forward. Additionally, make sure to include why you believe this role is a good match for your talents.
You might say something like, “Well, I graduated from ABC University in 2015. Since then, I’ve worked my way up at Company X, from an intern blogging on the content team to an Associate SEO Strategist. Along the way, I’ve learned I work best in collaboration with a team, as opposed to more solitary roles. As an SEO strategist, I’ve discovered I enjoy the analytical side of marketing, and possess strengths that allow me to excel in those types of roles — in fact, as a result of my SEO efforts, traffic to our site has increased 13% over the past two years. I’m now looking for new challenges and believe your company, and this role, is a fantastic next step.”
2. Why are you interested in this position?
This question is a critical indicator as to whether you’re interested in this company and role in particular, or whether you’re simply applying to any role in the field. For instance, it’s not a good sign if you say, “Well, I’m interested in social media, so this role seemed like a good fit.” Instead, you want to mention specific qualifications of the role itself, and demonstrate how those qualifications align with your personal strengths. Additionally, it’s important you mention how you can help drive results for the team.
For instance, you might say, “Through my last role I’ve learned I’m passionate about creating content for social media. I’ve managed to grow our Instagram audience by 7%, and with my team I created a successful Facebook campaign that cultivated an increase in sales by 12%. I’ve followed your business on Instagram and Facebook for a few years and appreciate your brand — more importantly, I see this role as one in which I’d truly be challenged and able to use my strengths. In particular, I believe I’d excel in the client-facing aspect of the role. Meeting with clients to collaborate on social media marketing objectives and goals is something I believe I’d find exciting and purposeful.”
3. Why are you leaving your current job?
This is an opportunity to outline positive benefits you hope to gain by transitioning into a new role. However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make when answering this question is focusing on negative aspects of your current employer, rather than discussing positive aspects of the new company.
An HR professional will mark it as a red flag if you talk poorly about your current employer or company. It illustrates someone who isn’t very professional, has a negative attitude, and could bring toxic energy into their new work environment.
To avoid those traps, say something like this — “I appreciate everything my current employer has done to help me grow, and I believe working for a small start-up over the past year has helped me develop leadership skills earlier than I could’ve at a larger corporation. However, I am now interested in transferring the skills I’ve acquired here to a larger organization, where I believe I’ll find more growth opportunities in the future.”
4. Can you describe a work or school instance in which you messed up?
This is an intentionally tricky question. It’s meant to glean insight into whether you can learn from past mistakes. If you can’t think of any past errors, it could be an indicator you aren’t capable of accepting responsibility for your own mistakes. However, creating a long list of past mishaps could make you look unqualified for the role.
You’ll want to answer this question succinctly, and point out an error that doesn’t represent a lack of character. Consider one, well-intentioned error you’ve had in the past, mention it, and then talk about how you grew from that experience.
For instance, you might say, “In my prior role when I first became manager, I took on too many tasks myself and quickly became both overwhelmed, and less efficient in my role. Additionally, my team members were frustrated because they felt there was a lack of collaboration on our team. I quickly recognized I needed to learn to delegate tasks and collaborate on projects with teammates, and became a more successful manager as a result.”
5. Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict with a co-worker and how you dealt with it.
The HR professional isn’t interested in hearing about that time your co-worker said something snide about you in the kitchen, or when your manager overheard you gossiping about a client to a friend.
Instead, this question is asked to gain insight into how you handle professional conflict. At the office, conflict is bound to arise, particularly when you’re working closely with many different people. It’s critical you know how to handle conflict without pointing fingers. Your answer should primarily focus on the solution, and should show a level of empathy towards your colleagues, rather than focusing on the problem.
You might say something like, “I had a deadline I needed to meet, and I was working with a designer who promised me her designs in time. When the deadline approached, my designer wasn’t ready. It made us both look poorly in front of our clients. To resolve the issue, I discussed the problem privately with my designer. She told me she was stressed out and overwhelmed, and simply needed another week on the project. I told her that was fine with me, but in the future, we needed to be transparent and honest with each other. Moving forward, we established guidelines and became more efficient teammates.”
6. What do you know about our company?
This is a fantastic opportunity to impress the interviewer. Ultimately, this question aims to gauge your level of interest in the company. The more you’ve researched prior accomplishments, company values, and basic information regarding the product or service, the more you can demonstrate a genuine desire to work there.
For instance, you might say, “I know your company is ranked the number one web design firm in Massachusetts. Your mission statement in particular appeals to me. I also know your company emphasizes continual learning and growth, two aspects I find incredibly exciting. I’ve spoken to Jen and Mark, two marketers at your company, and they’ve described the work environment as one full of passion and innovation — which is something I hope to find in my next role.”
7. How would you improve our current product or service?
An HR professional wants to know whether you’re innovative, a quick-thinker, and if you’ll bring new ideas to the role. There isn’t necessarily a wrong answer, here — you just need to show some creativity, and planning in advance will help. Consider potential problems they might be experiencing with their product or service, and how your unique skill set can fill that void.
For instance, you might say, “I’ve noticed your product is in English, without current translation options. I believe your product could benefit from multilingual translations, which would help you appeal to a wider demographic. This could help you become more of a global leader. As someone who is fluent in French and Spanish, I’d like to potentially help spearhead a project that moves the product in that direction.”
8. How would your current manager describe you?
It can be awkward to brag about yourself, so while this question may seem weird, it’s really the HR professional’s tactic for hearing how your current boss views you in a work environment. To feel less uncomfortable answering this question, thoughtfully consider your last performance review, and use direct quotes from your boss in your answer.
For instance, you might say, “Well, during my last performance review, my current manager told me she appreciates how quickly I take constructive feedback and use it to improve in my role. She’s grateful that she never needs to repeat areas of improvement to me — once she gives me feedback, I take it seriously and make sure she never needs to bring it up again. She has also described me as diligent and trustworthy, two aspects I believe are critical for excelling in any role.”
9. What questions do you have for me?
When an HR professional asks you this question, you might be eager to end the call and say, “Nope, no questions.” This would be a mistake. Having thoughtful, smart, strategic questions demonstrates your interest in the role, as well as your potential value as a future employee. They want to hire candidates who will ask questions and move the company forward, and this can’t happen if you accept everything as-is.
At this stage, you should consider what your genuine concerns are regarding the role. You might ask the interviewer, “What are the company’s values? What characteristics do you look for in candidates in order to represent those values?” Or, perhaps you’ll say, “What do you enjoy most about working at Company A?”
Additionally, you might ask questions regarding the role specifically, like “What do you see as the most challenging aspect of the role?” or “Are there opportunities for professional development within the role and department as a whole?”
Ultimately, an interview isn’t just about allowing an HR professional to form an opinion of you — it’s also a chance for you to get a strong sense for whether you even want to work for the company. So use this last question to your advantage.