Many candidates think of their prospective interviewer as falling squarely into the line manager category – full of tough questions about the job. But they may also have to face a HR manager, who has a different perspective but needs to be taken just as seriously. Here’s why and how.
Professional interviewers can be broadly divided into two categories: line managers and HR managers.
Line managers tend to be experts in the role you’re interviewing for, and will ask questions of a technical or operational nature. HR managers, on the other hand, are more interested in the company’s values and culture, so they will be looking at things like team chemistry and transferrable skills.
Because candidates tend to see the HR interview as less obviously a test of their expertise, conducted by someone who doesn’t know the intricacies of the role, they can be tempted to dismiss it as a bit of a formality or a box-ticking exercise. But there are good reasons to take the HR element of selection just as seriously, and to make sure you are prepared for both types of questioning.
Why HR interviewers need to be taken seriously
In some companies, the HR interview takes place before the line manager’s interview. This means that HR can act as a powerful influence on the next round, especially where the interviewer is a senior member of staff of long standing and influence.
Line managers may well look to their HR colleague to help them decide between candidates with similar experience and expertise. In such a situation, other aspects of what you offer – such as your potential to integrate with a team, or how well you might fit in with the company’s culture and values – could suddenly become very significant.
Also, of course, any formal conversation with a representative of an organisation that you’d like to work for should be treated with care and respect, as you simply don’t know how that conversation will be reported and made use of internally.
Another point to bear in mind is that many line managers are now trained to ask HR-style questions, so even in the absence of a dedicated HR professional, their perspective may well still be represented.
Two different styles of questions to prepare for
HR interviews tend to be more focused on company values, while interviews with line managers will revolve around your skills and expertise – so you need to take care to tailor your answers accordingly.
Think of the line manager as someone who used to do your job, and now manages his or her successors. They know the full scope of your job, and what you need to be doing in your role. The HR manager, on the other hand, is looking at your potential appointment in the wider context of the company as a whole. Will you fit into the culture? Will you support and nurture its values? Do you have the potential to develop yourself and eventually others too? Are you likely to be happy with the sort of package on offer?
While the line manager wants to know if you can do the job, the HR manager wants to know what you’re like. “The line manager will want to know about your experience in the field, but with an HR manager, it’s more about your soft skills and career ambitions,” shares Laura Ojinaga, Manager for Sales & Marketing division. “Be prepared for questions such as ‘Why are you interested in our firm?’, ‘How much do you know about us?’ and ‘What skills can you bring?’”
Candidates in HR interviews are also likely to be asked competency-based questions such as, ‘Tell us about a time when you experienced conflict at work and how you dealt with it’. These can be tricky because they tend to be based on personal experience – so do prepare yourself for a variety of such questions beforehand.
Finally, Laura Ojinaga advises not to try and use the HR interview to negotiate your package. “Questions around compensation, bonus, job title, career progression, promotion and so on, should be directed to your recruiter first so you’re both aligned, allowing the recruiter to help you more effectively. The HR round should focus on asking about culture and showing that you want to invest yourself in your future employer.”
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