Nailing the HRD interview

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HRD interviews are rigorous and candidates must be ready to answer difficult questions

The importance of HR has increased in the last decade, and there has been a shift from purely operational to broader, strategic roles. Senior HR positions are now integral to the leadership and development of organisations across all sectors. Given their growing strategic imperative, the process of hiring a HR director is intense. So how do organisations separate the good from the bad, and so how should HRDs prepare for the interview process?

A standout feature of a good HRD is a high level of emotional intelligence. They are able to identify individual issues and determine whether they are appropriate to escalate, bearing in mind the strategic objectives of the organisation. Secondly, they are invested in HR – they deeply understand its importance to the organisation and its leadership. Thirdly, they think creatively about the deployment of skills in an organisation. They carefully consider how people can be developed throughout the business so that talent is successfully retained. Finally, they cope with the pressure of dealing with the unexpected.

HRD interviews are rigorous and candidates must be ready to answer difficult questions to demonstrate that they are right for the role. Here are some areas that might come up:

  • How do you strike a balance between being supportive while also being the last word on performance?

There are always tensions in the HRD role. Organisations will be looking to make sure their HRD can strike a balance between the two key areas of their job – supporting the workforce and managing performance.

  • Technology is rapidly changing how people work and disrupting HR. How will you remain relevant?

Organisations in both public and private sectors deal with a lot of change and restructuring, so employers are looking to ensure candidates are aware of the latest HR trends. Technology will radically disrupt HR so candidates should keep their professional knowledge up-to-date to show they are moving with the times. They must be ready to demonstrate continual learning and communicate what they have done to influence the role of HR.

  • How have you tackled difficult people situations? What did you learn? Can you talk us through a situation where you ‘saved the day’?

Senior-level people issues have to be handled at the same time as working strategically across the whole organisation, usually as part of the executive team. Some HRDs might feel very conflicted if they are caught between the chair and chief executive. For example, if there is an issue with the chief executive’s performance, the HRD must still support them in delivering their mandate. Candidates should be ready to discuss such situations and show what they have learned – demonstrating lateral thinking will be key.

  • What have you done to influence cultures in organisations? What have you done to make sure that you are influencing people you don’t deal with individually?

Culture is a massive area for the HRD. HR roles are becoming much more influential here so expect this to be covered in an interview.

  • Social media is driving the democratisation of work. How are you helping to build effective organisational cultures that support this?

Social media is changing the world we live in and how we work, so organisations will be looking to see that the candidate recognises the impact of social media on organisational culture, especially with increasingly multi-generational workforces. They will want to hear about how social media could and should be used for knowledge sharing, innovation and employee engagement.

  • How do you ensure that you do your job in an inclusive way?

Excellent HRDs handle an exceptional range of issues and perform different roles for and with different employee groups and interests. With hundreds or thousands of staff they have both granular and high-level strategic issues to deal with. Organisations want to know how an HRD candidate will balance all these different roles while still managing to foster a culture of inclusion.

  • What would you do if...?

Be prepared to respond to challenging scenario-based questions.

Dealing with the unexpected is a huge challenge for HRDs, especially when tensions are rife and change continual. If you're considering a move think about how you can demonstrate your influencing skills and be ready to give examples of where you have solved organisational or people problems effectively. Remember that great HRDs stand out because of their skills and willingness to adapt to change.

Juliet Taylor is a partner and head of education and not for profit practices at GatenbySanderson

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