HR Careers

4 Interview Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer for a Role in HR

November 30, 2020
November 7, 2023
Catherine Tansey
Lattice Team

When you’re in Human Resources and looking to land your next job, the pressure’s on to nail your interview. After all, you know better than anyone the ins and outs of recruiting and interviewing top talent. But anxiety can creep in with the role reversal when the interviewer becomes the interviewee.

“The scrutiny on an HR candidate will be higher, since they should know how to design an effective interview — thus they should also have deep insight into how to succeed before, during, and after an interview,” said Tom Giberson, PhD, leadership professor at Oakland University and founder of leadership development firm Lead.Grow.Change.

As an HR professional, when you head into an interview the expectations are high, especially the ones you place on yourself. But with these tips, you’ll be able to relax, be present, and show off your expertise with confidence. Here are the four questions experts said you should be prepared to hear when you sit down for your next interview for a role in HR — and how to answer them.

1. How did your work measurably contribute to the success of your previous company? 

Plenty of HR professionals will tell you they went into HR because they love people, but ultimately, HR is a business function. And HR team members must be able to point to specific, measurable contributions to their company’s success.

“Most HR people I’ve interviewed over my career are quick to point out the superior customer service they provide to employees, which is important,” said Julie Jensen, founder and principal of HR consulting firm Moxie HR Strategies. “However, the CEO, CFO, and CHRO have a responsibility to align their work with strategic business objectives, and most positions in HR do (or should) have an impact on what’s important to them.”

Come prepared with your examples, and be ready to support them with stats and metrics. For instance, Jensen said, if you’re a compensation and benefits expert working for a company that had a two-year strategy around operational cost-cutting measures, you could highlight that you saw a need to cut annual benefits costs. You could then back that up with concrete actions you took, such as putting out a request for proposal for a new benefits broker to see if you could maintain the same level of insurance coverage but for less, and looking at multiple different brokerage firms for the most competitive offer. Lastly, highlight your results: selecting a benefits package from a new firm that not only cut annual costs by X%, but also allowed the company to add wellness programs and an employee assistance program, which employees appreciated and used routinely.

Being passionate about the ways you support employees is part of what makes you effective and empathetic in your role in HR — but being able to translate your passion and efforts into measurable business outcomes will help you shine as a candidate.

“So highlight this first, and then back it up with the impeccable service you provide employees,” Jensen said.

2. When’s a time you failed, and what did you learn from it?

As an HR professional yourself, you know that hiring managers want to gain an understanding of how a candidate has handled past mistakes or failures and what they’ve learned in the process. Prepare to answer a question about a failure or mistake by reflecting on how your past errors opened up opportunities for growth and development, and ultimately, how this growth resulted in a strength from which your new employer will benefit.

Larry Stybel, PhD, CEO and cofounder of leadership and career success firm Stybel Peabody Associates, suggested bringing some levity to the conversation once you’ve provided your answer.

“Make a joke about it,” Stybel said. “[You could say,] ‘I know in life I’ll continue to make mistakes because taking risks involves making mistakes. But I hope never to repeat that earlier failure again.’”

Be sincere and share a real lesson you’ve learned. This is a chance to reframe a past mistake and recast it in a positive light — and leverage the wisdom you’ve gleaned along the way to take a step forward in your career.

3. How did you help your organization respond during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Interviews reflect the most relevant aspects of a job, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to remain relevant in all our professional lives now, but especially for HR teams. When companies pivoted to remote work in March, it was HR that led the charge and managed the transition at many organizations.

“The perception of HR changed this year for many people, and I think organizations want to see that HR pros — especially at the senior level — were able to respond to both the tactical and strategic implications of the pandemic,” said Emily Goodson, founder and CEO of CultureSmart, a People and culture consultancy firm.

While Goodson noted that it’s especially important for high-level HR executives to be ready to share how they’ve helped their organization navigate the pandemic, she also said that HR team members at every level should be prepared with an answer to this question.

“My advice to newer professionals, or those who may not have worked directly on COVID-19 policies or culture-building activities related to the pandemic, is to think through what they would have done differently in this scenario compared to what they have seen in the market,” Goodson said.

4. What do you see as the top three trends in HR over the next three years?

Your answer to this question will illustrate your knowledge of the HR landscape and how it’s changed, as well as your willingness to stay up-to-date on current themes and best practices.

“Professionals immersed in the world of HR will be able to give detailed responses, perhaps [even] referring to trade magazines and journals,” said Tony Giacobbe, HR and talent acquisition leader at retirement residence company Amica Senior Lifestyles.

When researching in preparation for this question, you could read up on HR trends on The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) blog and the Lattice content library, for instance, both of which are robust online resources chock full of industry trends and actionable advice for HR professionals. Additionally, Bersin by Deloitte, a human capital management firm associated with Deloitte, is a well-organized, comprehensive resource for hard data, research-backed analysis, and HR industry projections.

Another tip: Use your Google search filters to limit results to the past six months when searching for articles online. COVID-19 has permanently changed business and life, rendering previously popular HR trends less relevant while thrusting others into the spotlight, so you want to make sure you’re focusing on the most current information.

As an example of the type of trend you might want to highlight in your interview, there’s been a new emphasis on collecting workforce data as it relates to not only workplace capability, but also employee health and wellbeing. The Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report noted that the COVID-19 pandemic galvanized the organizational need for easy access to the most relevant and timely workforce data. In the midst of the maelstrom of stress and anxiety that the global pandemic has wrought, the most relevant and timely data has become real-time information on how employees are faring and not just how they are performing.

By understanding the way the industry has changed and the trends that are likely to gain traction, you’ll be able to stand out in an interview and show that for you, working in HR is more than just a job; it’s a career, and one that you’re passionate about. And that’s a distinction your future employer is sure to take note of.

HR teams everywhere have had a challenging year. Managing the transition to remote work while supporting employees through these changes has made a dynamic role even more demanding. If you’re currently looking for a new job in this field, that’s an additional stressor.

Being prepared is the best way to combat those interview jitters. Following these tips and being ready to intelligently and thoughtfully answer these key questions will help you shine in your next job interview — and show any company why they’d be lucky to hire you.