When you’re looking for a new role, every interview offers a chance to gather more information about the job, the company, and the opportunity. And the more information you gather during the interview process, the better equipped you’ll be to evaluate the position — and decide whether or not it’s the right fit for you. But in order to get the information you need to make an informed decision, you have to ask the right questions.
When you’re interviewing for an HR role, you want to make sure you have all the information you need to land in a position — and at a company — that aligns with your goals and career path. To help you get those answers, here are six key questions to ask when you’re interviewing for a role in Human Resources.
6 Key Questions to Ask When Interviewing for an HR Position
1. What do you see as HR’s most important role in this company?
Different organizations have different ways of viewing Human Resources. Before you decide whether an opportunity is the right fit for you, it’s important to ask your interviewer how HR functions within the company.
“This will give you very meaningful information about how the HR department is viewed by the company,” said Matt Erhard, Managing Partner at Vancouver-based recruiting firm Summit Search Group. “Some companies have an active HR department that focuses on improving the employee experience, while in others it’s seen to have a more administrative [or] logistical role. These can be very different work environments suited to different styles of employee, so it’s important to know which you’re getting into before you accept the job.”
Understanding the function of HR within the company you’re interviewing for can give you key insights into what you can expect from the position, which can help you better evaluate whether it’s the right role for you.
2. What are the main responsibilities of this position?
Understanding the function of HR within the organization is important, but it’s also essential to understand the function of the role you’re interviewing for. Because HR can mean different things to different companies, a title like ‘HR manager’ can translate into a wide variety of responsibilities.
Before you decide whether you want to move forward with an opportunity, make sure to ask your interviewer to walk you through the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. For example, will you be spending the majority of your time managing payroll and benefits, or is the role more focused on improving employee experience (e.g. developing employee wellness programs or coordinating learning and development trainings)?
The more you know about the responsibilities of the role you’re interviewing for, the better you’ll be able to determine whether that position is what you really want to be doing. So make sure to ask your interviewer for details about what tasks and responsibilities you’d be managing day in and day out.
3. Does your organization have a Chief Human Resources Officer?
As an HR professional, you want to work for a company that values Human Resources and includes their HR team in their strategy and decision-making processes. A great way to gauge HR’s influence in an organization is whether or not the company has an HR officer on their executive team, like a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief People Officer (CPO).
“It’s key for HR professionals to ask about and evaluate the extent to which HR ‘has a seat at the leadership table’ in an organization,” advised Justin Wiegand, PhD, faculty member at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University and founder of HR consultancy SiftHR. “An HR professional interviewing for a new job should figure out right away whether the organization’s leadership team they’re interviewing with includes an HR officer — and if not, why?”
Ask your interviewer whether Human Resources is represented on the company’s leadership team. If so, you can reasonably assume that HR has significant influence within the organization, and that, as an HR professional, you’ll have the opportunity to affect real change. On the flip side, if they don’t — and don’t have any plans to include HR in leadership in the future — it could be a red flag that you’ll end up feeling frustrated in the role.
“Organizations without HR in the strategy-setting mix are likely to result in frustrated HR professionals who feel hamstrung,” cautioned Wiegand.
4. How do you see this company changing in the next five years?
HR’s function can change as a company grows, evolves, and expands. Therefore, it’s important to ask about a company’s growth plans during the interview.
“A company that’s actively growing or planning to expand will face different HR challenges than a more static workforce,” explained Erhard, “so knowing what’s in the company’s future can help you decide whether it’s an environment where you can thrive long-term.”
Understanding how a company plans to grow over the next five years will give you insights into what the role might entail, and whether it’s a place you want to be. For instance, if the organization you’re interviewing with plans to scale the company from 15 employees to 500 over the next five years, chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of time on employee onboarding.
“You can also learn more about the values, mission, and goals of the company by how the interviewer answers this question, helping you gauge whether it’s a culture you’d mesh with,” said Erhard. If your interviewer tells you that a top HR priority over the next five years is to overhaul their hiring practices to bring in more diverse candidates, for example, you’ll know the organization values diversity and inclusion (D&I).
5. What is the growth potential of this position?
Just like you want to ask your interviewer about the growth trajectory of the company, you also want to ask about the growth trajectory of the position.
Ask your interviewer how they see the position growing and whether there’s opportunity for advancement in the future. For instance, if you’re interviewing for an HR coordinator position, you could ask if there will eventually be an opportunity to get promoted into an HR manager role. While there’s nothing wrong with settling into a particular position or role, if you do want to advance in your career, you need to know from the get-go whether those advancement opportunities will be available, or you could wind up unfulfilled, stagnated, and disappointed.
6. What is the most challenging aspect of this role?
Every job has its challenges. But before you commit to a position, it’s crucial to have a sense of what the particular challenges of this job will be. So ask your interviewer to talk through the most challenging aspect (or aspects) of the role before you make a decision.
“Seeing a list of the job responsibilities doesn’t always give you the complete picture about the demands of a job,” Erhard noted. “This question can help you determine whether your skills are a good match.”
For example, if you find out the most challenging aspect of the role is learning to navigate the company’s complex HR systems and software and you’re not a particularly tech-savvy person, you might not be happy in this role. Conversely, if the biggest challenge associated with the position is juggling multiple HR-related priorities and you consider yourself a master multitasker, the position could be a perfect match for your skillset.
This question can also help you “get some insight into the culture by how [the interviewer] answers,” Erhard pointed out. “For example, it’s a potential red flag of a toxic culture if they use adversarial language about leadership or employees [like saying the CEO is difficult or demanding].”
Most of us go into interviews worrying about how we will portray ourselves and what the interviewer will think of us. But interviews are actually a two-way street — and a prime opportunity to get the information you need to decide whether a particular job is right for you. As much as the company is learning about you, you’re there to learn about the organization, too. These six questions will help you gather the necessary information to make an informed decision about whether or not a given position, and company, is where you want to be. And when you know the right questions to ask, you can walk into your next interview confident and prepared — and walk out with the insights you need to make the best choice for yourself and your career.