When interviewing a human resources professional, be aware that they already know the answers an employer is looking for. Human resources professionals have experience developing standard interview questions and have a good grasp on what the "right" answers are to typical questions. If you want to avoid pat answers and really test the HR professional's skills, ask knowledge-related questions that require specific answers. Assess the applicant's competence by asking behavior-based questions to determine how she has dealt with past situations, and pose hypothetical questions to determine if the candidate's approach will be a good fit for the company.
Ethics and Values
Human resources professionals need to demonstrate the highest standards of ethical behavior. HR staff will be responsible for safeguarding confidential information, investigating complaints with impartiality and objectivity and negotiating sensitive issues. Ask the applicant about the reasons he chose the human resources field and to describe a challenging ethical situation he has dealt with. You may want to ask how the applicant would handle a particular scenario -- for example, what he would do if an employee told him of a serious ethical breach by a manager but then asked for confidentiality and requested no action be taken for fear of retaliation. Question the applicant on his personal philosophy and values related to human resources, asking if he believes HR represents management, the employee or both. Assess how the candidate's philosophy compares to the organization's view of the HR role.
Any human resources professional should have a good grasp on employment law, state legislation and fair labor practices. Ask the applicant to give a concise description of critical federal or state regulations -- such as the Family Medical Leave Act, Fair Labor Standards Act or Americans with Disabilities Act -- and have the applicant state the ways she believes the regulations most impact the workplace. If the workplace is unionized, ask the candidate to explain her knowledge of the applicable legislation that governs labor relations -- such as the Meyers Milias Brown Act, for example -- and ask for a description of what constitutes an unfair labor practice. Question the candidate about how she stays current with changes in legislation, and consider asking her to describe particular issues where knowledge of the law would have been critical to successful resolution of the issues -- such as how to ensure exempt employees are classified correctly, or what HR policies and procedures she has personally developed.
Based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, a technique for interviewing is to ask behavior-based questions where the applicant must describe past situations and how he dealt with them. Questions to ask of an applicant for a human resources job could include asking about a value-added project the applicant has introduced. Assess the applicant's innovation and determine if he was truly involved in the design of the project or if he was just the vehicle for implementation. Ask the candidate to describe how he has resolved specific difficult situations -- such as recruiting for a hard-to-fill position, or when a manager wants to terminate an employee against policy -- to assess the applicant's problem-solving skills. Question the applicant about his experience with metrics. Determine if the candidate uses HR metrics to enhance the bottom line or if he has simply been providing statistics without connecting them to strategic practice.
Give the candidate hypothetical situations to assess how she will respond to current issues facing the company. This provides an opportunity to evaluate whether the applicant will act appropriately and in compliance with relevant legislation while also remaining a good fit for company culture. Hypothetical questions can also assess the candidate's work habits. Possible questions might include asking the applicant how they handle competing priorities -- for example, a response to a discrimination complaint with an imminent deadline, an urgent request from the CEO and a response to an employee question that has already been delayed. This question is less about the "right" answer and more about the steps taken and the thought process used to get to the answer. You will want to consider whether the candidate communicates fully with all involved, asks for more relevant information where necessary and if the resolution she proposes is realistic. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions based upon the applicant's initial answers to fully assess how she would approach the task.
For more than a decade, Tia Benjamin has been writing organizational policies, procedures and management training programs. A C-level executive, she has more than 15 years experience in human resources and management. Benjamin obtained a Bachelor of Science in social psychology from the University of Kent, England, as well as a Master of Business Administration from San Diego State University.