Congratulations! You’ve been offered an interview for a job at your dream company. But you’re feeling worried because it is with a member of the HR team. How do you sell yourself to someone who doesn’t have experience in your field? What if they don’t really understand your job?
It’s true, this interview won’t be the same as one with a future manager, potential colleagues, or the head of the company. HR isn’t there to examine your skills or expertise, but to consider your values, your ability to communicate and to adapt. The goal is to evaluate your potential to fit in with the team. It’s a crucial step that you shouldn’t neglect. The HR team member may be the first person you have to convince on this journey. They may have the power to accept or refuse your application. So what is expected of you in this interview and how can you be successful?
What’s at stake in this first interview?
Each interview that forms part of any recruitment process has a different objective. You won’t be assessed on the same things during the HR interview as you will with a manager or the chief executive. So here’s an outline of what the HR recruiter will focus on:
- Your compatibility with the company values
- Your ability to fit in with a team
- Your motivation and enthusiasm for the job and the company
- Your personal qualities. Are you honest, open, humble, confident?
- You ability to resolve problems and face challenging situations
- Your ability to process information
Your language skills
Compatibility between the salary package you expect and what the company is offering
Now that you know what HR is looking for during this interview, here are a few tips to help you to sail through the process.
1. Be honest and open
Remember that the human resources department has the word “human” in it for a reason. HR needs to see you as you are so they can get a feel for your real personality and make sure you are a good fit for the company. So it’s better to act naturally and be relaxed. It is also important to show that you have strong interpersonal skills and to behave professionally. On the day of the interview, be sure to be punctual, to introduce yourself politely and to dress appropriately. This means giving some thought to the company’s image, but also dressing in a way you’re comfortable with on the day.
“During my recruitment experience, I remember meeting a young applicant for a law internship. He arrived 15 minutes late and didn’t apologise! It’s a shame because that immediately made me think less of him. The least he could have done would have been to be polite and apologise, even more so as a career in law requires a certain discipline. It goes without saying that this did not work in his favour,” said Beatrice, who works in HR at a non-profit organisation.
HR won’t need to try to work out your personality traits if you’re honest. If you don’t understand an explanation they’ve given you, be direct and ask them to explain it to you. They won’t bite! Don’t be embarrassed either. Your honesty will establish a spirit of trust between you and them.
2. Show enthusiasm for the job
During this first interview, your enthusiasm is your weapon. Remember HR determines whether or not you will fit their current company culture. So you must be prepared. Do not turn up to the interview without having done some research into the company, its values and its history.
Look up what they do, the number of employees and the latest news. The interviewer won’t hesitate to ask you what you know about the company. If you are not well-informed, you will make a bad impression, even if you have a strong background.
Help the recruiter to understand who they have in front of them and why the company is interesting to you, how you discovered the company, and your vision of it. Be clear in your explanations about your interest in the job and what drives you the most. Taking this approach helped one young woman, as described here by Natascha, a recruiter in the health sector:
“I remember one applicant for a job as director of a retirement home. The way she spoke revealed a true passion and she moved me with her enthusiasm. It brought out her human qualities, her discipline, her empathy. I immediately knew she wasn’t there by chance and this is how she stood out from other applicants.”
Be ready to show that you are passionate about this job and you will make a strong, positive impression on the interviewer. Now is not the time to be too reserved.
3. Be proactive
Some candidates let their minds wander when the interviewer is explaining the company and the position to them. Even if you know the business and the way it’s organised, it’s best to listen carefully. Don’t hesitate to take notes or build on what they’re saying with questions. Not doing so may make you seem detached.
This is a chance to have a conversation, rather than just retelling the story of your professional career. So you should ask questions, react, rephrase, try to engage in a dynamic exchange. An interview is a way for two humans to get to know each other better and not a series of hollow monologues, or worse, a confrontation or an interrogation.
4. Know how to tell your story
The interviewer will want to assess your ability to sum up your experience. So you should be able to go through your career, year by year and job by job. Before the interview, practise telling your story out loud at home. Stick to your CV and avoid digressions, unless you’re asked to give more detail. Explain your strategic choices as well as any sudden changes in position. Don’t be afraid to be open and determined because those are the precise qualities the HR recruiter is looking to assess in you. If you’ve made mistakes in your career, unsuccessful attempts at things, or changed career, be honest and explain them all clearly and diplomatically. This will paint you in a positive light as someone who knows what they want.
5. Don’t get technical
Keep in mind that the interview with the HR recruiter is not intended to check your technical capabilities or your expertise. Don’t go into too much detail by using jargon specific to your field. Stay away from acronyms. It’s unpleasant for the interviewer (or anyone else) to speak with someone who uses very technical language. Be simple and clear. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking pretentious. Go into detail only if you’re explicitly asked to do so.
6. Be reflective about your experience
The HR recruiter may ask questions about conflicts you had in previous positions and how you resolved them. This is done to help them to assess your integrity and ability to integrate. It’s worth preparing for such questions before the interview. If you haven’t had any difficult situations previously, which is entirely possible, be prepared to be asked to engage in some role-playing. The HR recruiter may describe a fictional conflict within a team, give you time to think about it, and then ask you to offer a solution to the problem.
“As a recruiter, this is a crucial subject I want to ask the interviewee about. Firstly, it lets me know in an indirect way if they have been able to get some perspective on their career path and if they have self-awareness. Finally, it gives me a better understanding of the values they hold dear at work, how far their ability to work effectively in a team goes, and even their potential as a manager.”
7. Think about the money
One question that will come up for discussion during this interview is what remuneration you expect as part of the package offered by the company. Give this plenty of consideration beforehand so you are not caught off guard. Look up the perks offered by the company and those you’d like to negotiate, then decide on a salary range that suits you. Don’t underestimate yourself but be realistic in terms of what the company can offer.
“Nothing is more unpleasant than when an HR recruiter, who has communicated the salary range, then gets applicants who ask for twice that. As a recruiter, we receive an enormous number of CVs and sometimes we spend a long time giving consideration when there are two similar applicants. It is awful to call one applicant in for an interview over another, invest time in them, only to find out that they have much higher salary expectations than the company can manage. This means wasted time for both parties. And it’s even more annoying when the salary range is clearly stated in the job advertisement,” explained Natascha, the recruiter.
8. Brush up your language skills
The HR interview is the one time you can expect to have your language skills tested during the recruitment process. If the job requires proficiency in Spanish, French or Mandarin, for example, the recruiter could switch into that language at any time during the interview. So make sure you can communicate clearly in the language because it will be expected of you. As Eric, head of human resources in a multinational company, explained:
“As a recruiter, I always take the opportunity to test the applicant on several points by switching to [their other language] during our exchange without warning. This way I can assess their ability to switch from one language to another without any notice, but also their mastery of the language. This often happens when I’m asking questions about the details of their CV such as their hobbies or the different places they’ve lived.”
If you follow these tips, you have an excellent chance of having a successful interview and moving on to the next step in the process. If you are not called back, however, keep in mind that this is just an interview and does not necessarily call your abilities into question. Take stock of the interview and try to learn from it. You have gained valuable experience, regardless of the outcome! If you were a hit, bravo! Now onto the next step.
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
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