10 Essential Human Resources Interview Questions and Answers
For those who love to lend a helping hand to potential hires, new employees, and current colleagues, a role in human resources offers a rewarding and people-centric career. First, you’ll want to submit the perfect resume and craft a killer cover letter. Then, you’ll be ready to ace the in-person interview with our 10 essential human resources interview questions and answers, below.
- Why are you interested in a human resources role?
- What interpersonal skills are important in this role?
- In your opinion, what will be the biggest challenges of this role?
- Which HR systems are you familiar with?
- Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed by your workload. How did you overcome it?
- What’s your greatest strength?
- Tell me about a time when you coached someone.
- Can you tell me about a time when you had to convince a colleague that your idea was a good one?
- How do you stay up-to-date on country-specific labor laws and HR regulations?
- Why should we hire you for this position?
Human resources is a vast and varied field, and it requires a variety of skills. In asking this question, your interviewer wants to know why you’ve chosen a career in HR. They’re checking for enthusiasm, self-insight, and basic knowledge of the profession, so explain what drew you to HR in the first place—and why your skill set and personality makes you a great match for this particular role.
“Human resources is all about supporting employees in a variety of ways. Employees are the heart of any business; without them, a company is just a building. As someone who’s always loved working with people, HR seemed like a natural fit. In addition, since I’m just starting my career, HR gives me an opportunity to learn about all the different corporate functions in an enterprise. At the same time, I’ll work with all different types of professionals. HR provides continuous learning opportunities, so that I can developing as a professional and adding value for the business. That’s really exciting to me.”
It’s right there in the name: Human resources is all about people. As an HR professional, you’ll need to have superlative interpersonal skills. Every week, you’ll work with company leaders, peers, team members, and third parties. In your response, highlight communication skills, as well as empathy, diplomacy, confidentiality, and patience. Then, emphasize that you excel when it comes to all of these must-haves. You might answer something like this:
“I got into HR because I love working with people. As an HR professional, you need to be a team player, able to support and partner with business leaders, colleagues, and external partners. I pride myself on communicating effectively at all levels. Additionally, this role requires understanding and diplomacy, as sensitive situations will certainly arise. I find that putting myself in the other person’s shoes, and speaking to them as I’d like to be spoken to, is quite helpful. It’s very important to speak respectfully to everyone, too, while practicing active listening. Finally, keeping personal information confidential is crucial.”
HR is a rewarding and varied career—but dealing with people means dealing with people’s problems, and there are sure to be some challenges. Your answer should show the interviewer that you have a realistic understanding of the challenges you’ll encounter—and that your personality and experience mean that you’ll meet them calmly and competently. A solid response should include an example or two of specific situations you could face:
“As an HR professional, I’ll be dealing with employees at all levels. There are sure to be some less-pleasant situations, such as firing employees or suggesting disciplinary action. These situations are challenging for the employee, the manager, and the HR professional, but they’re part of the job. I always face these things head-on, with empathy, understanding, and professionalism, knowing that they’re for the good of the business.”
Even if you’ve never worked HR a day in your life, do some research before the big interview so that you can answer from a place of knowledge. All HR departments use a system to automate and track employee data, including payroll, time and attendance, and benefits. If you’ve never used one before, be honest. Just show that you’ve done your research and emphasize your ability to learn new systems quickly. If you have used one (or more) systems, provide a bit of detail as proof that you know what you’re talking about.
“While I haven’t had the opportunity to get on-the-job experience with any HR systems yet, I did take an online course on Lynda.com, which covered the basics of human resource information systems (HRIS). It gave me a good idea of the features of HR systems, from handling employee onboarding to managing leaves of absence. I’m a fast learner, and I look forward to making HR super-efficient with whatever system you use. I’ve heard great things about BambooHR and Paycor.”
HR is never boring because there’s always something to do. In asking this behavioral interview question, your interviewer is confirming that you know how to use your time effectively—and that you won’t get overwhelmed when things get hectic. In any human resources role, there will be times when you’re extremely busy. Share a STAR answer that touches on a situation when you got overwhelmed, then focuses on how you got organized and prioritized successfully.
“In my freshman year, I was still learning the ropes, exploring the campus, and making friends. I had mandatory lectures, a full course load, and swim practice. By the end of the first month, I was behind on my work. There was so much newness, and I couldn’t manage all of it by myself. I attended a series of voluntary lectures—which previously seemed like just one more thing—on time management in college. Then, I scheduled out every day for the next month, making time for work and extracurriculars—and I left all that socializing for the weekends. Once I got on top of everything, it ceased to be overwhelming. By taking advantage of the resources offered to me, I was able to get my priorities straight and have a great first year.”
The ever-popular “greatest weakness and strength” question comes in many forms—and while it’s simple, it’s also important. It can be challenging to recognize your own best qualities, but focus on a strength (or strengths) that prove you’ll be a great fit for the job at hand. Then, share what you’re doing to sustain and build upon this strength. Interviewers love to hear about how you push yourself to grow as a professional. And one more thing: Don’t be modest! You’ve earned the right to brag a little.
“My biggest strength is my ability to communicate effectively and diplomatically. I’ve always been good at seeing all sides of a situation and adjusting my tone and messaging accordingly. But in my junior year, I took a class on negotiation, and it helped me enhance those skills. Additionally, I got a lot of hands-on experience in effective communication in my role as coordinator of Greek life at my college. I had to defuse a lot of sensitive situations. I look forward to putting my diplomacy skills to work as your HR intern, working with people from diverse backgrounds to meet their individual needs.”
Coaching is something that any HR specialist will have to do at some point, whether it’s creating a full-on development plan or just providing a shoulder to learn on during a tough time. For many employees, HR is a source of support, and they come to HR professionals for guidance and advice. For your answer, craft another stellar STAR response, like this:
“As a student, I worked with four other classmates to man the helpdesk. Two of my team members really didn’t get along, and they argued pretty much every day. After one of them came close to being fired for yelling too loudly, she came to ask my advice. We sat down over coffee and talked through the “why” of the arguing. It turned out that she was upset that the other team member seemed to pass all the difficult assignments to her. When I talked to the other team member, he explained that it was because he didn’t feel confident in his ability to handle those help requests—but he knew she could. I encouraged them to speak to one another, and I stood by to mediate. I was able to help turn a negative situation into a coaching opportunity, and things greatly improved after that.”
In any field, disagreements are bound to arise. In HR, they’ll be frequent. You’ll be the bearer of both good and bad news—and you’ll need to convince people to see things your way (or the company’s way, as the case may be). Sometimes, benefits will be slashed. Other times, someone won’t get a promotion. No matter what, you have to be able to keep up morale and thoughtfully persuade the other party. Structure your response using STAR, and choose an example where you used data, not your opinion, to influence someone:
“As a student, I had a part-time job working in a coffee shop. It was a busy place, with a lot of tables, and there were some issues around mixing up orders. I suggested we number the tables and create a ranking of tables per waiter based on volume. One of my colleagues got the largest area, and she was really angry. She didn’t want to wait more tables than everyone else. I told her that this system was far more efficient, and the number of tables per waiter was irrelevant, but she wasn’t convinced. To show my good faith, I swapped areas with her while we tested the new system. We were equally busy, and mix-ups were kept to a minimum. She agreed to implement the new system permanently.”
This basic HR question is your chance to prove to the interviewer that you’re proactive when it comes to staying up-to-date with your HR function and its many legal responsibilities. In your response, you can reference industry publications and news, conferences, trainings, or events:
“As an HR professional, I’m obliged to stay up-to-date on local labor laws. I subscribe to Workforce Magazine, which posts about 10 times per week on all the latest issues in HR. In addition, I like to stay connected with other HR professionals by attending one or HR conferences each year. I get the opportunity to network as well as update my legal knowledge.”
This is a typical “closing” question, so don’t hold back. Give the interviewer your final pitch on why you’re perfect for the role and the company. Take this opportunity to sell your interviewer on why they should select you, highlighting your unique skills, relevant work experience, and/or awards and accolades that you didn’t previously get to cover—with a focus on anything mentioned in the job description that you didn’t get to mention. Set yourself apart with an answer like this:
“HR is all about making a difference—for a company and for its people. I would bring so much energy to this role because I’m so motivated to have a positive impact as a member of your HR team. I’m eager to use my existing experience to make HR the go-to partner for management and employees alike, ensuring the company runs smoothly and workers feel heard and valued. In addition, your company values of self-improvement and integrity really resonate with me, so I know that I’d be an excellent cultural fit—and a strong proponent of driving that culture throughout the rest of the company.”
By reviewing the 10 human resources interview questions above and crafting your own responses, you’ll be well on your way to managing, training, recruiting, and motivating with the best of them.