What To Expect During An HR Interview? Five Questions You’ll Be Asked During A Screening Interview – by Melissa Llarena

Screening interviews with human resources professionals are a crucial step to getting the job. A good or bad interview with HR will determine how far you go in the interviewing process, so it’s best to know what to expect and go in prepared.

As a career coach, I have worked with job candidates on how to answer the most common questions asked by HR. My mock interviews place clients in situations similar to ones they will actually face and prepare them to ace their interviews and land the job.

Let’s take a look at the five most common questions asked by HR during screening interviews and how you should approach them.

1. Why are you interested in this position?

HR professionals love this question so use it as your chance to reiterate your strengths and highlight your applicable skill set and passion for the company and the role. Speak to how your past experiences match the qualifications for the job using keywords from the job description to make the connection stronger. By clearly linking your skills to the position, you are helping the HR manager envision you in the role.

Sample Answer: Having worked within the financial services sector for five years, I have gained an appreciation for the power of client-facing roles in terms of my professional development and organizational impact. As a relationship manager in your firm, I envision bringing my ability to resourcefully optimize any given client’s portfolio as the best way I can help your company’s five-year strategic goal of retaining its client base at a 50% rate. I have done this in the past in X capacity while working for my previous employer and am confident that I can help you accelerate your current goals while growing my career.

2. Tell me about yourself.

As an age-old prompt that will likely never go away, it’s important to know how to provide a compelling answer for an HR manager. Instead of the typical chronological progression of your background, I recommend doing a SWOT analysis within the context of a professional interview. Analyze the sector, the company, and the job function using a SWOT and look for opportunities to market yourself. I go into this in more detail in my blog post on how to tell your professional story in a way that will entice an interviewer to hire you.

Sample Answer: I have been a sales manager for X years, with experiences that include being able to lead a sales force toward the accomplishment of aggressive goals. In light of your organization’s core strength in hiring the brightest salespeople, I would know exactly how to coach them to sell both new and legacy products in new markets quickly. While at Company X, I created the gold standard incentive program that resulted in helping us sell-in potential charge volume that exceeded our goals by 20% in both travel expenses and daily expenses. Prior to that, I worked at X where I completed X, etc. Side note: figure out the assets of the hiring firm or its needs and tailor your response accordingly.

3. Why are you leaving your current job?

HR managers ask this question to determine if there are any red flags related to your departure. Are you leaving on good terms or bad? Are you looking to escape from your current job or grow within a new one? These are a few of the questions running through the interviewer’s mind. Take this opportunity to speak positively of your current employer but communicate that you’re looking at this new position as the next step in your career. By framing your answer positively, you’re making the interviewer focus on your potential contributions rather than any red flags.

Sample Answer: My business unit started with 50 full-time employees and today it has 10. While this reduction in personnel enabled me to showcase my ability to produce results with limited resources in an organization where management has turned over, I am interested in transitioning to an organization like yours where there is growth potential. For example, in my current role I managed to acquire 100K clients with only one other sales manager and a dwindling budget. In your company, I would be managing a team of 20 sales managers, where I stand to make a significant impact not only for your firm but on the firm’s market share.

4. What do you know about the company?

This is a test and one you should be able to pass easily. Doing research on a company prior to an interview is a necessity. You need to know the history and makeup of the company, who the key players are, recent accomplishments and mentions in the press, and any other relevant information. Communicate the positive information you learned about the company, from awards to new product launches, to demonstrate your knowledge.

Sample Answer: Your firm competes with firm A, firm B, and firm C in the U.S. My understanding is that you are better positioned in this area vs. firms A, B, or C. Meanwhile, firms B and C bring these strengths to the table. Given my skill set, I know that I can help you optimize your strength in this and offset the strengths that firms B and C plan to invest more heavily in during 2014. *Side note: the point is to be specific in how you’d use this information to drive results.

5. What questions do you have for me?

ALWAYS have questions for the interviewer. The strongest candidates show their enthusiasm and position themselves as potentially valuable team members by asking smart, strategic questions that benefit both the interviewer and the interviewee. If you’re stumped, here are five questions to ask HR that will take you to the next phase of the interviewing process.

“To learn more about how to navigate job interviews or if you have an upcoming interview, set up a 15-minute consultation.  I have helped professionals go from second choice to first.”

Melissa Llarena is a firsthand career transition expert (having gone through 16 business unit changes in 10 years) and president of Career Outcomes Matter.  Sign up for her blog at www.careeroutcomesmatter.com.

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Culture: Why It’s The Hottest Topic In Business Today – by Josh Bersin

Last year Merriam Webster’s dictionary stated that ”culture” was the most popular word of the year. Well, it has now become one of the most important words in corporate board rooms, and for good reason.

We have a retention crisis. New Deloitte research shows that culture, engagement, and employee retention are now the top talent challenges facing business leaders. More than half business leaders rate this issue “urgent” – up from only around 20% last year.

What’s going on? It’s very simple: as the economy picks up steam (unemployment now below 5.5%), employees have more bargaining power than ever before. Thanks to social websites likeLinkedIn LNKD +0.07%, Glassdoor, and Indeed, a company’s employment brand is now public information so if you’re not a great place to work, people find out fast. This shifts power into the hands of job-seekers.

And many companies have work to do.  Gallup’s latest research shows that only 31% of employees are engaged at work (51% are disengaged and 17.5% activelydisengaged). Analysis of the Glassdoor database shows that the average employee gives their company a C+ (3.1 out of 5) when asked whether they would recommend their company to a friend (Bersin by Deloitte research with Glassdoor).

We have arrived in a world of “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to attracting and engaging top talent.

Let me cite some examples:

  • I recently met with one of the world’s biggest industrial manufacturers on the east coast and they lamented losing top aerospace engineers to Google GOOGL +0.73%. They’re scratching their heads to figure out how to prevent more top engineers from leaving.
  • A large well-known Silicon Valley company considering a major facelift of its corporate campus to attract young people. They’re not sure if it will work or not, but they feel they have no choice. Here there is a war to build the “best workplace in the world” – free food, unlimited vacation, yoga classes, beer bashes, and bright open offices are everywhere. (Check out Google’s new space age campus design.)
  • Most financial services companies I meet with tell me they are struggling to hire top people. While the industry is still popular with MBAs, the recession damaged the reputation for this industry and it’s just starting to recover.

Companies that focus on culture are becoming icons for job seekers:

  • Fortune’ Best Companies happen to be many of the same companies listed in Glassdoor’sBest Places to Work and also LinkedIn’s Most In-Demand Employers. This shows that companies with strong positive cultures (Fortune and Glassdoor’s list is based on employee surveys) are now the most in-demand.  So the “culture winners” are winning bigger.
  • Younger companies that focus on culture see a huge payoff. HubSpot, a growing New England tech firm focused on its culture (around 1,000 employees), has Glassdoor ratings of 4.6, far above the industry average. They give their staff free books and education and believe so strongly in transparency that they post their board meeting notes and culture manifesto online.
  • NetFlix’s culture manifesto ”freedom with responsibility” is one of the most popular documents on the internet, 11 million+ viewers. Everyone wants to copy it.
  • Value statements have popped up everywhere. Zappos’ cultural values focus on innovation, Quicken Loans  uses its colorful “ISMS” to guide values (“call back every client the same day” is one of their values), Google has its 10 ”truths” (focus on the user is one), RW Baird has its “ unique culture,” Salesforce focuses on community, and it goes on and on.
  • Culture-driven companies explicitly put their people first. Wegmans, the #7 best place to work in the Fortune list, reset business goals just to create the jobs and career growth they want for their people. “Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers,” as the saying goes.
  • Traditional companies like Aetna are now heavily focused on culture. Recently the New York Times published an article about Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini. He has raised wages, improved health benefits, and introduced yoga and mindfulness training to his entire company to improve retention and culture in the call centers. Their $100M + turnover problem is rapidly going away and he claims to have already improved the bottom line by 3-4 %.

google

Look at how office space is now part of building a great culture. Fortune’s new “25 coolest offices of the 100 Best Companies” shows how most of these great places to work are actually great PLACES to work. Flexibility, entertainment, and bright colorful offices and art make these companies a fun place to work.

People now believe that culture has a direct impact on financial performance. I just talked with two industry analysts who read Glassdoor comments before they publish analyst reports.  Both told me they use this data to understand employee sentiment read comments about the CEO as part of their core research. It also helps them compare competitors.

As the saying goes, “Culture eats Strategy for Lunch.”  (And free lunch is now part of the culture.)

Ok it’s a popular topic. What is culture anyway?

Culture is a big and somewhat vague term. Some define it as “what happens when nobody is looking.”

In reality, it’s much more complex. Culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization. You can “feel” culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm, and the space itself.

I visit a lot of companies and I can often sense the culture in a few minutes. Are people busy and working with customers? Or are they quietly working alone? Do they get in early and leave late? Or does the parking lot empty at 4:30? Is the office beautiful and inspiring with values and icons around, or is it messy and busy? Is there a sense of order or a sense of family?  All these clues help diagnose culture.

The Competing Values Framework, by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn, is a terrific textbook on organizational culture. After years of research the authors grouped organizational cultures into four types and their research shows that most teams fall into one of these four types. You can diagnose your culture using tools like theirs (and others) and it will help you align your values and hiring to the culture you want to build.  There are three issues to consider:  type (what is your culture), strength (how strong is it), and congruence (how consistent is it).

competing-values-framework

Our research shows that culture and employee engagement are tightly linked (“culture” vs. “climate”), but not the same thing. Culture is slow to build, pervasive, and hard to change. Climate can be changed quickly.

When you communicate and honor culture, people know what to expect and feel comfortable. And the climate must support it. For example, a CEO I interviewed told me that “calling people back the same day” was part of his culture – so he monitors this behavior because to him, customer service is cultural bedrock.

As a company grows or acquires another company, the culture will often shift. IBM has been through many culture changes over the years, and one can trace them to major transitions in the business. When I worked there in the 1980s, IBM was a technology pioneer, but then later slowly but deliberately changed its culture to that of a consulting organization. Now it seems to be headed back.

Sometimes an acquisition will damage a well-honed culture, so watch out here. (When HP acquired Compaq, for example, a culture of engineering quality was mixed with a culture of low-cost production, causing a historic challenge.)

Many HR and management practices will drive or support culture. Do you value employee development? Are people empowered to take charge or do they follow the rules? How are people promoted and why? The Simply Irresistiblemodel describes many of the factors. If you’re focused on culture, we encourage managers and HR teams to think about the “total employee experience”: everything from the coffee in the coffee machine to the quality of management plays a role.

simply irresistble

How Do We Build And Manage Great Culture?

Ultimately culture is driven by leadership. How leaders behave, what they say, and what they value drives culture.

I proved this myself: I analyzed the Glassdoor database and found that the factor most highly correlated with an individual’s recommendation of their company as a place to work was “quality and trust in leadership.”

So the selection of leaders, development of leaders, and the coaching of leaders are all critical to building the right culture. Companies that focus on building great leaders spend almost 3X the average on leadership development, and they get a tremendous return for it.

Once culture is established and communicated, it becomes a tool to screen and assist candidates. The Talent Board (a research group that studies the job candidate experience) found that 41% of all candidates search for information about a company culture before they apply. So your culture is already a screening tool when you recruit people.

Zappos relies on culture to screen all hires, by trying to see if they are “wacky.” (Zappos assesses culture before they even assess job fit.) Southwest Airlines assesses culture fit by asking candidates to tell a joke. When you focus on culture as strategy you find that some people just won’t fit, regardless of their pedigree.

When I asked the SVP of HR at a financial institution how they guard their culture she said “people who don’t work as a team just don’t like it here.  They leave.”  Culture is like a flywheel: it gets stronger the more you reinforce it.

culture

If you want to improve your culture, look carefully at how you coach and evaluate your people. Do you believe in “forced ranking?” or “up or out?” That process in itself creates a type of culture – one most companies are moving away from. Today more than 60% of the companies we surveyed are changing how they evaluate performance because they want to drive empowerment and innovation into their organization. We call performance management the “secret ingredient” to building a highly engaged culture.

The ISMS Culture Book of Quicken Loans

A New Industry Of Culture And Engagement Tools

An industry of new culture diagnostic and feedback tools is emerging. Historically culture assessment has been a niche market of small psychology firms (companies like Human Synergistics, Dennison Consulting, and Senn Delaney have been around for years). Now, driven by the need to engage and attract people, this market is going mainstream. New, mobile and real-time tools to assess culture, collect regular and real-time feedback, and analyze employee sentiment are disrupting the $billion market for employee engagement and culture surveys.

Some of the new vendors include CultureAmp, TinyHRBlackbookHR,Achievers, GloboforceBetterCompany.co, Glint.io, OfficeVibe, Waggl, Canary,RelatedMatters, and dozens of others now offer real-time engagement and employee feedback tools to help you better understand and improve your workplace environment. Deloitte has a new culture assessment tool which is gaining great momentum. (Read Why Companies Fail to Engage Today’s Workforce for more information on this new market.)

Keeping It Simple:  Part Of Building A Great Culture

Remember also that great cultures are easy to understand. So keep it simple.  If you can’t write your values and culture down in a few words, it’s probably too complex to understand.

simplification

We believe simplification is becoming the next big thing in business. More than 60% of the companies we surveyed told us that their employees feel “overwhelmed” by the volume of activity and messages they get at work.  So part of your cultural facelift should also be “decluttering” of the workplace.

GE recently launched a major new strategy to simplify its business: the company is teaching managers how to focus, showing people how to spend more time with customers, and simplifying its back office processes. SAP did the same thing, and saw employee engagement rise by almost 30%.

Simplification can also improve the culture of compliance. New research by Deloitte Australia shows that financial services firms that focus on culture instead of compliance systems have better compliance. The research believes $240 billion is wasted on overly-complex compliance systems which could be replaced by a “culture of compliance.”

Great corporate cultures have always thrived on simplicity. Remember the mantra at IBM in the 1970s and 1980s?  It was very simple: “Think.” The Nordstrom’s rule?  ”Use good judgement.” These are simple statements that help people focus. When the rules and values are simple, we remember them.

One of the 10 ”Isms” in Quicken Loans’ manifesto is “ keep it simple.” Don’t make things complicated and don’t design for the “edge cases.”

Design thinking, agile and distributed management is all a part of simplifying work and improving corporate culture. This is an area where HR has work to do (read The Decluttering of Human Resources for more).

Ok I get it. Culture Matters. What should I do?

The prescription is pretty simple. Do you take culture seriously? Do you understand and monitor your culture? Does leadership use culture as a way to communicate values and strategy?  Are you investing adequately in your people programs?

There are many role models to follow:  Southwest Airlines’ culture of customer service and fun (elegantly described in The Southwest Way); Apple Inc.’s culture of innovation and technology elegance; Google’s culture of focusing on the user; even the US Post Office’s culture of service and reliability. Most of the companies in the Fortune Best Places to Work have a strong focus on culture – usually embodied by the CEO.

Your culture, like your strategy, is unique to your organization. It builds over time and is often hard to change. And when things don’t seem to be going well, turn back the clock. Sometimes the culture is what changed: remember what made your company great in the first place.

Finally, remember that culture lets you focus on your purpose and mission. As Joey Reiman describes in his book The Story of Purpose, people are not intrinsically motivated by profit or market share – it is purpose and values that bring us to work every day.

No matter if you’re a CEO, HR executive, manager, or team leader –  culture really matters. Consider it one of your most powerful tools for business success.

Josh Bersin


Josh Bersin is a leading analyst in HR, talent, leadership, and HR technology. He is also founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading research and advisory firm.

Decoding the Rules of Conversation – by Pamela Druckerman

My kids have recently picked up a worrying French slang word: bim (pronounced “beam”). It’s what children say in the schoolyard here after they’ve proved someone wrong, or skewered him with a biting remark. English equivalents like “gotcha” or “booyah” don’t carry the same sense of gleeful vanquish, and I doubt British or American kids use them quite as often.

As an American married to an Englishman and living in France, I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to decode the rules of conversation in three countries. Paradoxically, these rules are almost always unspoken. So much bubbles beneath what’s said, it’s often hard to know what anyone means.

I had a breakthrough on French conversation recently, when a French sociologist suggested I watch “Ridicule,” a 1996 French movie (it won the César award for best film) about aristocrats at the court of Versailles, on the eve of the French Revolution.

Life at Versailles was apparently a protracted battle of wits. You gained status if you showed “esprit” — clever, erudite and often caustic wit, aimed at making rivals look ridiculous. The king himself kept abreast of the sharpest remarks, and granted audiences to those who made them. “Wit opens every door,” one courtier explained.

If you lacked “esprit” — or suffered from “l’esprit de l’escalier” (thinking of a comeback only once you had reached the bottom of the staircase) — you’d look ridiculous yourself.

Granted, France has changed a bit since Versailles. But many modern-day conversations — including the schoolyard cries of “Bim!” — make more sense once you realize that everyone around you is in a competition not to look ridiculous. When my daughter complained that a boy had insulted her during recess, I counseled her to forget about it. She said that just wouldn’t do: To save face, she had to humiliate him.

Many children train for this at home. Where Americans might coo over a child’s most inane remark, to boost his confidence, middle-class French parents teach their kids to be concise and amusing, to keep everyone listening. “I force him or her to discover the best ways of retaining my attention,” the anthropologist Raymonde Carroll wrote in her 1987 book “Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience.”

This is probably worse in Paris, and among the professional classes. But a lot of French TV involves round-table discussions in which well-dressed people attempt to land zingers on one another. Practically every time I speak up at a school conference, a political event or my apartment building association’s annual meeting, I’m met with a display of someone else’s superior intelligence. (Adults don’t actually say “bim,” they just flash you a satisfied smile.) Jean-Benoît Nadeau, a Canadian who co-wrote a forthcoming book on French conversation, told me that the penchant for saying “no” or “it’s not possible” is often a cover for the potential humiliation of seeming not to know something. Only once you trust someone can you turn down the wit and reveal your weaknesses, he said. (I think the French obsession with protecting private life comes from the belief that everyone’s entitled to a humiliation-free zone.)

It’s dizzying to switch to the British conversational mode, in which everyone’s trying to show they don’t take themselves seriously. The result is lots of self-deprecation and ironic banter. I’ve sat through two-hour lunches in London waiting for everyone to stop exchanging quips so the real conversation could begin. But “real things aren’t supposed to come up,” my husband said. “Banter can be the only mode of conversation you ever have with someone.”

Even British courtships can be conducted ironically. “ ‘You’re just not my type,’ uttered in the right tone and in the context of banter, can be tantamount to a proposal of marriage,” Ms. Fox writes.

Being ridiculous is sometimes required. The classic British hen night — a bachelor party for brides — involves groups of women wearing feather boas to a bar, then daring one another to “kiss a bald man” or “remove your bra without leaving the room.” Stumbling around drunk with friends — then recounting your misadventures for months afterward — is a standard bonding ritual.

After being besieged by British irony and French wit, I sometimes yearn for the familiar comfort of American conversations, where there are no stupid questions. Among friends, I merely have to provide reassurance and mirroring: No, you don’t look fat, and anyway, I look worse.

It might not matter what I say, since some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn’t notice. A lot of us — myself included — could benefit from a basic rule of improvisational comedy: Instead of planning your next remark, just listen very hard to what the other person is saying. Call it “mindful conversation,” if you like. That’s what the French tend to do — even if it ends with “bim.”

The Water Cooler Runs Dry – by Frank Bruni

If you’re closing in on 50 but want to feel much, much older, teach a college course. I’m doing that now, at 49, and hardly a class goes by when I don’t make an allusion that prompts my students to stare at me as if I just dropped in from the Paleozoic era.

Last week I mentioned the movie “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” Only one of the 16 students had heard of it. I summarized its significance, riffling through the Depression, with which they were familiar, and Jane Fonda’s career, with which they weren’t. “Barbarella” went sailing over their heads. I didn’t dare test my luck with talk of leg warmers and Ted Turner.

I once brought up Vanessa Redgrave. Blank stares. Greta Garbo. Ditto. We were a few minutes into a discussion of an essay that repeatedly invoked Proust’s madeleine when I realized that almost none of the students understood what the madeleine signified or, for that matter, who this Proust fellow was.

And these are young women and men bright and diligent enough to have gained admission to Princeton University, which is where our disconnect is playing out.

The bulk of that disconnect, obviously, is generational. Seemingly all of my students know who Gwyneth Paltrow is. And with another decade or two of reading and living and being subjected to fossils like me, they’ll assemble a richer inventory of knowledge and trivia, not all of it present-day.

But the pronounced narrowness of the cultural terrain that they and I share — the precise limits of the overlap — suggests something additional at work. In a wired world with hundreds of television channels, countless byways in cyberspace and all sorts of technological advances that permit each of us to customize his or her diet of entertainment and information, are common points of reference dwindling? Has the personal niche supplanted the public square?

Both literally and figuratively, the so-called water-cooler show is fading fast, a reality underscored by a fact that I stumbled across in last week’s edition of The New Yorker: In the mid-1970s, when the sitcom “All in the Family” was America’s top-rated television series, more than 50 million people would tune in to a given episode. That was in a country of about 215 million.

I checked on the No. 1 series for the 2012-13 television season. It was “NCIS,” an episode of which typically drew fewer than 22 million people, even counting those who watched a recording of it within a week of its broadcast. That’s out of nearly 318 million Americans now.

“NCIS” competes against an unprecedented bounty of original programming and more ways to see new and old shows than ever, what with cable networks, subscription services, YouTube, Apple TV and Aereo. Yahoo just announced that it was jumping into the fray and, like Netflix and Amazon, would develop its own shows.

In movies, there’s a bevy of boutique fare that never even opens in theaters but that you can order on demand at home. In music, streaming services and Internet and satellite radio stations showcase a dizzying array of songs and performers, few of whom attain widespread recognition. In books, self-publishing has contributed to a marked rise in the number of titles, but it doesn’t take an especially large crowd of readers for a book to become a best seller. Everyone’s on a different page.

With so very much to choose from, a person can stick to one or two preferred micro-genres and subsist entirely on them, while other people gorge on a completely different set of ingredients. You like “Housewives”? Savor them in multiple cities and accents. Food porn? Stuff yourself silly. Vampire fiction? The vein never runs dry.

I brought up this Balkanization of experience with Hendrik Hartog, the director of the American studies program at Princeton, and he noted that what’s happening in popular culture mirrors what has transpired at many elite universities, where survey courses in literature and history have given way to meditations on more focused themes.

“There’s enormous weight given to specialized knowledge,” he said. “It leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Not for nothing, he observed, does his Princeton colleague Daniel Rodgers, an emeritus professor of history, call this the “age of fracture.”

It has enormous upsides, and may be for the best. No single, potentially alienating cultural dogma holds sway. A person can find an individual lens and language through which his or her world comes alive.

And because makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase an increasingly apocryphal mass audience, they can produce cultish gems, like “Girls” on HBO and “Louie” on FX.

But each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder. Although I’m tempted to tell my students that they make me feel like the 2,000-year-old man, I won’t. I might have to fill them in first on Mel Brooks.