Assistant, Coordinator, Generalist–there are many entry level roles in HR, and it is often hard to understand what exactly you will do in your job. So let me clear this confusion for good: HR Assistant is basically and administrative assistant who works in an HR department. Nothing more, nothing less. The position is often called “HR Admin” as well.
And it is also your opportunity to start your career in HR, without having a college degree, and perhaps later apply for more interesting roles within the Human Resources department of your employer. Let’s have a look at 17 questions you may face while interviewing for this job. It goes mostly about entry level HR interview questions, since the job is entry level (meaning no previous experience in the field is required).
Why do you want to work as an HR Assistant?
Try to keep it simple and honest. You’ve always excelled in administrative work, and wanted to work in the HR. But you haven’t earned a degree yet (or you lack experience), so at this stage of your professional career, HR Assistant is the only HR job you can realistically get.
Working in the department, you hope to learn from your more experienced colleagues, and perhaps apply for a specialized role in HR after few years in work, in payroll, employee training, or in some other HR specialty.
Nobody dreams of working as an HR assistant really, and you should not try to convince the hiring managers that it is your dream job. It’s simply the most viable option at the moment–considering your education, experience, and future plans. That’s why you decided to apply.
Why do you want to work for our corporation (public institution)? Why not one of our competitors?
Most likely you do not care, and would take a job of an HR assistant in any big corporation or institution, as long as they offer a decent salary and you see some career growth opportunities. As you can imagine though, it would not be the best interview answer…
Try to praise their company for something. Read the reviews of existing employees on Glassdoor, check their mission statement, learn something about their core product. Basically you should try to find something that resonates with you, and refer to it in an interview. It can also be an excellent training program they have in place for new hires.
Another alternative is picking a specific position you’d like to have within the company in three or five years time, or a particular location where you’d like to work. Of course you should do your research and ensure it is possible with them. Then you can refer to it a reason for your choice, and backup it with some secondary reasons.
How do you imagine a typical day in work of an HR administrator?
Try to keep your expectations low. As I wrote in the first paragraph, HR assistant is simply an administrative assistant working in HR. If you said that you imagined leading job interviews and creating remuneration packages for new employees, they would not hire you. Because this is an entry level job, and you will not get a chance to take care of the more elaborate stuff (at least not until they promote you to a better position).
Talk about basic administrative work, such as typing things to MS Office, publishing job offers on job boards (after someone else created them), answering emails and phone calls, helping with administrative agenda in the interviews, and so on.
What you really will do depends a lot on the organization of their HR department, and also on the preferences of your direct superior. But as long as you keep your expectations low, and say that you expect to take care of administrative and clerical duties in work, they will be happy with your answer.
Tell us about a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline in work. What did you do to ensure you wouldn’t miss it?
And here we are. They are asking behavioral questions (“tell us about a time when…”), and maybe this is your first job application, so logically you have no experience with meeting tight deadlines in work.
If that’s the case, you can either talk about a situation from school (for example when you were working on a semester project and fell behind with the schedule), or say them what you would do, if you encountered a similar situation in work.
The key is to show that you can prioritize your work, and are ready to sacrifice something for your employer. Say that you would eliminate all distractions, focus on the most important tasks, and perhaps also work overtime, in order to meet the deadline. As long as they see that you care, they will be satisfied with your answer.
What do you consider your greatest weakness, when we talk about work of an HR assistant?
You have several options for a good answer here. One is saying that you do not think that you have any major weakness as an HR (administrative) assistant, and that’s exactly the reason why you apply for this job, and not for another one. You can point out some weaknesses that aren’t central for the job, just to not look overconfident.
Saying that you struggle with leading teams or speaking in front of an audience, you aren’t revealing any weakness which could be showstopper in this interview.
Another idea is saying that you do not know. Surely, you won’t excel in everything right from the start, but you have to do the job for a few weeks first, to identify your weaknesses in it. After all it’s your first job application, so how could you tell your weaknesses without working first?
Last option is picking something that matters, at least somehow. For example that you sometimes struggle with attention to detail, or do not typewrite as quickly as you’d like to. In this case you should ensure the interviewers that you are aware of your weakness, want to improve on it, and hope to actually improve on it in your work.
Special Tip: You can download the full list of questions in a one page long PDF, print it, and practice your interview answers anytime later, even when offline:
How do you feel about having a conflict with one of your colleagues?
Conflicts belong to every workplace, and we can never entirely avoid them–unless we work alone, and never talk to anyone, but that won’t be a case in your job of an HR Assistant.
Ensure the interviewers that you do not want to get involved into some pointless personal conflicts in the workplace. You plan to focus on your work, you do not like to gossip, and want to respect your colleagues as they are.
At the same time, however, you are aware that you cannot avoid conflicts, and if you get involved in one, you will try to solve it in a constructive way. That means focusing on the problem, and not attacking the other conflict party personally. You can also say that you do not dwell on conflicts, and can get over them rather quickly.
Surely, everyone can have a bad day in work, and sometimes a colleague may say you something you find hard to accept. But you will get over it, you can admit making a mistake, and you can apologize. With such an attitude to work and to your colleagues, you will not find it hard to deal with conflicts in the workplace…
How would you rate your skills with MS Office?
Try to be modest in your rating. What companies often do (I also did it when leading interviews for a variety of administrative jobs) is testing your typewriting and office skills with a simple exercise. For example, they may hand you one A4 page of text (formatted, with some headings, bullet points, etc) and ask you to type it into MS Word.
Obviously if you claimed to have excellent skills with MS Office and then struggled with such an exercise (or it took you way too long to finish the simple job), you would lose your credibility in the eyes of the interviewers. And they would not hire you.
What I suggest you to do is the following: Say how long you have been working with the software, and what exactly you did. You can say that you were really good and efficient with it. But since you haven’t used it regularly for a while, you may need a few days in work to get back into the groove, to refresh your memory and recall how to do all kind of stuff with the programs.
Answering this way, you show confidence in your skills, but at the same time play it safe, just to be sure your answer won’t backfire in the practical test.
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Other questions you may face in your HR Assistant job interview
- Can you tell us a bit more about your career plan? Is there a particular HR role you’d like to have in the future?
- Administrative jobs are often routine and repetitive. What do you plan to do to stay motivated in work, week after week?
- What do you hope to accomplish while working as an HR assistant?
- Describe an ideal boss.
- Tell us about a time when you showed initiative in work.
- Are there any tasks that you do not particularly enjoy doing?
- What do you consider the toughest aspect of this job?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Do you have any questions?
Conclusion, next step
Entry level jobs in HR are popular among job seekers, and you can expect to compete with many people for a job of an HR Assistant, often also called HR Admin. It makes your situation more difficult.
What’s more, if you apply for this job in a big corporation, you will typically face many behavioral questions, and they may also ask you to complete a personality test. Not that these things matter much for an entry level role in HR–at least in my opinion, but big companies have their standard recruitment procedures, and they follow it with each job applicant.
Try to prepare for the questions, and do some research about your prospective employer. It won’t be easy to succeed in this interview, but if you do more than your competitors, if you prepare better, you can definitely make it. I wish you good luck!
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