HR has evolved a lot over the years. The most recent trend is improving the integration of human resources into all aspects of strategic planning and business operations. Simply to achieve a better symmetry, and ensure that the company has the right number of people at the right time–not too early and not too late. And of course that it has the right people onboard.
Working as an HR Business Partner, you will meet the leaders of all other departments of the company (think finance, sales, legal, etc), and try to translate their goals into an effective HR strategy. It cane mean changing some policies, hiring someone or sending someone home, advertising a vacancy early enough, or changing the salary structure. It can mean a lot of things, and it will be your goal to decide about the most appropriate action to take.
Let’s have a look at 15 questions you may face while trying to get this prestigious HR job, which often pays over $100K annually.
Can you tell us more about your experience? (Please walk us through your resume.)
I probably won’t surprise you saying that experience is the most important thing in this hiring process. What matters, however, is how you describe your experience, and whether you can convince them of your versatility in HR.
The key is to talk about various areas–recruitment, interviewing, payroll, HR planning, benefits, HR policies, and so on. Anytime you describe what you did and where, try to explain how it correlated with the overall business strategy of your former employer.
If you want to stand out from your competition, you can even prepare a professional portfolio, in which you illustrate the principal HR projects you worked on, goals you set, how they matched with the overall direction the company took, and what exactly you did to meet the goals. They should get an impression that you always have the bigger picture on your mind, and do not live in a sort of an HR bubble, considering it an independent unit of the company.
I started my journey as an HR generalist in XZY Corporation. It was a good start because I got a taste of everything, including payroll, interviewing, administrative work. Since my results were good, they promoted me to a role of an HR manager, and I again learned new things, participating on creating hiring strategies and plans, and also leading some important interviews. After some time I decided I needed a change, and switched to a role of HR consultant and freelance recruiter, benefiting from my experience in the field and network of connections. This opportunity allowed me to talk to CEOs and top executives, and understand better how HR translates to other departments of the business. But after a few years I understood that I am no entrepreneur, and prefer security and stability of a job. Thinking about all I’ve learned over the years, I feel a job of HR business partner is an ideal choice for me, and that’s why I am here today…
If we hire you for this position, what will be the first thing you do as our new HRBP?
You can find yourself in two positions here. Either you apply for a job internally, and know the company inside-out already, including some problems or challenges they face in their HR. That can be anything, from not being competitive on the job market to struggling with HR planning, or having high employee turnover.
If that’s the case, you can clearly specify the main areas you’d like to address and improve on in your new role. You can even present some plan (briefly), what you’d like to do in first thirty days, the changes you’d like to propose or implement.
The second scenario is when you apply in a company foreign to you, knowing just their image–which is often far from reality. In such a case you can suggest having a long one on one with all top executives and department leaders. With your vast HR experience you know what questions to ask in this type of meetings, and you are also eager to hear their expectations on you. Once you know what the leaders expect from you, and what problems the HR faces, you will devise a plan of action for your first year in job.
My idea is having a long one on one with leaders of all departments of this business, but also to interview some of the regular employees. I also hope to see ans study in detail the profit and loss and cash flow for the last few years, to get a good grasp where we stand as a business. Once done, I should understand the problems HR faces and how it relates to other areas of the business, and should be able to come up with some plan for my first year in the job, and also for a longer period because a good HR Business Partner always thinks a few steps ahead.
Tell us about the biggest HR issue/challenge you’ve ever faced.
This is no entry level position and you rather pick something BIG. Ideally something that relies to the overall business strategy, or some challenge that could not be solved without involving other departments of the company.
One good answer I recall from the interviews I led was a struggle to balance the HR budget with the situation on the employment market. The candidate narrated a situation in which their company struggled to stand out with their job offers, mostly because they could not compete with bigger players in terms of salary offer, and they didn’t have a strong brand behind them either, one that would attract applicants regardless of the salary offer.
It was a tricky situation indeed. Without a proper budget they struggled to hire any decent programmers, and without decent programmers they could not really generate enough revenue, to be able to extend the budget for hiring. The candidate proposed hiring foreign programmers, and letting them work from home, implementing a strong control mechanism, ensuring that they would not collect money for playing games or chatting while seated at their computer. Initially this doesn’t seem like an innovative idea.
However, they offered the programmers from third world countries much better salaries (compared to others who hunted in these waters), which allowed them to get the very best onboard, and eventually generate enough revenue to kick-start the hiring back at home as well… You can use this as a good example for your answer. Explain what the challenge was, how you analyzed the situation, what steps you took, and what the final outcome was.
My biggest challenge was probably to balance the HR needs with the needs of a sales team, in my last job. The company was growing very quickly and we needed to get many new salesman onboard. However, the business model of the company was based on a lifetime value of a customer, and initial sales basically cost us money. So now you imagine you are growing quickly, having to hire dozens of sales representatives, everyone costing you money, and the deals they close cost you even more money, just for you to eventually turn highly-profitable for years down the road. Not an easy one indeed… especially considering how hard it is to even recruit good salesmen, unless you can offer them some exceptional commission, which again costs more money.
It was really about finding the right balance, and getting more funding and loans, but panning it all carefully with people & their remuneration, to avoid reaching a point when the company would simply not have any money on their accounts and would be unable to pay the salaries. We were balancing on a thin ice, and though I tried my best the business eventually collapsed, which is one of the reasons why I am here. In any case, I believe I learned a lot while addressing this challenge, and no doubt it made me even a better HR professional.
What are your strategies to increase employee productivity and retention?
The dream of every executive or business owner–to have super productive employees who never leave the company. Of course it’s just a dream, far away from reality in the workplace… As an HR Business Partner, however, you should be able to improve these KPIs.
But you should not talk about addressing each issue of motivation individually. Focus on strategic decisions, and changes and policies implemented across the board. That’s the perspective they want you to have on this position. A few strategies you can refer to in your answer (just my experience, you can add more).
Having regular one on one meetings between managers and key players in each team, to ensure that any problems or issues are spotted and addressed promptly, before they grow into something bigger.
Setting clear and tangible goals for every single role in an organization, which allows for better monitoring of productivity.
Introducing team building events and regular feedback loop, ensuring that employees are satisfied in the business (and improve their retention in this way).
Improving the overall HR planning to ensure that the right people are in the company at the right time, and productivity does not suffer due to bad HR decisions.
What are your expectations on the leaders of various departments of the company and on the top management?
Even here I see two options for a really good answer. First one is saying that you have high expectations on one person only–on yourself. You know that other managers are busy with their tasks, and as long as they allow you to do your job, and have time to see you for half an hour each week, you are fine with that.
Another option is referring to an open communication and feedback. First of all, you can’t really align the HR with overall business strategy unless you understand the business strategy, and what the company leaders try to achieve. So it is important that they trust you and describe these things to you in detail.
Secondly, you expect them to provide regular feedback on your work, from their perspective (which differs strongly from your HR perspective). It will allow you to react promptly and to eventually achieve the goals they want you to achieve…
I expect an open and honest communication. What I try to say here is that without talking openly about problems and challenges, and trying to find consensus, we cannot really take the HR here to next level, and make sure that it aligns with the goals of the company. That’s why I expect them to have their doors open for me when we need to talk, and also to share honest feedback on my work, and openly express their worries and concerns. Except of that, however, I do not have any other expectations.
10 other questions you may face in your HRBP job interview
- If you are given two conflicting priorities from two separate managers, how do you figure out how to proceed?
- Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision that was going to have a significant impact on the business.
- Tell us about as time when you faced a problem that had multiple possible solutions.
- How do you maintain an in-depth knowledge of legal requirements related to day-to-day management of employees?
- Tell us about a time when you struggled to implement a new HR policy in a company or within a team.
- How would you evaluate the effectiveness of employee training programs in the company? Do you think an HR Business Partner should participate in the program, and if yes, what their role should be?
- Describe a time when you sacrificed short term goals for long term success.
- Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn’t want me to know.
- Describe a time when you felt overwhelmed with work.
- Tell me about a time you had to comply with a policy or procedure that you did not agree with.
Conclusion, premium answers to all behavioral questions
Interview for a job of an HR Business Partner belongs to difficult job interviews. You will face a plethora of tricky behavioral questions, and you will have to demonstrate your experience with everything that falls under the HR umbrella.
But luck favors the prepared mind. Read the questions once again (including my hints and sample answers), and try to write down meaningful answer to each one of them. And if you struggle to figure it out, or experience interview anxiety, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will help you streamline your interview preparation, outclass your competitors, and eventually get this great job.
I hope you will manage to prepare, and wish you good luck in this difficult interview!
May also interest you:
- HR Director interview questions – Many of the questions can overlap with this position, check them out and avoid negative surprises in your meeting with the top management.
- How to overcome interview nerves – Feeling beyond nervous while preparing for this tricky interview? Learn how to calm down following one of our 4 proven strategies.
- Salary negotiation tips – There’s definitely room for salary negotiation in this interview. Learn how to get as much as you deserve–or even more, once the time comes to talk money.