You’ve had your share of recruiting and leading interviews, you designed effective employee training materials, and put together competitive benefits packages for the key players in your industry. Over the years you’ve got good grasp of payroll and administrative work in HR.

You’ve done it all, started from the bottom, became a manager later on, and now you are finally looking to get an executive position of an HR Director. You definitely deserve the job, and have an ability to spearhead the entire HR of the company. But can you convince the CEO, or other executives who may lead your interview for this prestigious role, about your skills and abilities?

Let’ have a look at some questions they may ask you, and how you should answer them to succeed and sign a coveted job contract.

 

Can you please tell us more about your previous working experience?

Try to tell them a story of your life, of your professional career. You’ve been always fascinated with HR, since you understood that great people form the integral part of each great organization. You decided to study HR (or other relevant field), and started your career somewhere, learning the ins and outs of human resources.

Making mistakes along the way, experiencing successes and failures, you’ve learned how to attract young talent to the company, how to lead interviews, and how to turn the rough talent into a great asset for the company. Maybe you’ve had your share in dealing with unions, or at least with some troublesome workers who you couldn’t afford to fire. And you also did some HR planning, at least on a level of one department.

Summarized and underlined, everything culminates at this point. Now you are ready to lead the entire HR of the company, utilizing all the experience you’ve gained over the years while working in HR, and with people. At the end of your story they should get an impression that a role of an HR Director makes a perfect sense at this point of your professional career.

Sample answer:

As you can see on my resume, it was quite a journey. I started twelve years ago, as an HR Generalist, spending my time doing basic administrative tasks, helping my colleagues in the HR department, and learning from them. Then the first promotion came, and I started to lead interviews, or at least participate in them. I also had my share of work in payroll, but then left the company and became an HR manager in XYZ corporation. Suddenly I was the one responsible for HR planning, designing interview processes and overseeing the entire employee lifecycle in the sales department of the company. The learning curve was steep, but, judging by my results and the people I managed to get onboard the company, I have done quite a good job. Now I feel it is the right time for making the next step, and that’s why I am here in this interview with you.

 

What is your vision for the HR department of our company?

Unless you apply for a position internally, you should do your research. Because you will interview for this job with executives, and such people are interested mostly in long term plans, visions, strategies, critical improvements.

Think about their staffing needs, employee turnover in the given field, competitive advantage of their business on the employment market (or what could turn to such an advantage). Then you can narrate these things in your interview.

This is an executive position, and in order to succeed in an interview, you have to have some vision… If you can’t figure it out, you can give them your description of an effective and successful HR department–from a strategical point of view. For example you can say that your vision is to have a clear HR strategy in both short and long term horizon, based on perfect understanding of present and future staffing needs.

You want to have skilled HR managers under you, and each of them should understand the expectations, and their role in the HR. You plan to introduce effective and innovative sourcing strategies that will attract young talent to the company, and motivating promotion structure and employee benefits that will help you retain the most important people. Share with them a vision of an HR department they would love to have in their company. That’s the way to win them over.

Sample answer:

Well, I believe the vision for the department, especially the long-term vision, should be a matter of discussion for the entire board. However, from my perspective, I want to make this HR department more efficient and competitive. I know you’ve been struggling with getting new talent onboard lately, especially because you cannot compete with the biggest players in the field in terms of salaries and employee benefits. But we can turn this around, introducing some innovative sourcing strategies, and also relying on our agility, something the biggest players in the field just don’t have. Another of my gals will be making the entire department more-cost effective, since the current cost of one hire is way too much in my view. Last but not least, I will aim for a closer cooperation with other departments of the company, since I feel there is a lot of room for improvement here. That’s it briefly. Would you like me to elaborate more on any of these points?

What do you consider the most challenging aspect of HR in our industry (or in our company)?

This obviously varies for each company and business field. But I want to give you at least some examples since they should help you understand how to construct a great answer to this question:

  • Applying for a job of HR director in a smaller company that competes with many big players (with deep pockets), the most challenging HR task is typically to attract great people to apply for the jobs with the company, and also to retain the employees. Your competitors (big players) can afford to pay people more money and offer better benefits. Hence you have to be creative in your recruitment strategies…
  • In a big company it is often challenging to keep the HR department at least somehow unified and flexible to changes on the employment market. Different HR managers may struggle to follow the same strategy and cooperate effectively, which often results in unreasonable expenses and ineffective HR management.
  • You may also apply for a job of HR director in a filed of business where companies generally struggle to find employees. Think sales, IT, agriculture–just to name a few examples. Meeting the staffing needs is the biggest challenge of HR in this case.

Sample answer:

The biggest challenge is to meet the staffing needs, while maintaining at least some profit margin. There is lack of interest for education in this field, and employee fluctuation is high. Unless we come up with some creative sourcing strategies, plus with a strategy to keep people onboard for a couple of years at least, it will be extremely hard to have enough people in the factory, while maintaining the costs at a reasonable level. But I believe to have the experience the deal with such challenges, and have some ideas on how to address each one.

 

If we hire you for this job, what will be the first thing you do?

I suggest you to say that you will talk to the HR managers, as well as to the leaders of various departments of the company, such as finance, marketing, sales, production, etc.

You will try to understand the situation with employees in each department–staffing needs, employee turnover, employee satisfaction, etc. Talking to people will help you understand how their HR fares at the moment, what the HR Managers are doing, and what needs to be improved or changed completely. Then you will start with your planning and work accordingly.

Situation differs when you apply for a job of an HR director internally. In such a case you likely know what’s their Achilles’ heel, and will start directly with the improvements. This can be anything from redesigning overall HR strategy to hiring or firing some key players in the department. Do not be afraid to talk about changes. They do not hire you (or promote you) to keep the status quo of their HR. They hire you to make things better…

Sample answer:

My idea is to have a one-on-one with almost everyone in the department. I will also talk to the leaders of other departments. The goal is to understand the situation in HR, to see it from the perspective of various people in the company, representing various departments and levels in the corporate hierarchy. That, together with the numbers I plan to study, should help me get a clear picture of where we stand in HR, and what we should focus on in the first months…

 

Behavioral and situational questions in HR director interview

The 4 questions I described up to this point are probably the most important questions you will face in your HR Director interview, and the questions executives will ask you.

If you manage to convince them of your experience and understanding of their field of business, and present a realistic vision for their HR department, and a few good ideas for improvement, they may hire you–without asking you a single behavioral question.

However, if the interview process consists of few rounds, and before the interview with executives you have some meetings with existing HR staff or external recruiters, these people can ask you some behavioral and situational questions, or even some basic questions about your motivation and goals. Let’s have a look at the list:

  • Describe a situation when you struggled to communicate something to one of your colleagues. What did you do to eventually get your message over.
  • Tell us about a time when you struggled to attract job seekers to certain job offer. What did you do to improve the attractiveness of the offer? Did you use any creative sourcing strategies to find the applicants?
  • What do you consider your most successful and least successful HR experience?
  • Tell us about a time when you felt overwhelmed with work.
  • Talk about a situation when you foreseen a problem with employees. What did you do to prevent it from escalating into something bigger?
  • Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline in your work. What did you do to prioritize your tasks and meet the deadline?
  • Tell us about the most difficult salary negotiation you’ve ever led working in HR.
  • Imagine that one of the key employees threatens to leave the company, unless we pay them twice as much each month. What would you do in this situation?
  • Is there anything you’d like to achieve while working as an HR director for our company?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Do you think it is important to promote diversity in a workplace in a company like this one?
  • What do you expect from HR managers working under you, and from leading figures from other departments of the company?
  • What does quality mean to you?
  • After everything that we discussed in this interview, is there anything you’d like to add? Or do you have any questions?

Conclusion, premium answers to scenario-based questions

Interview for a job of an HR Director belongs to tricky interviews. It can sometimes be quite easy–if you have a good understanding of the company, and can convince the executives with your vision of their HR department, and with your former achievements in HR.

But it can be also incredibly complex and difficult, when the employer decides to conduct several rounds of interviews, and you’ll have to deal with many situational and behavioral questions, personality test and whatever, along the way, before you even get a chance to explain them your ideas of how an effective HR department should work under your leadership.

I believe that these things are not necessary when a company hires someone experienced for an executive position. It can easily happen that the best candidates get screened out in the early rounds of interviews, simply because they do not give the right answers in personality test, or fail to pass some other part of the process.

But I won’t lead the interview process with you :). Hence you may get the questions, and you should do your best to prepare for each one. Read this article once again, and try to think about a good answer to each question. 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 your interview!

Matthew

May also interest you:

  • How to overcome interview nerves – Do not let stress to kill your chances in this important meeting.
  • Salary negotiation tips – You have a great negotiation power when interviewing for an executive position. Learn how to get the most of it, and get what you deserve at the end of the interviews.
  • Interview with the CEO – Interviewing with the highest figure from the company? Learn what matters for them.
Matthew Chulaw
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