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Interviewing for HR Leadership Roles: A Different Game

When you’re in the early stages of your career, you’ll receive a lot of advice about how to prepare for and conduct yourself in an interview. But not too much attention has been given to the senior professional and how they can prepare for a very different type of interview.

Reputation and Relationships

Much of the hard work at the c-suite level happens well before the interview stage, and it is well worth having an understanding of the work that goes on before any interview. Unlike mid-level candidates who can get away with a more transactional approach with recruiters, senior candidates need to be much more relationship orientated. They need to respond to calls and emails even when they are not actively looking for a role, and be helpful by making referrals and recommendations.

Your reputation needs to proceed you — being a ‘go-to’ source of industry knowledge will also give recruiters a compelling reason to help when you finally start looking for a role.

A good way to continue cultivating a relationship with recruiters is in any post-interview process – regardless of the outcome. Senior candidates need to invest in the future prospects of their career, not just months ahead, but years ahead.

The Leadership Role: Interview Basics

Remain positive: Whether you’re looking for a new job because you’ve grown bored or because your senior management and company leadership simply doesn’t have a clue, the point is that no one likes a complainer. Be honest, but be positive.

Managing through difficulties: By now you’ve either managed someone or at least a project. Have examples of how you coached a difficult employee to success. It might seem impressive to have managed someone out of the organisation, but most experienced managers know that it is much easier (and more cost effective) to help someone improve than to walk them out the door.

Project Management: The same goes for projects. The initial phase of a project is always filled with excitement as everyone is galvanised by the end state, but any experienced project manager knows that along the way life happens. Maybe the budget changed, priorities shifted and the scope expanded, or a few people left and you’re down a few resources. Have examples to explain how you managed the project through these challenges.

Influence, Impact, and Context: Keys to Success

Influence Upwards: Most managers are prepared to talk about their management styles with their direct reports, but don’t forget to include how you influence up the chain as well. Be prepared to answer questions about how you convinced your manager to take another course of action or how you changed the scope of a project in the face of opposition.

Impact: One of the key differences between interviewing for a junior position and that of a leadership role is being able to explain the impact of your actions. An Analyst will discuss the spreadsheets they ran and how fast they were able to turnaround stats, but a leader of Analysts will be able to discuss how the stats he produced highlighted where his team could save money and then how he and his team implemented a new process that saved time and reduced budgetary constraints.

Commercial Context: At the c-suite level, interviews take the form of a conversation about the business and the business objectives. It’s less about “question and answer”, and more about an authentic understanding of overall objectives and HR’s context within that. This is just as likely to occur over dinner with c-suite/board members to discuss current issues, as it is a formal interview.

As a senior candidate you will also need to ask good probing questions, throw out ideas, discuss experiences with the issues that come up, and perhaps show a working knowledge of HR theory and best-practice models. You will need to be able to talk strategy, not just from a people perspective, but from an organisational one.

Intelligently placed questions are also an important way of highlighting your strengths, success stories, and covering areas of strength that may have been missed during in the wider interview and conversation.

What a Recruiter Looks For

From a recruitment perspective, the problem with HRDs is that the title is so subjective to the organisation. However, as a generalisation, at the HRD level (and as you continue down the food chain) the day-to-day HRD role gets a bit more tactical. As an interviewer, I look for how an HRD has taken the big picture strategies and initiatives and created buy-in; how you have tackled issues of implementation and how you overcame them (at an organisational or regional level). A good interviewer will also be looking for to know how you have partnered with the CHRO to influence decision-making up the chain, as well as unilaterally with business managers across it.

Interviewing can be a stressful time, but proper preparation can reduce anxiety and significantly increase your chances of success.


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