This week I was approached to complete some HR informational interview questions by a young lady heading back to college for a master’s degree in HR. I’ve answered similar questions before, and I have always had a heart for students looking to break into HR, so I obliged. As I responded, I wondered how others would answer and what advice they would share with someone preparing to enter this amazing profession of ours.

Would you pick a question and give your own answer in the comments section below? I used these informational interviews years ago before I got started in HR, and the responses helped me to hit the ground running when my entry level HR career took off.

HR Informational Interview

  1. What are the main duties of someone in HR? It depends on the position, but an HR generalist typically touches a variety of areas, such as recruiting, compensation, benefits, employee relations, training and development, and safety.
  2. What kinds of problems or difficulties occur in performing these duties? I’ve found that in general, companies and leaders that do not value HR are the biggest stumbling block to success. If they don’t believe that what you’re doing is value-add and benefiting the organization, then no matter what you do there will always be a limit on the positive impact you can have.
  3. What kind of rewards or enjoyments does this work provide? I would say that HR pays fairly well, if you are competent and willing to work hard. Beyond that, the satisfaction of helping families with their benefits, working with an employee to develop themselves for a promotion, or helping to coach managers through challenging times are some of my favorites.
  4. What characteristics do you believe are¬†needed to be successful in Human Resources? Usually this question is met with answers like “confidentiality” or “multitasking.” I’ll take a different approach: you need to have a sense of humor. This job can be draining if you don’t have an outlet. Imagine having to terminate someone through no fault of their own simply because the money isn’t there to support the position. Do that often enough without a release and you start to lose your mind. For me, a sense of humor is one way I can get through those tough days and stay fresh.
  5. What kinds of knowledge and skills must someone have to be successful in HR? The basics of HR include recruiting and staffing, managing employees, labor relations, risk management, benefits and compensation, etc. The more nuanced things include this list of the top five senior HR leader competencies.
  6. What else should someone thinking of getting into the HR field know? It will be nothing like you expect from the textbooks. You will learn about 10% of what you need to know to be successful with a degree in HR. The other 90% comes from doing HR every day.
  7. As I said I have a B.S. in Family and Human Services. Do you think that my background will influence me, positively or negatively, in the field of HR? I think you’re probably going to be very caring and considerate of the differences people have and what that enables them to bring to the table. The only concern is a lack of business-mindedness that is a critical part of HR today. If you can’t speak the language of the business leaders and only talk about morale and such, you won’t have any credibility.
  8. Why did you decide on a degree in HR specifically and not another Business-type degree? I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be in HR–I just didn’t know it was called HR. My parents owned a small business and had constant challenges with hiring, benefits, retention, etc. I always thought I would get a degree in management to figure out how to solve those kinds of problems. When I got to college I realized that this “HR thing” was exactly what I had always wanted to do!
  9. What exactly is your current position and what does it entail? Currently I’m not in a traditional HR role. I am working as a research analyst helping some of the largest companies in the world by creating research, publishing case studies, etc. I spend much of my time writing and creating research from primary survey data.
  10. Why haven’t you made a switch in career fields? If you have, why did you return to HR? Some would say that I did by stepping out of the traditional HR role, but I like to think that now I can help employees at a hundred companies instead of just those at the one company I was at previously.
  11. What general advice do you wish people told you about HR before you started? I did many interviews just like this one, so I had most of my questions answered early on. The only thing that would have helped more would have been more general in nature. I would have liked to know that companies often don’t change, even when they are on the wrong path. My first HR job was for a company that ended up going over the financial cliff because our leadership was unwilling to make the changes necessary to improve the business.
  12. Any specific advice for me? Especially concerning pursuing a Master’s Degree and what to do before and during the program. I’d spend as much time shadowing and talking with in-the-trenches HR folks as possible. Sign up for Twitter if you’re not already there and follow conversations like #NextChat. This will help you find other HR leaders that are worth following. Look for other HR blogs that will help you see through the eyes of accomplished professionals, such as HR Capitalist, HR Ringleader, and HR Schoolhouse. Good luck!

What do you think? Did I steer her in the right direction with the informational interview questions? Did I miss anything critical? 

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  • One thought on “HR Informational Interview Questions–Answered

    1. Great answers! I have to say, the number one complaint about HR from employees seems to be that we don’t really know what they need or understand them. The number one complaint from higher ups is that we don’t understand business.

      I would say the best things I did to prepare for HR weren’t necessarily HR related:

      1. Business acumen – I worked as an admin assistant in a medical office and then was promoted to a patient care coordinator. That particular office had monthly meetings where we tracked our financial achievements and goals, which strongly influenced how I look at every job I’ve had since. What’s it take for a person to earn their paycheck each day? Am I producing? At what point in the year is the business breaking even? At what point is it pure profit? Those are things most companies don’t let an entry level person see, but that business did and it made me feel (and act) like an owner.

      2. Seeing things from the employees’ perspective: That seriously changed my life and made me passionate about helping managers have candid discussions with their employees.

      Hope that gives a few more ideas!

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