HR Insights, HR Management

3 Great Questions to Ask Your HR Business Partner Candidates

© joef - Fotolia.com

One of the most common questions I am asked is:Do you know anyone who’d be great for our open HR Business Partner role?”

And it’s no surprise. As more and more companies “transform” their HR function, the need for a specific-type of HR generalist has become more acute. And the aggressive networking (“who do you know for this job?“) underscores a talent problem we have in our industry: the dramatic need for strategic HR partners.

Many companies thought that announcing a new organizational structure and changing titles would be enough to “transform” the function. But now it’s clear that those changes have no bearing on whether the incumbents can really do the job. Hence, the flurry of interviewing as the role sees more and more attrition and the struggle continues to match a person to this new, sometime ambiguous, and challenging role.

Assessment determines the best fit

We’ve done a lot of work in the area of HR Business Partner competencies – and make no bones about the fact that assessment, rather than old school interviewing, is the best way to determine whether a person is the right fit for the role. But even if you have access to an HRBP-specific assessment program, interviewing can still provide valuable insight into the skills, experience, and mindset of these candidates. If you do it right.

Here are some questions we recommend. But remember – as obvious as it might seem – the important and challenging aspect of interviewing is evaluating the candidates’ answers based on the needs of the position – not just asking great questions.

 1. Have you ever built a talent strategy to support an organization’s business strategy? [If so, describe how you went about doing it. What was your approach? What stakeholders did you work most closely with? What was the outcome? How did you measure success?] If not, describe how you’d go about doing it. Which stakeholders would be most important to work with? What outcomes would you want to achieve? How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy?

Answers to look for:

  • A cogent approach to understanding the near-term business strategy (plan for growth, new products or services, infrastructure requirements, etc. – and how those map those to specific talent needs.)
  • A practical method for assessing the existing talent in the organization and identifying where gaps exist and the criticality of those gaps.
  • A plan for closing the gap using a multi-pronged approach such as build, borrow, buy, etc.
  • A partnership mindset in which close ties to – and input from – the business leaders is leveraged throughout the process.
  • An objective way to measure results through decreased vacancy rates for mission critical roles, higher rates of successful internal promotions, reduced attrition in key parts of the business, higher customer service ratings, etc.

An important strategy

2. Tell me about a situation in which you took an unpopular stand on what you believed represented an important strategy for your business, and you were able to convince others who initially disagreed with you. What was the situation, what did you do, and what was the outcome?

Answers to look for:

  • A strategic situation that impacts talent in the organization (e.g., candidate pipeline, employees’ access to social media, driving support for new technology, etc.) – versus a tactical, old-school HR issue.
  • A knowledge of economic, industry and business trends.
  • A willingness to take risks and an ability to influence others.
  • A sense of confidence, smarts and initiative.
  • The ability to make data-based decisions and recommendations, and assess the ROI of business outcomes.

 An approach to managing work

3. Describe your approach to managing the range of work an HRBP faces – from strategic to tactical. What process do you use? What resources do you leverage? How do you know you’re focusing on the things and driving the right results?

Answers to look for:

  • A structured approach to prioritizing work, managing time, following up, and staging deadlines
  • A creative method for managing resources, delegating tactical issues, using web-based (even free) tools for task and project management, regular updates with peers, business leaders or direct reports to manage the right priorities, a process for managing expectations of business leaders regarding their role and responsibilities.
  • A business-based approach for working proactively vs. reactively – e.g., attending business updates, field visits with leaders, keeping up the financials of the business, etc.
  • An openness to feedback in which their input, deliverables and value to the business is assessed through surveys, interviews, objective measures, etc.

This is a start to matching HR Business Partner candidates to leaders who are demanding value from these strategic roles. And a challenging, position-relevant job interview is a great place to start.

Linda Brenner is managing director of Designs on Talent, a consulting firm based in Atlanta which helps organizations improve talent acquisition and talent management results. The firm has a unique approach to recruitment process improvement and recruiter assessment and development. Prior to consulting, she held talent acquisition and talent management leadership roles for Gap, Pepsi, and The Home Depot. For the last eight years as founder, owner, and managing director of the firm, she has worked with clients including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, The Home Depot, Turner Broadcasting, Chick-fil-A, Toys R Us, Scripps Networks, Dell, Linkedin, and TJX. Her no-nonsense, high quality, deliver-the-goods approach is reflected throughout her team of 14 talented professionals. Linda holds a master's degree in industrial relations from University of Cincinnati's School of Economics and lives in midtown Atlanta with her husband and two sons. You can check out Designs on Talent at designsontalent.com.
  • Heiko

    Ask him/her what s/he would do to enable the Business to a point where it wouldn’t need HR at all.

  • Tmm04

    Linda, 
    Those are excellent questions which can be adjusted to apply to any position. 
    One other question I use a lot when interviewing is “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake”.  I reassure the candidate that everyone makes mistakes and I’m more interested in how they dealt with making a mistake than the mistake itself.  That statement seems to reassure most candidates.When they answer, I look for: how serious was the mistake in relation to their job and company, how did they handle it, how did they realize they had made a mistake, did they take accountability for the mistake, what did they learn and whether they put a process in place to ensure they didn’t make the mistake again.