The HR Interview – Reversed Roles

Recently, my brother, Dennis,  marathon-interviewed at a company in Maine — you know those 8-in-the-morning-till-3-in-the-afternoon talkathons.  When he met with the HR Director, he was in for a surprise.  The Director reversed the roles.  First, he briefed Dennis on his background and experience.  Then he asked my brother to interview him on any aspects of the company and Human Resources that interested him.

Normally, the interviewee is allotted a brief space at the end of the interview to ask questions.  I often find that the person is gum-sore from talking and has very few questions, other than the most basic.   Reversing the roles allows you, the interviewee, to:

Learn more than the company’s mission statement.    You can ask HOW the company achieves its mission.   Probe for company policy and practice in working with its customers/clients/vendors.  Company actions will tell you what the company values.

Learn more about the HR director and values.  You can discover how and why the HR director has the job — Grew through ranks?  Came from outside with new ideas?  Ask about the innovative programs that HR Director has introduced recently to the company and the results so far.  HR values should mirror company values and help company create strong culture.  Innovative programs will tell you whether HR stays attuned to the changing needs in the workplace.

Learn more about how HR functions in the company.  You can ask WHAT the HR department provides, not only in pay/benefits (the usual), but what HR provides for orientation, on-boarding, on-going training and learning.  Find out how HR interacts with your department, with employees and with company customers/clients.  HR programs and policies should support the companies goals and outcomes.  The nature of the programs will alert you to the company’s environment and culture.

For HR practitioners who find themselves in the interviewing rut, trying different formats can sharpen your skills in assessment.  Reversing roles allows you to:

Assess the candidate’s values.  Candidate questions often underscore what is most important or what is valued.  Asks about promotions?  May be tied to personal goals.  Asks about vacations?  May be tied to personal time.   Asks about community involvement? May be tied to commitment.

Assess the candidate’s skills.   Even if  candidates are surprised at being asked to interview you, they still need to demonstrate their communication skills.  Has questions prepared?  Shows forethought.  Listens and paraphrases?  Shows advanced techniques.  Uses positive verbal and nonverbal communications?  Shows poise.

Assess the candidate’s expectations.  Candidate questions also reflect their past work place experiences.  Candidates who use comparisons about employee treatment may be indicating what happened in their last workplace.   Candidates who use oblique examples may be signaling a past bad experience.  Candidates who describe specific processes or policies may expect the same from your company.

As we all know, a good interview is really a good conversation.   Reversing roles is not a trick — it gives the interviewer and interviewee opportunities to learn about each other, about the company, and about the values that drive all.

About mcgntr

About Ann I was lucky and grew up in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts surrounded by the arts, industry, literature, and family. I had a great education-- undergraduate work at Caldwell College and my masters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I began business life as Training Assistant. Returning east, I continued in the training profession, and ‘fell’ into Human Resources - first, Recruiting and Employment, Director of Human Resources and finally Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Training. I bowed out of the corporate world with the white collar layoffs in early ‘90s – and started a new venture McGill Enterprises: HelpQuick Human Resources Advisory & Training Services. I have enjoyed great opportunities - publishing 3 training books, mentoring HR professionals, creating a wide variety of training programs, writing scripts, and becoming an adjunct professor.
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