How Human-Resource Interviews Differ from Hiring-Manager Interviews

Let’s face it, if you want a job in a company of any significant size, you’ll have to go through the Human Resources department. With few exceptions, a manger from that department will probably talk to you before you even get a shot with the person you’d be working for. Often these two interviews are combined into one round (or phone call), in which you go straight from talking to the HR contact into a meeting with the hiring manager.

But while both of these interviews may cover similar ground, they are miles apart in many respects. Here are the differences between an interview with an HR manager and one with a hiring manager.

The basic goal of an HR interview differs from hiring managers’ aims in that HR is primarily looking at your eligibility as an overall candidate. Unlike the hiring manager, HR people aren’t looking so much at the nuances of the position and your ability to do them. Instead, they’re looking more at your ability to fit into the overall culture, policies, and principles of the company.

HR managers typically don’t have a great deal of detailed knowledge about specific positions within the company – they simply can’t with so many different jobs in any given organization. So if the HR contact asks specific questions pertaining to the position, there’s a very good chance they were fed to them by the hiring manager. For that reason, such queries can seem a little odd or out of context in the discussion. Never mind. Do your best. You’re just trying to make the cut and talk to the hiring manager.

What makes HR manager interviews so difficult at times is the fact that while these people often lack knowledge about the nuances of any given position, they are in fact usually highly skilled interviewers. In fact, perhaps “treacherous” is a better term than skilled. Armed with the latest interviewing methods developed by armies of pro recruiters, their often odd, perhaps irrelevant questions are delivered with the smoothness of a lion trap. Hiring managers, on the other hand, are typically too busy with the operational aspects of their job to have time for learning the fine art of corporate interrogation.

Finally, the fact that HR people are thoroughly removed from the position makes their observations all the keener – never mind the deftness with which they can extract deeper truth from a candidate. And although the final hiring decision usually rests with the hiring manager, the HR person will generally weigh in and present the strongest case possible for their opinions. This can make the HR interview the most difficult, as well as one of the most important. HR people are essentially gatekeepers, designed to cut the stack of candidates down. And they do it well. So tread carefully — just because you’re not talking to your future boss doesn’t mean you can’t blow it.