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Fielding Interview Questions: An HR Leader Offers Advice

A woman wearing a surgical mask is talking to a man at a desk.

​What are some typical questions that an applicant for an entry-level HR position can expect to be asked—and just what are employers hoping to learn from those answers?

At VSP Global, a vison, hospital and health care company based in Sacramento, Calif., job candidates are often asked about a time when they experienced conflict with a co-worker and how they resolved it, according to Ron Orr, VSP's senior director of talent acquisition.

Other likely requests for information include the following:

  • As a recent HR graduate kicking off your career, what are the key things you are looking for in a job and a company?
  • In 30 seconds or less, please share your general understanding of this role.
  • What is your high-level understanding of VSP Global and how this role ties into the mission?
  • Please share three of the most relevant classes, projects, tasks or volunteer efforts you have experienced at this point that have most prepared you for this role. Be specific.

SHRM Online asked Orr what advice he has for entry-level HR job candidates on how to handle themselves in a job interview with the company. Comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

SHRM Online: What information are you looking for in the answers candidates provide?

Orr: We look for demonstrated behaviors that align with our company values and whether or not they meet the minimum qualifications of the job. For all roles, we also look for specific competencies, such as self-awareness, ability to instill trust, customer focus and nimble learning, [that help] us hire candidates [who] are not just ready for the job they're interviewing for, but also adaptable for future business needs. Candidates who answer questions concisely in a direct and job-focused way are impressive.  

SHRM Online: "Tell me about yourself" often surfaces as an interview question. What answers are interviewers looking for here?

Orr: We train our managers to avoid asking that and focus more on specific knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors that are most relevant to the job, our company values and culture.

If you're asked that question as a candidate, focus your response on anything related to the job—for example, what you can bring to the table, what you're seeking in a role or what brought you to apply, and anything skills- or competency-related that can help you positively stand out from other candidates.

SHRM Online: How can an entry-level HR job candidate—or someone who has been out of the workforce for a while—frame their volunteer activities when asked about their job experience?

Orr: We are open to all experience when determining the most qualified candidate for the job, whether that experience comes from volunteering, training, serving in the military and the like. As long as the candidate can effectively share his or her knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors, there is no need to frame their answer other than being transparent that it was a volunteer experience.

From our perspective, whether the role was paid or not, one key piece of our assessment for the most competitive candidates will have the "recency and frequency" factor. So it is important—whether a [candidate is a] re-entry to the workforce or a new graduate—that some key skills are learned and practiced along the way to ensure relevancy to the role to which they are applying.


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