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How to Ace Your Next HR Job Interview

Use a 5-Point Agenda and 60-Second Sell to effectively market your skills

A man in a suit adjusting his tie in front of a mirror.

​Most HR people are experts in finding job applicants' strengths and hiring them, but they may struggle to define and promote their own skills and accomplishments. Self-promotion doesn't have to be stressful or difficult if you have a strategy and effectively apply it. Two tools—the 5-Point Agenda and the 60-Second Sell—can help you communicate your capabilities.

Tracy White, SHRM-SCP, is chief HR officer for Clark Nuber, a professional services firm in Bellevue, Wash., and has over 15 years of experience hiring HR professionals. She has observed that many HR people are not good at marketing themselves during job interviews.

"It's important to make sure that you are touting the skills you have for the actual job you're applying for. If you are looking at a recruiting position, don't spend much time talking about your skills in compensation and benefits. Not every job wants a broad generalist. Instead, emphasize your recruiting and talent search strengths, showing how you can do that job very well."

Here's an example of putting these tips and tools into action.

When Angela Oakley, of Bellevue, Wash., decided she no longer wanted to be an independent HR consultant, she began seeking out manager of learning and development jobs.

Oakley knew she needed to thoroughly research each company that posted these positions so she could explain how her skills would apply to the jobs. She used her networking skills to research prospective employers.

"First, I interviewed people who held this job [in other companies] to learn the current needs, problems and issues [the position faces]. Next, I talked to people who knew the employers that I was applying to." She got a lot of insider insight by making this extra effort. She also developed plenty of work examples and role-played answering questions before she got to her job interview.

"What helped me the most," Oakley said, "was developing my 5-Point Agenda and my 60-Second Sell. It allowed me to really strategize and focus the interview on how I was the right person to hire."

Creating Your 5-Point Agenda

The 5-Point Agenda is a method to focus your interview on your strengths and the needs of the employer. After conducting some self-analysis, as Oakley did, you select your five most marketable attributes and repeatedly discuss them throughout the interview process. Be sure to create work examples that outline these strengths.

You've probably found yourself bored and frustrated when you are interviewing an applicant who can't show you his skill set. The 5-Point Agenda helps you capture and keep the interviewer's attention as you reiterate the ways you can do the job.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Examine your previous experience. Write out the major responsibilities for each job you've held. Note any special accomplishments. Zero in on your important work strengths—the abilities where you excel and are most productive.
  2. After reviewing the employer's needs, determine which of your abilities and aspects of your experience will be most important to the employer.
  3. Create your 5-Point Agenda, selecting each point to build a solid picture showing how you can do the best job.

Human Resources Director’s 5-Point Agenda

A company wanted to find a progressive HR partner to lead its organization and needed a strategic leader. This 5-Point Agenda stresses the applicant's achievements as they pertain to the job's requirements:

  • Point 1: Award-winning human resources leader.
  • Point 2: Providing strategic direction for an organization that was recently named a national Best Places To Work company.
  • Point 3: With a strong entrepreneurial drive, was responsible for delivering new programs, HR systems and major policy enhancements.
  • Point 4: A strategic and operational business partner working closely with top executives.
  • Point 5: Exceeds goals and expectations. 


Creating Your 60-Second Sell 

The 60-Second Sell is a tool that helps you target your skills to meet the employer's needs. It helps you summarize your most marketable strengths in a brief and concise manner. This technique is very easy to use and the most effective way to open, and close, an interview.

For each interview, you'll create a 60-second statement that summarizes and links together your 5-Point Agenda. Put the points of your 5-Point Agenda into an order that allows you to present them in the most logical and effective manner. When you link the ideas into sentences, they should be spoken in 60 seconds or less. Memorize this statement so that it is easy for you to recall and use during the interview. 

When to Use It

Most interviews are over before they ever really get started—if you blow the first impression, you may have blown the job opportunity. How do you avoid this?

Typically, the first question you are asked in an interview is "Tell me about yourself." Your in-depth autobiography is not needed here. In fact, if you go on after the first minute or two, you may totally lose the interviewer's attention. Begin with your 60-Second Sell and start the interview by grabbing the employer's attention and keeping it. The 60-Second Sell is effective because it demonstrates your strengths and illustrates how you will fill the employer's needs. That is the key to its success, and yours.

Then use the attributes from your 5-Point Agenda to answer these common interview questions:

  • Why should I hire you?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What makes you think you are qualified for this job?
  • What makes you think you will succeed in this position?
  • Why do you want this job? 

Human Resources Director's 60-Second Sell

"I've been an award-winning human resources leader with 15 years of experience providing strategic direction. I'm proud to share that my current employer was recently named a national Best Places To Work company. I am a global thinker who contributed to the company's success as a strategic and operational business partner, and we have cut attrition by 60 percent. I display a strong entrepreneurial drive at work. I have been responsible for delivering new programs, HR systems, and major policy enhancements. My CEO has repeatedly recognized me for my innovative leadership that often exceeds goals and expectations."


Use the 60-Second Sell to close your interview memorably. Most of your prospective employers will make notes and evaluate your fit with the company right after you leave the interview. If you close with your 60-Second Sell, the employer just heard the five best reasons to hire you.

Tracy White's Tips for Job-Seeking HR Professionals

  •  Showing a passion for the job is important, but when you're asked why you want to be in the HR field, go beyond just saying you like people. That's not enough; it's only one spectrum of the reason.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Show enthusiasm.
  • Be careful that you don't come across as being overqualified for the job. That won't help you at all.
  • When you get called in for the interview, ask the company to send you the job description. This will help set up your 5-Point Agenda and 60-Second Sell.

Robin Ryan is the bestselling author of the Interview book 60 Seconds & You're Hired (Penguin Books, Rev. January 2016), along with seven other books. She has appeared on over 2,000 TV and radio shows including "Oprah" and "Dr. Phil." She has a busy career counseling practice providing job search, resume writing and interview coaching services to clients nationwide. Sign up for her free Career Newsletter at


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