HR Job Hunting – How to Get Noticed

When you’re an experienced HR leader, you already know the time-tested tricks for standing out as an applicant. The problem is—so do all your competitors.

In the current economy, you can’t even rely on your superior skill set to get your foot in the door. Employers are reporting that applicants—even those applying for entry-level positions—are more experienced and qualified than ever before. Consider McDonald’s, who received over a million applications for the 50,000 jobs it advertised on National Hiring Day in 2011. Even though the company hired more positions than expected, the selection rate was still only 6.2%—making it more competitive than admission to Harvard University.

In a group of experienced HR professionals—when every resume is error-free and all the candidates have polished interview responses—just how does an HR executive stand out from the pack?

  • Preparation Sure, most HR executives will prepare for the interview. But there’s a world of difference between a cursory once-over of the company website, and detailed follow-up with company insiders. Use your networking contacts to get in touch with respected current employees, and ask them about the job, the company culture, and priority projects. Try to speak with contacts both inside and outside the HR department for a balanced mix of perspectives on its role within the company. Get copies of HR policies, operational plans, labor agreements, budgets and projections. Identify upcoming legislative changes that will need to be made, figure out when the next union contracts will be negotiated and review the budget to determine if the company is more likely to be designing a bonus program or a layoff plan—then slant your interview responses accordingly.
  • Samples and Handouts Customize specific handouts and bring them with you to the interview. For example, draft a 30/60/90 day plan—a document explaining what you would do in your first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job. Or create a bulleted document indicating your ideas for the strategic direction of human resources in the short term (one year or less) and long term (over five years). Although you might have prepared several handouts, don’t introduce them unless it’s timely and relevant. If you have multiple handouts, organize them in a briefcase or folder so you can quickly select the document you need during the interview.

  • Show Your Strategic Style with Statistics You already know that operational knowledge and business strategy is central to successful HR. But demonstrating that philosophy in an interview can be tricky. Arm yourself with facts and figures from your current company to demonstrate the operational impact of your work. For example, explain how you reduced the turnover rate more than 50 percent by creating a mentoring program, or give the return on investment realized by the operational skills training you designed.
  • Questions It’s never a good idea to be without questions at the end of an interview, but you can’t fall back on generic questions about the company benefits plan that any HR professional should already know the answer to. Instead, plan several thoughtful HR questions that will likely develop into further discussion and allow you to showcase your strengths even further. For example, if you specialize in labor relations and collective bargaining, ask about the company’s relationship with the union.
  • Thank-You Note Only 10 percent of applicants actually take the time to send a thank-you note or email, so it’s a sure-fire way to stand out from the pack. If you’ve ever finished an interview, only to think of the perfect answer as you leave the building, a concise, professional thank-you email can be a way to cover those missed opportunities. And just because you didn’t get a chance to use your handouts in the interview, doesn’t mean it was a waste of your time to create them. Upload unused handouts you still want to share to your resume, and include relevant work samples that demonstrate your skills and experience in the specific areas the interview focused on. For example, if the interviewers mentioned a specific human resources problem—such as a high workers’ compensation incident rate—include samples of the wellness program you designed and the statistics showing the associated drop in claims and costs. Include a brief note about what you’ve included, and provide the link to your updated resume. Not only will the interviewer see your samples, but he’ll be reminded of your skills and qualifications again too.

Over to you.  Do you have any suggestions, yourselves? Anecdotes from your HR job hunting experience? Perhaps you’re looking for work now – what’s it like on the ground?

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