HR | Case Studies @ Workable

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How to assess HR officers

The following exercises will help you assess the skills of HR officers in your interviews.

1. Confidentiality skills assessment

Exercise: The Chief Operations Officer messages you on our web-based workplace messaging application requesting the salary information for someone in his/her Finance department. How would you handle this request?

What to look for: This question tests the candidate’s awareness of confidentiality around sensitive information like salary. Even though the Chief Finance Officer is entitled to know the salary information of an employee in his/her department, the candidate shouldn’t share the information through a web-based application. An appropriate response is “I have the information, but, for confidentiality and privacy concerns around it, can I come by your office?”

Red flags: Saying “no” outright or sharing the information with the higher-up shows that the candidate may not easily perceive the sensitivity around certain employee information — a skill that is key to any HR role.

2. Critical listening skills assessment

Exercise: In this scenario, you are the HR Officer of our company, and Employee A is a fictional character who arranged a meeting with you after learning that their colleague, Employee B, in the same role just got a promotion. Employee A did not get a promotion, but they have been lobbying for one for a while. How would you respond?

Employee A: I was really annoyed to learn that Employee B got a promotion. I’ve been in this role longer. I’ve worked extra hours. I know Employee B is a friend of the manager’s. I’ve asked for a promotion in the past three months but I was told there was no budget. Why wasn’t I considered for this?

What to look for: Good candidates will recognize that the employee is feeling under-appreciated. They’ll listen patiently to the employee and offer objective input. They’ll offer to look into the matter – with the employee’s permission. But more importantly, they’ll turn the conversation into one that focuses on career development. They might ask “What skills would you like to learn that would help advance your career?” Or, “Where would you like to see your role advance to, and how can I help you with that?”

Red flags: A candidate who rejects the employee’s concerns or is dismissive or critical in any way (e.g. “You were unworthy of this promotion because you lack X skills”) shows they may not have the critical listening or diplomacy skills to help employees.

3. Mediation skills assessment

Exercise: Here’s a scenario. An employee comes into your office complaining about a major change he wasn’t aware of—he was reassigned to another manager with no prior knowledge. He demanded an explanation, but was told by his former boss to “speak to HR.” And now he has stormed into your office and is cursing at you. How do you respond?

What to look for: What happened here was a breakdown or lack of communication – which is at the root of most employee grievances HR handles. Good candidates for the HR Officer position will try to get to the root of why this happened. They might suggest going to a private room and arranging a meeting between the employee, former manager and new manager to talk about the change.

Red flags: HR often has to handle ugly conflicts managers don’t want to deal with. It’s why people in this role need to have thick skins. They also have to take ownership of problems. Any type of deflection or blaming the manager, the manager’s boss or the CEO are red flags. Any callous statements like “It’s not like your salary is changing” are also dealbreakers.

4. Persuasion skills assessment

Exercise: You work at a startup that is growing fast. Many of the employees who have never been managers before are promoted to team leaders or managers of large departments. In your 1:1s with these managers and their employees, you notice a number of management related conflicts that keep popping up (e.g. inconsistent management, favoritism, gender discrimination.) You want to convince your CEO to invest in human resources management skills training. How would you do it?

What to look for: Candidates who understand that they need to build a case using data to support management training will stand out. These candidates also understand that not every manager is born with people management skills. They might make the case for management training by chronicling the number of conflicts that crop up and how they might affect employee retention.

Red flags: Candidates for HR Officer roles who are overly emotional in their argument for management training may forget to back their case up with data. Look out for people who recognize how to convince others with evidence-backed pitches.