Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Behavioral-Based Interview: Questions for a Human Resources Specialist
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by Amin Huffington

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Gone are the days when the interviewer would ask a silly questions such as "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" Today's interviewers are using a new tool to find specific information about you: The Behavioral-Based Interview.

Behavioral-Based Interview Overview Behavioral-based interviews focus on discovering how a candidate performed in specific work related situations.  This interview technique seeks to uncover how a potential employee actually did behave in a given situation; not on how he or she might behave in the future.  The premise behind this technique is that a good predictor of future performance is how someone performed in the past in a similar situation.  Behavioral-based interviews are becoming more common throughout industry and government and many candidates are familiar with this technique and are well prepared for these interviews.  Candidates can and should draw on previous work related experiences as well as non-work related experiences (e.g., school projects, community involvement) that are relevant to the interview questions.

A Human Resources Specialist should demonstrate experience in the following competencies:

Human Resource Communication: Acquires and applies critical financial concepts and practices, based upon a thorough understanding of the Federal Government.

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. In this role, you will be managing multiple assignments and HR initiatives.  In the past how have you created awareness of programs and initiatives across the organization?  What challenges did you face?  How did you handle them?
  2. What tools or methods have you utilized to disseminate information effectively to an organization?  How did you select the most appropriate one to use?
  3. Share an example of a time when someone came to you with a question regarding a matter outside of your scope of responsibility.  How did you handle this?

Key behaviors they will be looking for:

  • Maintains an understanding of own HR area and a current and accurate understanding of all organizational HR initiatives, services and applications for the purpose of creating awareness and optimizing customer service
  • Identifies the key points related to organizational HR programs that should be understood by the agency [company] employee population
  • Contributes to the knowledge and understanding that employees have relating to an organization’s HR programs
  • Communicates new/changed HR programs to employees using the most effective method(s) of communication (e.g., email, briefings)
  • Assists with the training or retraining of employees on organizational HR programs as required
  • Partners with other organizations both inside and outside of  agency or company
Human Resource Consultation: Administers grants and cooperative agreements, applying knowledge of organizational needs and deadlines
Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe a time when you had to assess organizational needs and recommend solutions to management?  How did you approach this assignment?  Who did you involve in the process?  How did you present the options?  What was the result?
  2. Think of a successful relationship you have maintained with a manager you support.  How did you build a rapport and obtain his/her trust?  How were you able to help him/her confidently and independently address and resolve human capital issues?
  3. How do you work with your customers to ensure that HR policies are successfully integrated into the organization?  What steps do you take to address issues that arise?

Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Assures that HR policy, regulatory and program issuances are properly integrated with other staff actions and are thereby fully supportive of the organization’s mission and service outcomes
  • Uses HR principles and business change processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness
    Uses appropriate tools/approaches to gather and disseminate information (e.g., meetings, email, briefings, presentations, surveys)
  • Maintains confidentiality of sensitive information
  • Scans the environment to assess organizational needs, identifies potential options and presents to management recommended solutions, including the pros and cons of each
  • Understands the added value of, and uses face-to-face interactions to engage and create understanding
  • Provides recommendations and/or reports on leading HR practices and procedures
  • Serves as a trusted advisor, providing management advisory assistance, problem resolution, and technical guidance in assigned program areas in a responsive and timely manner
  • Transfers knowledge and coaches others, enabling them to independently address human capital issues within their organization
Human Resource Law, Regulation and Policy Research and Analysis: Understands Human Resource (HR) laws, regulations and policies; assesses their potential effect on agency or company procedures; and ensures they are effectively applied in all human capital matters

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:
  1. Tell me about a time when you were responsible for developing procedures as a result of new laws.  Who did the changes impact?  How did the changes impact them?  What steps did you take communicate the changes to the organization?
  2. How do you stay abreast of the latest HR and employment laws and regulations?  What information sources do you use?
  3. Provide an example of a time when a law, regulation, or policy had a significant affect on the organization.  How did you handle this situation?  What was the result/outcome?
  4. What is your approach for researching and analyzing HR laws for an organization?
 Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Possesses knowledge of HR laws, regulations and policies
  • Researches, analyzes and/or interprets HR laws, and ensures they are integrated in daily operations as appropriate
  • Develops and/or recommends changes to procedures resulting from new laws
  • Stays abreast of current and potential future changes in HR laws, regulations, and policies and assesses the impact of these changes on the organization
  • Gathers and benchmarks with other organizations, in both the public and/or private sector, to determine the best approach for integrating laws, regulations, and policies at an agency or company
Human Resource Management Knowledge: Develops and monitors processes and organizes resources to achieve desired results

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. How do you stay current on HR practices and tools within human resource management?  What sources of information do you use?
  2. Summarize a situation where you were responsible for developing a strategy for fulfilling an HR need of an organization.  What was the need?  What was your approach?  What was the result/outcome?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Maintains knowledge of current practices and tools used within assigned HR specialty area (e.g., recruitment, benefits, classification, employee training, career development, evaluation, employee/labor relations, performance management, recognizing/rewarding employees, employee morale)
  • Stays abreast of changes in the HR profession and anticipates and prepares for the implications of these changes on current and future HR related plans and processes at an agency or company
  • Anticipates the impact new organizational processes may have on personnel
How will I be rated?

While you are answering the questions, the interviewer or panel, will be writing down a number based on your answers.  This number will be between 0 and 4.  At the end of the interview the numbers  are added that this is how the person is chosen for the job.

Standard Competency Proficiency ScaleScore Proficiency Level Description
0 Not Demonstrated 
  • You have not demonstrated this competency and likely have not had related training or experience.
1 Baseline
(theoretical knowledge) Shows basic knowledge and understanding sufficient to handle routine tasks.   Focus is on learning.
  • You are training or on-the-job training; beginning to develop this competency and have completed formal
  • You understand and can discuss terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this competency;
  • You utilize the full range of reference and resource materials in this competency.
2 Progressing
(limited practical application and experience) Has depth/breadth of knowledge to handle non-routine situations.  Begins to take initiative.  Focus is on applying and enhancing knowledge or skill.
  • You have applied this competency in occasional situations and still require minimal guidance to perform successfully;
  • You understand and can discuss the application and implications of changes to processes, policies, and procedures in this area.
3 Proficient
(practical application and experience) An expert who can handle broad organizational/professional issues; works independently; has long-term perspective; coaches, guides and empowers others.
  • You have consistently provided practical/relevant ideas and perspectives on process or practice improvements which may easily be implemented;
  • You are capable of coaching others in the application of this competency by translating complex nuances relating to this competency into easy to understand terms;
  • You participate in senior level discussions regarding this competency;
  • You assist in the development of reference and resource materials in this competency.
4 Master
(recognized thought leader)
All criteria must apply An expert whose advice is sought out by others, from both within the an agency or company and from the Department or other organizations; Shapes the organization/profession; is visionary; focus is strategic; copes with the unknown.
  • You have demonstrated consistent excellence in applying this competency across multiple projects and/or organizations;
  • You are considered the “go to” person in this area from within an agency or company and/or outside the agency or company;
  • You create new applications for and/or lead the development of reference and resource materials for this competency;
  • You are able to diagram or explain the relevant process elements and issues in relation to organizational issues and trends in sufficient detail during discussions and presentations, to foster a greater understanding among internal and external colleagues and constituents.
When you are working on your resume, don't forget to keep in mind the type of experience that the interviewers are most likely to want to see.  Good luck.

For additional information on HR Specialists see: and

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