Tag Archives: Interviews

Interviews with H.R. are the gatekeeping process

Meaningless interviews with H.R. Really?

Why do so many underestimate interviews with H.R?

I’ve heard some comments recently from candidates or job search clients related to interviews with H.R. I’ve selected two, because the others carried the same message, they were just phrased differently.

  • Comment #1 – From a job seeking client:  “I’ve only attended a series of meaningless interviews with H.R.”
  • Comment #2 – From a candidate I was interviewing who was woefully unprepared: “Don’t worry, I will be better prepared for the decision-maker”   

Sadly for him, I was the decision maker. His process ended right there.


It is true that the calibre of some H.R. individuals, may not be high all the time. But regardless, they are the gate keepers to the process.  Candidates, this is your wake-up call. Interviews with H.R. are not meaningless, even if they seem that way. They are the first decision makers. If H.R. cut you, it rarely happens that the line or hiring managers go back and ask to see the thousands of CVs and telephone screening notes of unprocessed candidates. Many pundits encourage candidates to bypass H.R. totally and locate the hiring manager. That can work, but usually offers are made via H.R. so they can still nix your application. It is only very rarely you can leapfrog interviews with H.R.

And sometimes you don’t know you are encountering H.R., as one candidate found to his cost with #HRTechWorld colleague Matt Buckland

Attitude and aptitude

How you interact with H.R.,recruiters and anyone else in the process is measured, monitored and judged. You are then compared to other candidates or the benchmark  for the position for that company. An overview centred around cultural fit and expectations will be made. Your attitude matters as much as your hard skills. If you are rude and entitled then it’s factored in. I interviewed a senior manager for an executive role in a very conservative organisation.  Let’s be clear. It was not a junior coding role in a tech start-up.  He was not professionally attired.   I simply made a note of the facts and the company President commented on it as a sign of a certain attitude. He was processed further, but that same attitude surfaced in other ways further down the line. It was a red flag.

If the hiring manager trusts the H.R. Manager or the recruiter, he will rely on their judgement. She doesn’t have time to micro-manage the search process.  I can understand process fatigue setting in because candidates can go for many interviews. But somehow job seekers have to prepare and be courteous and remember everyone involved counts, especially those interactions and interviews with H.R.

That’s why the gentleman had so many “meaningless interviews with H.R.”  It’s the candidate who has to give those interviews meaning and make the right first impression. Because like the saying goes, there are rarely second chances.

Give those interviews with H.R. meaning:

  • be courteous and respond appropriately and in a timely way.
  • connect with the person on LinkedIn
  • prepare and research information about the company
  • prepare questions
  • thank them for their time
  • refer other candidates if you are not interested

If you have established a good rapport with the H.R. contact, you are more likely to be considered for another role if you are not successful and given performance feedback. That will help you reduce those meaningless interviews with H.R.

Do you want to improve your interview performance and job search strategy – contact me 

childare and interview questions

The perennial chestnut: Childcare and interview questions

Interviewers need to clean up their acts on childcare and interview questions

We are constantly inundated with soundbites from high-profile women such as Marissa Meyer, Anne- Marie-Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg  who vie for media attention in the business stratosphere. Now we have the  ex-CEO of Burberry drifting or jumping into the fray, I’m not sure which. The topic – that thorny childcare interview questions.

Angela Ahrendts, one of the highest paid female executives says she tries to lead by example:

We have a lot of women working here and I always tell them they are mothers first. Those children are their legacy and they have partners and that’s a big obligation.”

This is all fine and dandy with a seven-figure salary and massive IPO pay outs. But let’s think for a moment on what happens to mere female mortals in the trenches where balance takes on a different more mundane form, centred on the every day demands of family life. Grocery shopping, after school activities, homework, dinner. How do these women handle their roles as mothers when they are grilled about it from the earliest stages in the hiring process? Some are even questioned before they have children. 

Women and family planning

Many young women ask in interview coaching  what they should say if they are asked about their family planning ideas and other inappropriate childcare interview questions.   I always tell women:

  • Stay calm.
  • Ask for the question to be repeated or clarified. This gives the interviewer to reflect and hopefully withdraw realizing they have over stepped the mark
  • Re-frame the question “I’m not sure if I want children, but I’m glad you asked me. Are you concerned that  if I have children it will reduce my commitment to ….. Please let me reassure you…

Women should also ask themselves if they want to work for such an organisation. Maybe not.

But what do women with children encounter? The single mother, the divorcée, the woman who can’t afford to lose her salary or a woman who simply wants to reach her potential?  

And the Dads? What are their responsibilities and roles? Isn’t the very phrase “working mother” rooted in an antiquated concept, when women now make up 50% of the workforce?childcare and interview questions

I actually have no problem with the ex-CEO of Burberry telling women they are mothers first. As long as she is giving male employees the same line about their status as fathers. I think an open dialogue on non-workplace issues including childcare, is an excellent idea at an interview or in the workplace.That is if the idea is discussed with both male and female candidates or employees.

Discriminatory questioning

Yet, it would  appear that despite statutory regulations,  women  are still being asked  blatantly discriminatory questions in interviews about their roles as mothers. Even by other women.  One senior sales executive in the tele-communications  sector told me: “My husband is fifteen years older than me and now retired. I am the sole breadwinner. We have four kids between us in our blended family.  I was asked  what would happen to my kids if I was travelling four days a week.”  She went on to tell me  how difficult it had been to persuade the hiring manager that her husband and nanny could manage in her absence and without her salary they would starve and be homeless.”‘That seemed to work ” she said only semi- jokingly.  

An MBA candidate with a scientific PhD and strong commercial  experience recounted how hard it was to convince potential employers that her husband would be willing to re-locate to follow her career.  She was  quick to report that they have never asked her partner the same question. I always ask candidates whether male or female to discuss with their partners any assignment where re-location would be an issue.

Another candidate explained how she and her husband interviewed at the same company   “How will you manage childcare if you take this job” they asked her. The same question was not posed to her husband. Her husband was offered a position, she was not, and he went on to refuse the role.

In fact in the many years I have been  involved in executive search, I recall few occasions when men were questioned  in any detail about their child care arrangements. One was a widower, in a critical function, with five kids. I always wonder if a single mother would have been afforded the same consideration.  Others were focused on package negotiations for school fees and housing allowances. But these men had already been offered the positions.

Keeping pace with cultural shifts

There are wider cultural shifts taking place and organisations need to recognise those developments. Life is becoming more complicated for many, with two career or two income families becoming the norm with a rise in the divorce rate impacting career flexibility.  By 2025 the majority of the workforce will be Millenials. It is well researched that they have different career expectations.

I am not actually in favour of outlawing discussion on childcare in the interview process. I think it adds value – as long as it is a question posed to all. I would be delighted to hear from any men who have been quizzed about their child care arrangements.

A Sheryl Sandberg quote which most resonated with me  is “Give us a world where half our homes are run by men and half our institutions are run by women.” 

 When will we use the expression “working father?” 

Personal interests: 10 CV dos and don’ts

There is always much conflicting advice from career experts on what to include on CVs. One of the areas  that has an opinion divide of Grand Canyon proportions, is whether to mention your personal interests and hobbies on your resume and if they can actually make a difference to the selection process.

Hannah Morgan, Career Sherpa says “No one really cares that you enjoy knitting, wine tasting and training for marathons. That is, unless, you are applying for a job in one of those areas. Save the space for more meaningful, work-related information. Have you included professional memberships or volunteer activities?

Stand out with your hobbies on your job search by  exhorts candidates to share their personal interests on their CVs. Why? “ because who you are transfers over to how you work.”


personal interests

Personal interests:  10 CV dos and don’ts

Do:  Remember that what is relevant will depend on the company culture and nature of the open position. Not all company cultures or teams look for, welcome or need, the person who does a fitness boot camp at  5.00 am every day before work.

Do:  include some personal interests especially if they can showcase or endorse your professional skills and particularly if  you have achieved some level of excellence or expertise.

Do:  give a range of personal interests which showcase your personality. I think Hannah’s example of a wine tasting,  knitter, who runs marathons could be a potentially interesting character.

Do:  be strategic and highlight those personal interests which could be professionally relevant, but with a balance: team and leadership roles, as well as introverted and extroverted, competitive and non competitive. Depending on the nature of the opening, I would certainly pay attention to someone whose interests were exclusively solitary or exclusively competitive.  Generally personality traits will be identified via any type of testing or assessment process anyway.

If you need help creating  an effective CV or any other career support check out the individual career coaching programmes

Do:  include if you played a sport to a high  or professional level or represented your country in any activity, even if it was some years previously. It demonstrates focus, discipline and energy. Plus skills!

Don’t:  include if you claim to be an international athlete light years before and it looks as if it was 50 pounds ago and walking from the desk to the door will induce a coronary.

Do: be sensitive with regard to any of your interests which might be “hot” issues for others:  certain causes, or political or religious activities fall into that category. It’s impossible to know the personal biases and perceptions of  the reader and interviewer unless they are in the public domain.

Do: share if you are using that skill currently via coaching,  mentoring or volunteering.

Do: if you think your personal interests will be a social ice-breaker and professionally relevant. It is becoming increasingly easy to research interviewers and companies. If the hiring company sponsor an activity which genuinely interests you – include it. I was participating in a search recently where the company sponsored the fine arts and one of the candidates was a serious opera buff. The panel Chair and candidate had a brief aside on Liudmyla Monastyrska‘s  role as Aida.  It was  a clear differentiator in that particular hiring process with a number of equal candidates. Confirmation bias exists.

Don’t: claim to have interests which are not real. If the last book you read was the Spark Notes from a university course, or the last movie you saw was Ghost or your idea of haute cuisine is opening a takeaway carton,  best not to mention them as interests. You could be asked.

I interviewed someone who said they were a “huge tennis fan“, but couldn’t comment on the last Wimbledon final.  As John McEnroe would say “You can’t be serious.

So like any other part of your CV the personal interest section is an opportunity to be strategic.  So I say use it – but wisely!