Don’t Know What to Ask Human Resources Professionals? – 5 Killer Questions to Ace Screening Interviews

Don’t Know What to Ask Human Resources Professionals? – 5 Killer Questions to Ace Screening Interviews

April 11, 2015 Interviewing


Oh, the awful, painful, repulsive HR screening interview.

Root canals are more fun than screening interviews with human resources professionals. As a career coach, I have conducted thousands of mock interviews for anxious job candidates who are about to step into a room with human resources managers.

The waiting room is usually cold and sterile, enlivened by just a few company trinkets to divert your focus from your impending 30-minute inquisition. So, you sit and wait.  Your mind drifting between the company ISO 9001 award on the wall and your hopes that no surprise interview questions are asked.

Screening interviews are necessary evils. They are meant to filter candidates and save the ultimate decision-maker’s time. They are a key ingredient in successful recruitment strategies so you’ll encounter them multiple times during your career.


HR professionals serve as gatekeepers during screening interviews. You can’t just dismiss them. You must always be respectful, delightful, and thoughtful. Treat HR professionals as you would treat hiring managers. Prepare HR-appropriate questions to ease the painful conversation.


To best guide you, I’ve listed real questions that my clients originally intended to ask HR professionals and that I finessed to help each of them successfully move beyond that initial recruitment phase.

The 5 Most Commonly Asked Questions to HR Professionals (and my tweaks)

1. Original: Tell me about your company culture?

Tweak: My understanding is that evaluating cultural fit is extremely important especially in smaller firms where cultural differences are harder to absorb, tell me about the firm’s founders? What are their personalities like? How does this impact your search for assessing the right cultural fit?

Note: Useful tweak when applying for jobs in smaller firms. FYI, this insight came from my interview with an HR leader creating the HR function for Pinterest.

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2. Original: What are you looking for in a candidate?

Tweak: I bring sharp analytical thinking, the kind that’s essential when trying to evaluate whether to buy or sell a firm’s assets. Tell me about your best hires. What skills have they brought with them?

Note: Customize tweak with your top and relevant strength

3. Original: What does career progression look like within the business unit for which you are hiring?

Tweak: In my last firm, I had the opportunity to ascend from Assistant Brand Manager to Brand Manager and the next logical opportunity would have been to Senior Brand Manager. What does career progression look like within the business unit for which you are hiring?

Note: This tweak keeps selling the candidate by subtly leading with her history of promotions

4. Original:  Do you have any concerns regarding my candidacy that I can address?

Tweak:  Is there anything else on your mind that I can address?

Note: Don’t throw yourself under the bus. Stay positive.

5. Original:  What has been your experience working for Company X?

Tweak: What drew me to your firm is its entrepreneurial spirit. I saw that come to life in your founder’s New York Times interview where he spoke about how his corporate development team leader took complete ownership over a mission critical assignment. How have you seen entrepreneurship come to life while working here?

Note: This is your chance to mention why you want to specifically work for Company X.
In summary, your questions to HR must accomplish one of four things. They must:

  1. Continue to sell you to HR professionals
  2. Initiate positive conversations
  3. Showcase the homework you’ve done on the company, and
  4. Reinforce that you respect an HR professional’s critical role in the firm’s employee recruitment strategy.

If you have a screening interview coming up then you are doing something right when it comes to your marketing materials.

The challenge now is delivering your strongest job interview performance so that you move beyond round one to get to the hiring manager.

What questions do YOU typically ask HR or a recruiter? Which ones did I miss? Leave your comment below and I’ll reply with ideas to help you make them better and stand out.


About the author

Melissa Llarena: is the CEO and career coach behind Career Outcomes Matter. Her craft is coaching top executives on how to dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Her client base includes US-based as well as international business leaders with 15-plus years of experience who are undeniably really good at what they do yet simply want a strategic partner who can quickly fully understand their tangible and intangible contributions to effectively scale up their interviewing skills for the toughest interviews. Click to gain instant access to her 20-page interview preparation kit to gain an edge then schedule a phone call to see how she’d leverage her most powerful insights based on your unique situation -- all in time for your next interview.