How to Explain Your Technical Skills to HR


It’s tempting to minimize the importance of conversations with recruiters or HR staffers as you work your way through the hiring process. After all, they’re not involved in the nuts and bolts of software development or hardware engineering, so how much influence can they have over deciding who gets picked for a technical job?

The short answer is, “a lot.”

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While they may not be well-versed in a company’s technology, HR staff will provide the hiring manager with input into other areas—your communications skills, for example, or your level of interest in the company and how professionally you present yourself. “They’re important people in the process, and don’t underestimate that,” observed John Reed, senior executive director at recruiter Robert Half Technology.

Indeed, there’s an excellent chance the HR staffer has worked closely with the hiring manager throughout the process of drafting the job description, posting it, and sorting through the resulting applications. (The fact they’re talking to you indicates that they’ve recognized the value of your skills and experience during the initial screening.) After your conversation, they’ll report back to the hiring manager with notes on everything from your attitude to your cultural fit.

Areas of Expertise

Hiring is a collaborative process, and the HR staff’s role is often to probe into areas that are outside the hiring manager’s expertise. “They may be the most educated person in the process of vetting the candidate,” Reed noted. “Don’t get tripped up thinking that they don’t understand. They’re looking at you from a different angle.”

It’s important, then, to approach your discussions with HR as seriously as you would with anyone else. Even though they may not have a technical background, HR might ask you technical questions, possibly specified by the manager to whom you’d end up reporting. That presents a challenge: You need to establish your technical credentials for an audience whose understanding may be passing at best.

Bear in mind:

  • As with any interview, the keys to success lie in preparation and knowing your audience. That means anticipating questions and formulating your answers in advance. Though it’s unlikely that an HR staffer will ask detailed technical questions, be ready to cover the basics of your experience, certifications and the business results your work has achieved.
  • Focus your end of the conversation on clarity over technical depth, Reed suggested: “Fight the urge to go really deep into the technology.” Also, avoid jargon and buzzwords. If in doubt, ask the interviewer if you answered their question. (Just be careful when doing so—you don’t want to imply that you’re somehow superior because of your technical knowledge.)
  • Remember that soft skills count. Reed thinks there’s been a “substantial trend in IT of managers putting a premium on soft skills, such as speaking and writing.” It may well be that the HR staffer’s whole point is to assess your talents in those areas. “When you think about it, this is a good opportunity to let your soft skills shine.”
  • When the time comes to wrap up, take a minute to summarize the conversation. Emphasize three or four key points that demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Your interview with HR may not be the determining factor in whether you actually get the job, but your performance will certainly have an impact on the decision. “Use the discussion as an opportunity to win over another person and have another person endorsing you for the role,” Reed said.

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7 Responses to “How to Explain Your Technical Skills to HR”

  1. Now let’s get this correct. Someone who really doesn’t understand what the position does other than it affects thier ability o do thier job has any input on wether you get the job? Other than they would be a potential customer of it services the only input they should have is if they could reasonably explain the problem they are having with the specific service they need from the it group they have contacted which is usually the help desk. Other than that scenario they should have about as much input as the lay law person in deciding the innocence or guilt of a prospective possible criminal but then again this is my own opinion take it or leave it. Not to say that their opinion isn’t useful but when you have no experience to draw upon for said opportunity and the subject matter of the interview is technical in nature then why are you involved in the interviewing process other than to express your ‘feelings’ about a potential candidate who would have possibly nothing to do with you? Folks your opinions on this subject?

    • I get where you are coming from. I always thought that employee reviews were unfair in the sense of being personality or sociability evaluations. As an engineer I will freely admit to not having a salesman type personality. I would hope to be evaluated on my technical and even communications skills. I fear being marked down on my appearance, age (hair color) or whatever but the sad reality is that there are definite biases in play that have little to do with one’s ability to do the job or contribute.

    • An interviewee should not be concerned about the different layers of individuals they pass through on their mission to the job they indirectly applied for.
      So if questions and answers at each layer is the process, so be it? Do it with a smile and be thankful for the practice.

      On another point should bring up. Spell Checking* your own words is about as basic and diligent as brushing your teeth and getting dressed each morning.
      Failing to either of those two event will be obvious to the rest of all the people you come into contact with in a day.

      (*spell check/proofread before you click Send)

      • Point taken Protip. Still though seems to me if they are not part of the general position responsibilities why in gods name should they have any involvement in hire of anyone outside their general professional area? Process or not.

        • James,

          Your missing the soft skills point. Especially among technical employees (IT, hardware and software engineersolutions and developers ) many struggle at communicating detailed technical concepts in a way their audience – be it customers or management – can understand. If you can’t explain your background, something you should definitely know, to an HR rep why should the company believe you could explain a process to a customer or maybe make suggestions based on technology to drive business decisions?