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.”
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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