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Small talks, big chances (Part II)

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

In continuation of Part 1, I’ll talk about the interview process at the HR job in the private sector, and compare it with the usual process in the public sector.

Interview stage (part 1)

I remember that my interview was scheduled for 5:00 pm. At first, I thought it was odd because most interviews in Public Sector recruitment processes don’t run after 4:30 pm (most of the time, anyway). However, I arrived at the location a little early and had a chat with the friendly receptionist. She casually mentioned that I was the last one to be interviewed and there had been 5 other applicants before me. “Nice of her to tell me”, I thought “That means the panel could be exhausted though. Oh well”. I was offered a chilled bottle of water while I waited in the lobby, and I made another mental note that most Ministries don’t do this for applicants waiting to be interviewed. Nice.

At 5:00 pm sharp, the friendly receptionist took me to a small, grey room. She pointed to the desk and gave me a paper and a blunt pencil. “There’s a scenario question that you have to answer first. You have 15 minutes. I’ll collect your paper after, and the panellists will call you in for your interview”. She smiled as she left the room “Good luck”. I smiled back as I sat down to read the question and write my answer. All the 5 people interviewed before me had probably used this same blunt-ass pencil. Oh well.

I started reading through the question. “Cool, cool, cool”, I thought. 99% of job applications for the Public Service don’t have a written quiz/ question section, which I think is important to get a feel of the candidate’s writing/analysis/ reasoning skills. There are too many people within the Tonga Public Service who can’t use their, there, they’re in the right way. Anyway, I liked this part of their recruitment process. Good, good, good!

The gods of the old and the new must have been smiling down at me too, as the scenario question was something I had been working on since 2015. It was about Performance Management. It was something along the lines of “As an HR practitioner, how would you propose to implement a Performance Management system within an organisation?”.

As much as I hated my current job, I’d never been more appreciative of my work experience, specifically in the Performance Management system within the public service. I wrote furiously and quickly, then I heard the receptionist’s timer go off. She came in promptly to collect my paper. Within 15 minutes, I’d written an essay almost 2 ½ pages long, as well as a drawn couple of flowcharts and a proposed timeline for implementation for good measure. Go big or go home, I suppose.

“No one’s written as much as you did”, she commented, looking through my paper.

I shrugged, “I hope whoever’s reading can understand my writing”.

She smiled “Well, now you’re gonna have to present what you wrote to the interview panel. They’re waiting for you in that room over there”.

She handed me back my paper and pointed to the room down the hall. “Good luck again”.

Interview stage (part II)

Three women were waiting for me in the room she had pointed me to. One was the CEO, one was the Finance Manager, and the last one was the General Manager. Women in leadership. Nice! They looked like they were in their early to mid-50s I suppose, and they had the dignified and reserved demeanour most women who’ve seen 5 decades of life usually tend to have. Or, I could be wrong and they’re a lot younger than that and I’m being offensive. Sorry. Anyway.

After the usual round of introductions, they asked me to present what I’d written in the other room. I started drawing my flowchart on the whiteboard behind me and explained my proposal for implementation. I must have said something right because they were practically beaming at me. That felt good.

Finally, we started the interview. They each had a paper, which I assumed was a list of questions they took turns in asking me. As much as I had prepared for the interview, the questions were nothing out of the ordinary. The couple I remember are:

· Tell us about yourself

· Why did you apply for this job?

· If I call your current boss, what would they tell me about you?

· What are your strengths and weaknesses?

· Tell me about a problem that you helped to resolve in the workplace?

· What is your experience with Performance Management/ Recruitment/ other HR activities?

· What do you think is the future of work in HR is?

· Where do you see yourself 3 years from now?

(My favourite question was “What do you think is the future of work in HR is?”. I think the future is remote work/ flexibility as the norm, as well as more emphasis on mental health, environmental sustainability and gender equality policies in the workplace. But that’s just me.)

For comparison, some interviewers for Public Service jobs ask questions that make you go “What the fuck!?”. For example, one stupid question that I’ve been asked during a job interview is “Are you married?”. I answered, “No, not yet. But I doubt being married would affect my ability to do this job. Would you ask a male applicant the same question?”. Haha, I did not get that job, and yes, it was a man who asked me that question in that interview. Anyway, back to the story.

After I had finished answering the panellist’s questions, they asked me if I had any questions for them. I said, “Yes, I do actually. Lemme get my notebook because I wrote a couple.” The look of surprise on their faces! Did none of the earlier applicants ask anything? Or am I ultra obnoxious with my long list of questions? Lol.

Nonetheless, I think asking questions back at the interview panel is a good thing. It shows you are prepared, looked into the organisation, and you are asking questions to make sure that the organisation is a good fit FOR YOU. This is important in the next bit. But alas, it’s midnight and I must sleep.

Until then, ‘Ofa atu!

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