What makes HR job applicants stand out?

An employer's perspective: Elizabeth Nunez FAHRI, National Director of HR, RSM Australia

At first Elizabeth Nunez didn’t think certification would affect her HR recruitment choices. Then she interviewed two applicants who were enrolled in the APC Program.

Elizabeth Nunez FAHRI is the national director of human resources at global professional services organisation, RSM Australia. Here she talks about a recent recruitment drive at the organisation, and why it was that candidates studying AHRI’s APC Program stood out.

“RSM has about 1200 staff with 10 people in the HR team and six people in Learning and Development. When I arrived at RSM nearly two years ago, I did a complete review of HR strategy and as a result, there have been a number of changes in the business, not just from an HR perspective. This includes a new chairman, a new board and a global rebrand.

“In general, we were always on board with the concept of ‘HR as a business partner’. But in today’s climate of constant change, it’s even more critical that HR is the first person they think of when staff are involved, as in the long term, we are here to make life easier for people working in our business and can make a huge difference to the end result.

“The challenge for HR [and it affects who and how we recruit] is how do we take people on this change journey so that they don’t feel exhausted by it, but embrace it. We have to have people with the skills in our HR team to make that happen.

“With that in mind, we went through an extensive recruitment process, conducting behavioural interviews and eventually shortlisted three candidates. Two of those candidates are doing the AHRI Practising Certification Program. At first I thought that the reason I favoured these two wasn’t because of the APC Program but because they had a level of maturity that distinguished them, despite being very different in age and from very different backgrounds. They were nothing like each other.

“But then I realised that they both stood out because when they spoke about HR, they were grounded with a sense of pragmatism, and weren’t just quoting text book theory.

“In particular, the AHRI fourth unit, where students apply theory to practice by undertaking a work-based project, is hugely influential in getting students to understand how it applies in the real world. University study can present HR theory as very black and white, but when people enter the workforce they realise there are a lot of grey areas. The AHRI Program comes in really handy in that, after one or two years under their belt at university, it gives an opportunity to apply in practice a lot of what they have learnt in theory.

“The APC Program gets students to think strategically, and not just operationally. Their responses in interview  were excellent and well thought out, and they were able to refer to the practical capstone project that they had undertaken as part of the program – applying the practice to the theory.

“Another thing I noticed about these two candidates that set them apart was the language they used. It  was far more considerate of the real challenges facing the business. They understood the challenges of  implementing any kind of program, rather than it being just a process with steps to follow, they talked about how, from an organisational change perspective, it might affect the business. Generally, you don’t come across that in recruiting for junior positions. I would expect to get that sort of feedback from candidates with more experience under their belt, so to hear it coming from a junior person, who was already thinking like a business partner, was great.

“One of the questions that I ask interviewees is: what are the emerging trends in HR and what challenges do they pose for the HR profession? The responses are really telling. Do they have an interest in HR as a career in a broader sense, as opposed to simply the role they are applying for? If they have a more holistic view of the role of HR then these are the candidates I look for.”