Human resources management is increasingly becoming a critical function in most companies and more and more B-Schools in India are offering specialized courses in human resources. In fact, the MBA as a degree is moving more and more towards specialization, and it is not uncommon for an MBA candidate today to be shortlisted for five different degrees - an MBA in Finance from SP Jain, a PGDHRM from XLRI, a PGP in Agribusiness from IIM-A, an MBA in Rural Management from IIFM Bhopal and an Operations Management course from NITIE. A possible reason for such widespread specialization among MBA courses is that with the proliferation of B schools across India, the better ones are trying to strengthen their brand by offering tailored courses based on their core competencies. In this way, the institute stays away from the hamster wheel of general MBAs and builds an image of a market leader in its special field of MBA education. While it would be premature to signal the end of general MBA study, it is undeniable that specialization is increasing and MBA aspirants are turning to Group Discussions (GDs), Personal Interviews (PIs), and Statements of Purpose in addition to passing entrance exams (SOPs) of the specific role they have applied for.

With this in mind, from my experience as an McKinsey Interview Cases  and now as a student in an HR degree program, I have tried to put together seven points that an aspiring MBA in HR should take good note of. While the points below are specific to a Human Resources interview, I believe they would apply in a similar way to other specialized courses as well. However, my success in an HR interview and my experience in an HR course limit my observations to HR only.

Find out about HR as a profession

When asked what area of Human Resources interests you, don't stare blankly as if you thought the specialization ends with selecting the MBA ( HR) option on the application form. The HR function has many sub-functions such as compensation, recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management and industrial relations. Research the different areas thoroughly, and try to dig a little deeper into an area that seems interesting to you on the surface. This gives you material for a well-founded discussion with the podium. For example, if you are interested in IR (Industrial Relations) you can find out about the recent labor strikes in the country and about the different unions there and their political affiliations to show your interest in the subject by giving examples. Always remember that knowledge is the best proof of interest.

Communication is not an HR core competency

Never say that your communication skills (or other so-called "soft skills") will make you a great HR manager. Communication is a fundamental skill required by every manager in every organization. In fact, a marketing manager working with brands or a production manager in production has to communicate more on a daily basis than the average HR manager working with payslips or appraisals. He is never expected to speak to customers or suppliers and even within the organization his interaction with employees is far less than that of the immediate manager. On the contrary, an HR manager designing a compensation system for 10,000 employees would require as much analytical and numerical knowledge as someone in finance or operations. The perception that HR is all about soft skills is therefore completely wrong, and talking about soft skills as a core competency in an HR interview could be a recipe for disaster.

3. Assess the perspectives in human resources realistically

Don't sound naive when you talk about where you see yourself in the long term. It's fine to say you want to be a CEO, but be prepared for a counterattack from the panel that gives you a weak statistical probability that an HR manager will ever become a company's CEO (although such examples do exist). You should know the career path of a typical HR professional, both in functional HR and in the consulting area. You should also be aware that a move from an HR role to a general management role is not possible at every point in your career. Normally, such shifts are only possible at the upper and most senior level of management, where one has accumulated enough functional know-how to be able to take on a strategic role. For most of their career, an HR professional has gained expertise as a generalist or specialist in a line role (within any organization) or as a consultant in a consulting firm (like Hay Group or KPMG). Finally, you should also be aware of the fundamental difference between a line or functional HR role and a consultant role and the challenges that come with it. In general, a functional HR manager works within an existing HR framework in an organization, while a consultant designs frameworks for different organizations of different sizes, ages and cultures and advises them on policy and implementation.

4. Make it clear why HR

This question would haunt you in various forms in any job interview, and it's better to prepare yourself with a specific answer than to give a general "why MBA" answer. While there is no "exemplary" answer to this question, I would suggest giving an open and simple answer rather than giving something that draws on your innate "human skills" or "communication skills". Something as simple as " My cousin is a senior HR manager at P&G and I like his job " might be a perfectly acceptable answer, provided you have a broad understanding of what your cousin does. You have to find your own answer based on your previous experience or exposure to the corporate world and if it sounds genuine there is no reason why a panel should doubt your reasons for taking an HR course.

5. Make it clear why "XYZ" is going to HR

You may be asked to justify why you want to switch from a career in software coding to one in human resources. I personally took this question to two of the top HR institutes in the country, namely TISS and XLRI, and all the more so because my background was as unlikely as architecture. The common mistake made by most aspirants is to relate their previous work or education to HR and justify how the skills acquired in one area will be useful in the other. (To put it lightly, most panelists believe that a software job doesn't teach you skills!) Only do this if you can strongly relate the two, otherwise stay away. Again, the best answer to this would be an open-ended answer and one that is relevant to your own life experience. In my case, I told them that while architecture is an exciting field of study, it's overhyped as a profession in terms of creativity and stagnant in terms of progress. I wanted an MBA in HR because, firstly, MBA would give my career a boost and HR was something I could delve into given my background and inclination (versus finance, operations or marketing).

6. Think about HR issues in your workplace

If you've worked before, think about the problems you've faced at work yourself and how you would try to solve them if you were the HR manager at the company. A friend of mine who was a journalist before taking an HR course mentioned in her interview that she knew all too well how a sub-editor is overworked and underpaid, and her entire interview revolved around employee satisfaction in the journalism industry , something they could talk about for hours. Therefore, knowing about HR issues in your previous job shows that you are aware of the challenges that an HR Manager in an organization would normally face.

Don't glorify HR

After all, HR is not the ultimate profession in the world. It's just as good or as bad as any other corporate function. Try not to make statements that suggest that HR is the reason for all company success or that HR can solve all company ills. Be aware of the limitations of human resource management both as a function in an organization and as a career for yourself. At the same time, emphasize the fact that HR is an emerging field and most of the unresolved or unaddressed issues in organizations today are in the area of HR, and even as a supporting function, well-designed HR policies Businessacademy1 and practices can help HR play a strategic role for the success or failure of a company.

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