A strong company is rarely built in silos with a narrow group of functional experts driving the process or product development from end-to-end. With that in mind, most hiring managers will include relevant cross-functional team members in the hiring process. Cross-functional team members will be key contributors to company initiatives that are complex and large-scale, with dependencies rooted on the team and associated with responsibilities listed in the job description of the position you are targeting.
Put simply, both in the interviews and on the ground, cross-functional team members play the role of the translator—bringing their expertise and skills to bridge the gaps, add value and get stuff done. It’s because of cross-functional collaboration that work happens, that connections, barriers, or breaks get identified, and that collective success is possible. Being able to effectively navigate the distance between different teams and disciplines, as well as find the commonalities to move quickly and productively through problems and toward big picture goals, is helpful for the candidates and hiring team alike.
Because of these factors, the cross-functional team member may serve as an astute judge for a specific set of your skills and capabilities, or might provide a more general read on how they believe you will collaborate, communicate, and contribute to relevant initiatives.
In an ideal world, the cross-functional conversations expand your understanding of the business, projects, and team dynamics and give you a more well-rounded view into the overall organization as well as how it operates day-to-day. Like a peer, cross-functional interviewers are often eager to find a strong, skilled hire and will spend the extra time in interviews and follow-up conversations to support that outcome. There will be occasions, however, where internal tensions, existing friction around project goals or ownership, in addition to interpersonal conflicts, will factor into their interview approach and decision-making process.
During your conversation, focus on the aspects of the broader, matrixed elements of the role that the cross-functional team member is best positioned to answer. Their view from the outside (at least of the specific team you’d be joining) will be different than what you’ve heard and learned from those interviewers you’d work with directly. It’s a great opportunity to listen for the differences and work to understand the underlying reasoning for the various points of view—are the gaps manageable or do you think there are fundamental issues with how each group views a particular situation? These new perspectives provided should help you uncover meaning, recognize additional opportunities for you to build strong relationships and contribute toward key initiatives, and connect dots between the bullets in the job description, the conversations you’ve had and your own skills and capabilities.
Put simply, HR helps shape the employee experience via compensation, benefits and administration, talent development and training, and cultural programs, and are called upon to solve other people’s problems. They aim to design with all team members in mind while keeping an eye out for consistency, fairness, and legal requirements, balancing their responsibility to the company and its employees.
Depending on the environment and your own experience, HR might be a team that you trust and value and that you see as a partner and advisor, or you may view them as a cumbersome administrative function that complicates what should be simple and reduces what is actually complex to an annoying form or checklist. In fact, these are two of the more positive views into the role that HR plays in organizations. In some companies, and for many people, HR enforces outdated policies and the law, serves to protect the company rather than support the employees, and caters to those who do wrong rather than those who have been wronged. Pair that with the perception that HR doesn’t have a real seat at the table, takes a resource-focused versus human-oriented approach to problem solving, and fails to innovate or adapt to an ever-changing workplace—it’s not surprising that seeing a HR team member on your interview list may not excite you.
As someone who has had roles within this function in startups and established companies, I’ve seen the positive and negative impacts of what these teams and individuals can do. I often talk about how I think the function is desperately in need of dramatic change and do my best to support innovation and the infusion of new ideas as part of this transformation. 2020, and the layered impacts of a pandemic with its health and remote work implications (childcare, technology, and more!), reckoning with racial injustice, and layoffs, furloughs, and economic recession have further tested the HR function. With these acknowledgments and my personal beliefs, and despite my passion and intentions, I know I have also missed team members’ expectations before. I see these challenges and look back on my own experiences as an ever-present chance to learn more, do more, and grow in my expertise and capabilities. I, like many HR professionals, come into the function because they care about making the work experience better and want to do it for people, with people. Sometimes broader company policies, hierarchy, access to information, or legal requirements interfere with HR’s ability to take what would be the best, most efficient and practical path. Additionally, an abundance of employee questions and concerns can take up more time than the innovative culture-building activities that may have inspired them to get into the field.
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