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Interim CHRO Interview: Identifying the Right Fit

January 27, 2023

By: Brad Gerick

Demand for interim chief human resources officers in private equity continues to climb.

It’s no wonder: Human capital accounted for 41% of all private equity activity in 2022, a 5% increase compared year over year.

But how do you know which HR leader to hire?

Once you narrow your pool to the finalists, it all begins with the interview process.

You’ll want to ask about their work history, industry experience, people philosophy and more.

In this guide, we’re going to tell you what the interview should look like, and how to identify a winner to lead human resources on a temporary basis.

Save Time: Meet an Exact-Fit Interim CHRO from the BluWave Network

I. Questions to Ask

When interviewing an interim CHRO candidate, it’s important to ask a variety of questions that will determine whether they’re PE-grade.

One experienced interim executive in the BluWave network says it’s important to tailor questions to the specific situation. (We’ll call her Dr. Summers, a fictitious name.)

“Let’s say that they they’re planning a restructuring. They should be direct and focus on that,” she says. “‘Have you done a restructuring? What’s the size of the restructuring? Meaning how many employees have you managed laying off, and what was the process you used? What are the resources that you found you needed?’ They should really get into the weeds on that particular initiative.”

Here are some essentials our consulting mangers Keenan Kolinsky and Scott Bellinger recommend:

  • Can you tell us about your background and experience in human resources leadership?
  • What is your experience with mergers and acquisitions?
  • Which Private Equity firms or Private Equity-backed businesses have you worked with that you can provide as references?
  • How do you stay current with the latest trends and best practices in human resources?
  • How could you help our HR function be more of a value-creation lever?
  • What experience do you have with high growth, middle-market companies?
  • Can you tell us about a time when you had to lead a project or initiative that required you to adapt to a fast-paced environment?

Case Study: Interim CHRO Urgently Needed For Professional Services Portco

II. How to Evaluate Candidates

Once you have the answers to those questions, and whatever else you come up with, it’s time to match them with your portco’s immediate needs.

“It really is important that the hiring organization understand that it’s not whether you like the person,” Dr. Summer says.

Since this role is typically filled for 3–9 months, you want to make sure you hire someone who can have a maximum impact in a short amount of time.

“If you have specific objectives that you need to have filled, be direct and focus on that,” Dr. Summer says.

Here are five key areas to evaluate:

1. Experience and qualifications in human resources leadership

The interim CHRO should have experience in areas such as talent management, employee relations, and organizational development.

These, however, are just a few of the HR-specific criteria to consider.

2. Cultural Fit

“If you don’t like the person, if there’s not good chemistry, then I would steer clear of that,” Dr. Summer says. “There are not bad people, there’s bad fit, and culture is one of the big reasons.”

3. Relevant Job Experience

Some candidates have big names or past projects on their resume that can blind the hiring committee.

“They need to make sure that they can do the full elements of the job,” Dr. Summer says. “An interim is not an opportunity for a growth assignment, in my opinion, because it is intended that you get an outcome within a specified period of time

4. Relevant Industry Experience

They should not only have private equity experience, but also within your particular industry.

Don’t hire someone who’s worked in technology their whole career to run your manufacturing company. And don’t high a talent chief from the manufacturing industry to work in healthcare.

5. Experience with M&As

M&A experience is key, according to BluWave Strategic Account Executive Hannah Welsh.

“This person has to be able to navigate the complexities of integrating different companies and cultures,” she says.

6. Team Makeup

Looking beyond the cultural fit (see above), it’s almost important to determine whether the interim CHRO is a good fit for managing the team in place.

“You’ve got to have someone that can come in and go, pretty quickly,” Dr. Summer says. “[For example,] ‘In order to get this job done, I need to move this person over there, this person over there. And frankly, let’s just sideline this person.'”

7. Problem-Solving Abilities

A track record of solving complex HR challenges and quickly identifying and addressing problems is also essential.

“They should also be able to work in a fast-paced environment and have the ability to adapt to change,” Welsh adds.

8. Strong Communication Skills

Lastly, they should be a strong communicator, especially across the organization.

That means explaining complex issues in simple terms. It also entails building relationships with employees, stakeholders and clients.

If you find someone who hits the mark in all five of these areas, you’re well on your way to selecting a strong interim CHRO.

Let’s Talk: Set Up a Scoping Call

III. Managing Expectations

Setting and managing expectations is crucial for a successful partnership between the PE firm and the interim CHRO. The interview process is a great time to do that.

Have open and honest conversations from the start to ensure that both parties are on the same page. Here are some things you should discuss:

1. The Scope of the Role

What are the company’s specific needs that you hope this candidate will address?

In addition to the recommended questions above, you’ll want to talk about challenges specific to your situation.

Is there high turnover? A PR crisis? Lack of professional development? Discuss specific scenarios during the interview.

Candidates should have their eyes wide open about expectations, too.

“You have to understand whoever’s bringing you in for the interim, what it is they expect to have happen,” Dr. Summers says. “That is something that I’m very careful about when I start a new interim assignment, is being very clear: What is the definition of success?”

2. Specific Goals and Objectives

What specific things to you want them to accomplish?

Goals could be based on reducing turnover, increasing productivity or implementing a new company structure within a given timeline.

3. Available Resources

Will they want to make new hires? Implement a new software? Use consultants?

When evaluating the cost of hiring the candidate, make sure you’re taking more into account than their compensation.

It’s often well worth it, though, as there are many benefits to hiring a interim chief human resources officer.

The interview process plays a crucial role in identifying the right fit for a talent leader at a private equity-backed organization, or even private and public companies.

At BluWave, we make sure you get connected with two or three exact-fit solutions so you can skip the search process and get to know your candidates sooner.

Contact our team today to save time and tap into the BluWave-grade service providers in the PE-grade network.