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Interview Questions in a COVID Pandemic World

By Barbara Schultz

Interview Questions in a COVID Pandemic WorldHiring managers are currently knee deep in crisis management. How can you assist them in solving problems unique to the pandemic?

That is THE question to be ready to answer. Seize the opportunity and demonstrate your ability to be nimble, to deal with ambiguity, and to show calm in the middle of this storm.

The world of work is spinning on a new axis since COVID-19 took center stage, adding a new aspect of work to be discussed and understood.

Conventional advice surrounding interviewing has always included the need to prepare for questions an interviewer is likely to pose, as well as those you are eager to ask.

But do not assume you can just simply dust off those questions used in the past because new ones are headed your way, and you will have new questions of your own to ask.

The more traditional questions will remain in the mix. Spend time reviewing these top 50 job interview questions to ask.

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The World Has Changed and So Have the Interview Questions

Anticipate a different focus in three primary areas representing top-of-mind issues:

  • Safety
  • Remote work
  • The employer’s financial stability

Get ready, know, and practice your responses. Your answers should demonstrate not only the relevance of your experience, but also the currency of your knowledge about the evolving employment landscape and your ability to adapt to the new reality.

Assume that companies are phasing in their return-to work plans and will rely on remote workers for the next several months, maybe to the end of the year, and even lasting into 2021. Some jobs have the potential to permanently transition to home offices.

Expect several questions aimed at your technical savvy, and ability to be self-directed without the infrastructure and management support available in a physical office.

Companies Are Still Hiring

With unemployment rates at record levels, job seekers wonder if it even makes sense to look for a job. Certainly many businesses are shut down, some permanently, but many other employers are still hiring. Read Top 100 Employers Hiring Now for a small sample of all the employers, and jobs, available.

A number of job seekers, HR, talent acquisition professionals, and recruiters were canvassed to gather feedback on what to expect at your next interview. Here are questions they have experienced or asked which are different from those encountered in past job searches.

These questions are specific to non-essential workers and their work environments.

Be Prepared for a New Kind of Interview

Do the traditional homework needed and gather intelligence from a variety of sources: colleagues, employees, LinkedIn connections. Pay special attention to the employer’s Twitter feed to see how they are communicating with stakeholders about their response to pandemic issues.

Many employers have posted details of their back-to-work plans on their websites. Access a company’s website and carefully read their COVID-19 Response if one has been posted. Also check out the CDC Guidelines for managing the pandemic.

Gain an understanding of both the government and employer’s response to COVID-19. Find answers to your questions contained in these documents before you arrive at the interview. You can then focus on additional questions related to return-to-work topics either not included in the guidelines or for which you need clarification.

Take the new video interviews seriously. Many tales have emerged from job seekers experiencing a relaxed setting for interviews conducted via video conferencing post-COVID. I have witnessed stories of interviews being conducted with the hiring manager rocking a child on their lap, panelists trying to corral their kids during an interview, and dogs scurrying in the background.

You cannot control how the employer’s representatives choose to behave, but YOU must continue to follow professional protocols for digital meetings. Business attire, no distractions, and quiet on the set!

The Actual Interview Process

Hiring managers may reserve 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the interview for your questions. Have your questions written down, and be respectful of the time limit.

Consider: The opening few minutes of an interview may be spent with an informal "getting to know you" conversation. Show empathy for the interviewer’s situation by acknowledging the pandemic.

You might say, "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I’m sure you’re facing all sorts of challenges and I really appreciate the opportunity to share my background. I hope you and your family are safe during these trying times." Avoid any political comments.

Pandemic Success - Build a Side HustleThe Employer's Questions for You

The employer will want to understand your experience working remotely and how well you have adapted to this new requirement. Your participation in a video interview will demonstrate your understanding of how to use the technology as well as how well-connected you are to the internet (or not).

  1. Have you ever worked remotely? If so, what changes did you make to adapt to an at-home work environment?  

Companies want reassurances that you have a dedicated workspace and can be productive from home. Do you have the proper connectivity to conduct business on their behalf?

While you should not reveal your personal situation (kids, home schooling, etc.), you can indicate that your environment is free of distractions, allowing you to execute work on a timely basis.

Consider: Build out your resume and LinkedIn profile to include remote work experience. If you are a recent college grad, refer to your success at online learning.

Add the terms "remote work" and "work from home" to your LinkedIn profile plus the technologies you have used, like Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet. Those are valuable keywords being searched much more frequently now. Other keywords critical for today’s job market include self-directed, agile, worked in, or managed distributed teams. Read How to Job Search Effectively for Remote Work for more details.

  2. What aspects about working from home did you enjoy, and which did you find most challenging?  

An employer will get better insight into the kind of work environment you thrive in-home or office. The other aspect they may be probing is your comfort level with the technology used to conduct business -- Zoom, Microsoft Teams, even basic technical trouble shooting (e.g. recovering from printer problems, scanning, etc.)

An employer’s workforce planning may not just address filling vacancies but also include identifying positions/employees who would be eligible for permanent remote work. What are you looking for?

  3. When working remotely, how do you organize your day?  

It takes self-discipline, and no set of eyes are supervising your work each day. So, explain your daily routine. This will be easier to answer if you have had experience with a remote job. An employer will be assessing how much hand holding you may need vs. your ability to work autonomously.

  4. What ways would you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting?  

First, express an understanding of the accountability needed and the reporting expected on a regular basis when working remotely. Give examples of how you have kept in touch. Do not assume you know the new manager’s personal style.

Be prepared to demonstrate how you will collaborate with team members to get things done. Give specific examples.

  5. What are your thoughts on how our teams can collaborate and how we can interact with clients safely once we return to work?  

Organizations have, or are now formulating, the ergonomic plans for conference rooms, workspaces, common areas, and are interested in how forward thinking you are. Employers are also gathering input from current employees and candidates to help shape, then support plans they will be implementing to reconfigure office space. Be prepared to share your vision of a safe workplace.

If travel was a significant component of a job, offer views on how to travel safely and/or alternate ways to keep clients and stakeholders engaged.

  6. How have you handled the stress of Coronavirus?  

Acknowledge the reality of the stressful situation and explain your coping techniques. Do you have a positive outlook? What are the ways you have used to deal with stress? Daily walks? Meditation? Connecting with friends?

Employers will probe your ability to be productive in light of stress -- this will not be the only time you will face a difficult situation. You may want to also use this opportunity to ask how they are supporting employees who may be dealing with stress related to isolation.

  7. What would you personally do to maintain safety in the workplace?

The employer is not solely responsible for keeping the workplace safe. They will also depend on their employees. How do you practice safety in your personal life? Hand washing? Social distancing? What would you do if you saw someone at work engaging in an unsafe practice?

Companies are focused on the health of employees but are also concerned about the liability if a worker gets sick. Demonstrate your willingness to participate in making it a safe place to work.

  8. What life lessons have you learned during the pandemic?  

This question resembles the classic one concerning how you dealt with a difficult situation. Are you taking advantage of the free online resources offered -- webinars, podcasts, etc.? Did you assess the viability of the industry you were in and determine if a career change is needed? Have you developed a greater appreciation for the value of other people? Does networking make more sense now following time in isolation?

Employers cannot grow unless the employees invest in personal and professional development. Tell them the positive impacts the pandemic has made in your life, like learning the new skills and technologies to successfully work remotely.

  9. Will you be willing to work in an office again when/if working remotely is no longer required?  

Since managing remote employees is a relatively new concept for many organizations or not practical, long term, for the work they do, an employer may be hoping to return to a more "normal" work environment. If they are able to do that, they will want to know if you will be comfortable with that change to a more traditional work environment.

Pandemic Success - Build a Side HustleYour Questions for Them

Having no questions ready seems to demonstrate a lack of interest in the employer and the job. Particularly in this situation, have questions ready so you understand how the situation is being handled by this employer.

  1. Has your organization laid off employees?  

What areas have been downsized and why? Are they financially stable, and what are the risks if you join? Will there be a second wave of people losing their jobs?

While there is never a guarantee of a job being there for as long as you need one, employers are now experiencing unique economic stress. Carefully evaluate the solvency of the company and conduct your own, independent research of their financials with whatever information is publicly available.

  2. What tools does the company provide for employees to self-manage while working from home?  

Expectations should be clear about the employer’s "onboarding" process (the process for helping you successfully start your new job). What does the first week look like? Do they ship out a laptop? Is IT desktop support available? What is the technology they use to communicate with employees?

A question to ask yourself is -- you can be successful in this new environment? The answer may depend on whether you are a seasoned worker or new to the industry. You may have to hit the ground running with limited direction in a remote setting. Be honest with yourself about how much support you will need.

  3. How do you communicate with remote employees?  

Ask the manager their preferred way of getting updates and reports and how someone will be available to answer your questions. Will there be weekly team video conferences? What hours are the manager available for one-off questions? How should you alert your manager in an emergency? Text, instant messaging, phone call?

  4. What lessons has your company learned from this crisis?  

Understand how organized and responsive the employer is with their risk mitigation. Did they move quickly to resolve problems associated with the crisis? Were they respectful of their employees' fears and concerns? Will they be ready if/when the next challenge comes along?

  5. How has the company’s leadership viewed working-from home pre-and Post-COVID?  

This question has many dimensions. What level of trust do employers have in their employees? Do they see remote work as a short-term fix or are they considering it a long-term solution?

While some job seekers find remote work attractive, others prefer interface with co-workers in a physical office.

  6. How has your company supported the community during the pandemic?  

The answer will give you a sense of this employer’s level of social responsibility. Community involvement speaks to an organization’s values. Generations Y and Z have shown a greater interest in selecting an employer focused on community support. Determine how important this is for you.

  7. What timetable is your company for return-to-work? Will everyone operate from the office or will some permanently stay home?  

Companies will follow CDC and local guidelines. Some may revolutionize the way they work, and you need to understand their vision of the future. If you are a “people” person and/or simply do not have the necessary logistics to operate from home, a permanent stay-at-home position could be a negative factor for you.

  8. What changes have you made to ensure employee and customer safety during COVID-19?  

This answer will give you a good idea of how important employees are to this employer and also the importance they place on the safety of employees. If clients/customers are interacted with in person, what measures have been enacted to ensure the safety of both employees and the customers?

Hopefully, the employer provides the standard personal safety equipment like masks and gloves as well as space between employees and/or between employees and customers.

The changes made (or not made) will give you an idea of how seriously management takes employee and customer safety.

  9. What impact has COVID-19 had on current business and what is the forecast for future business?  

Depending on the industry, an employer may be experiencing an expansion or a decline in business. This is a great opportunity to understand not only the level of an employer’s solvency, but also your chance to turn their challenges into opportunities.

Consider: You’re interviewing for a Distribution Center Manager position and the company is selling in-demand manufacturing parts. Their business is exploding, but concern is growing that their safety measures do not adequately address infection control.

You recommend an initiative that expands safety in the workplace to building a safety culture. You propose conducting a hazard assessment specific to viruses, revising the mission statement, producing new employee communications covering home and work safe practices, incentive programs, etc. They’re seeking a balance between safety and high levels of production, and you’re proposing a solution. Help them get ahead of the curve!

After the Interview

The biggest mistake candidates make is missing an opportunity to keep the door open after the interview. Typically, a thank you e-mail is sent, and then the long, agonizing wait to hear back from the hiring manager begins.

The most critical time for decision making occurs after the final round of interviews, so why go silent now? Show the interviewer you are a problem solver, listened to their needs, and are willing to find creative ways to be a stand-out candidate.

High unemployment and increased competition call for a more proactive approach in your follow-up to stand out from the other candidates, demonstrating your interest in the opportunity as well as the quality of your work

In addition to sending your thank you notes/emails, follow these easy steps to move to the front of the line:

At the close of the interview, ask the interviewer if you may call should you have any additional questions (and you will have questions). Ask for the best time to call and best phone number to use.

The follow up call is used to continue the conversation, convey a solution to a problem discussed in the interview, or clarify a point that may have been left open-ended. Immediately jot down your notes after the interview. Identify 2 to 3 areas where you could add value and prepare examples of what you have already done or would propose to do in the future.

Wait 3 to 4 days for your follow up call. Remember, you will not be viewed as the dreaded “stalker” because you already got permission to call the interviewer.

Consider: Here’s an example of a follow-up call: You answered "No" when asked, "Have you ever worked from home?"

After the interview, you realize that you failed to mention that while working in an office, you did operate remotely by managing a distributed team of workers who were located elsewhere. In that capacity, you held weekly video conferences, reduced travel expenses more effectively using technology, and maintained collaboration within the group.

This example is MUCH better answer, and you can share that experience in the follow-up phone call..

Questions for On-Site Interviews

Although an overwhelming majority of interviews are being conducted via video conferencing and phone, a few exceptions to the rule do occur. When invited to an in-person interview, ask these questions before the meeting:

  • Should I bring a mask and/or gloves with me to the interview, or will PPE be provided once I arrive?
  • How will I gain entry to the office/office building?
  • Are there any additional safety rules I should be aware of before arriving?

For your safety and the employers, be mindful of keeping "touch" to a minimum including no handshakes, exchanging documents, etc. Observe how the employer and the employees seem to be responding to the Coronavirus management best practices. These requirements will likely change over time, but be sure you feel comfortable with how the employer manages the situation.

The Bottom Line

#WereAllInThisTogether is a hashtag seen in virtually every corner of social media. It serves as a powerful reminder of the universal solidarity needed to conquer this pandemic. Show your future employer that same willingness to partner with them in creating fresh solutions to emerging challenges.

More About Job Search During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

More About Job Interviews:


Barbara Schultz About the author...

Barbara Schultz is an HR executive, career coach, writer, and co-author of Adulting Made Easy(er): Navigating from Campus to Career. Barbara has held senior HR leadership roles in entrepreneurial settings and gives a unique perspective to job seekers from a life spent on the "other side of the desk." She is also the owner of CareerStager.com, helping people successfully navigate their careers. Follow Barbara on LinkedIn.
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