9 pandemic-era interview questions, and how to prep for them
(Image: Elena Mozhvilo)
The world has changed, and so have the interview questions.
Hiring managers are currently knee-deep in crisis management. Seize the opportunity by demonstrating your ability to be nimble, to deal with ambiguity, and to show calm in the middle of this storm.
First, anticipate a different focus in three primary areas, representing top-of-mind issues:
- Remote work
- The employer’s financial stability
Next, know and practice your responses to the nine questions below. 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.
Nine questions to anticipate
Employers will want to understand your experience working remotely, and how well you have adapted to this new requirement. Participating in a video interview will demonstrate your understanding of the technology, as well as how well-connected you are to the internet. Expect several questions aimed at your technical savvy, and your ability to be self-directed without the infrastructure and management support available in a physical office.
- Have you ever worked remotely? If so, what changes did you make to adapt to an at-home work environment?
Companies want reassurance that you have a dedicated workspace and can be productive from home. While you should not reveal your personal situation (kids, home schooling, etc.), you can indicate that you have the proper connectivity and that your environment is free of distractions, allowing you to execute work on a timely basis.
Consider building out your resume 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 online resume and professional profiles, plus specific technologies you have used (Zoom, Skype, etc.). Those keywords are being searched much more frequently now, along with “self-directed,” “agile,” and “distributed teams.”
- What aspects about working from home did you enjoy, and which did you find most challenging?
Employers want insight into the kind of work environment you thrive in – home or office. They may also be probing your comfort level with the technology used to conduct business, and even basic troubleshooting (e.g. recovering from printer problems).
An employer may not just be looking to fill vacancies, but also to identify positions or candidates eligible for permanent remote work. What are you looking for?
- When working remotely, how do you organize your day?
Working remotely takes self-discipline. This will be easier to answer if you have had experience with a remote job. Employers will be assessing how much hand-holding you may need, versus your ability to work autonomously.
- How would you communicate with your manager and co-workers in a remote setting?
First, express an understanding of the accountability needed, including regularly-scheduled reporting, when working remotely. Give specific 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.
- What are your thoughts on how to return to work safely – how can our teams collaborate, and how we can interact with clients?
Organizations are now formulating plans for conference rooms, workspaces, and common areas, and are interested in gathering input from current employees and candidates to shape, then support, the implementation of a reconfigured office space. Be prepared to share your vision. If travel was a significant component of a previous job, offer views on how to travel safely, or alternate ways to keep clients and stakeholders engaged.
- How have you handled the stress of COVID?
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. Acknowledge the reality of our stressful situation and explain your coping techniques. Consider the ways you have dealt with stress: Daily walks? Meditation? Connecting with friends? Maintaining a positive outlook?
You may want to ask how the employer is supporting employees who may be dealing with stress related to isolation.
- What would you do personally to maintain safety in the workplace?
Employers are not solely responsible for keeping the workplace safe: They also depend on their employees. Consider how you practice safety in your personal life – hand washing? social distancing? – and what you would do if you saw someone at work engaging in an unsafe practice. Demonstrate your willingness to participate in making your place of work safe.
- What life lessons have you learned during the pandemic?
This question resembles the classic interview query concerning how you dealt with a difficult situation. Tell them the positive impacts that the pandemic has made in your life, like learning new skills and technologies. Are you taking advantage of free online resources, like webinars and podcasts? 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? Remember that employers cannot grow unless their employees invest in personal and professional development.
- Will you be willing to work in an office again if and when working remotely is no longer required?
Since managing remote employees is a relatively new concept for many organizations, or impractical in the long term, an employer may be hoping to return to a more "normal" work environment. If they are able, they will want to know whether you will be comfortable with the change to a more traditional work environment.
Something worth keeping in mind throughout: “We are all in this together,” seen as a hashtag (#WereAllInThisTogether) in every corner of social media, is a powerful reminder of the universal solidarity needed to conquer this pandemic. Show your future employer that same willingness to partner with them, and co-create fresh solutions to emerging challenges, in each of your answers.
And you can find further ways to show your readiness by checking out the article this piece was excerpted from, which also includes nine questions you can ask your interviewer, smart ways to follow up after the interview, and more.
Barbara Schultz is an HR executive, career coach, writer, and co-author of Adulting Made Easy(er): Navigating from Campus to Career. Find out more about her at The Career Stager.