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Job Interview Etiquette in the Germ Age

Interview Etiquette

Various levels of social distancing during job interviews will continue for months to come. Although some businesses are back to hiring in person, how do you handle being called in or being asked to follow strict protocols when your comfort level doesn’t match that of the employer?

Since stay-at-home orders went into effect, 51% of employers responding to a recent survey have interviewed a candidate remotely, and 42% have extended an offer remotely. As many as 21% of hiring managers believe virtual interviewing will be a permanent benefit moving forward. But that leaves at least half of employers who still feel most comfortable interviewing and hiring in person.

Out of the employers we’ve talked to, many are willing to be flexible about keeping the interview process remote for now, as long as the job itself doesn’t require in-person interactions. Reduce your uncertainty and anxiety around interviewing in-person during the germ age with the following three steps:

Establish Expectations

No reputable employer will fault a job candidate for asking about interview protocols right now. It’s a smart thing to do. If the employer doesn’t set forth the expectations themselves, go ahead and find out from the person scheduling your interview:

  1. What does the interview processes typically entail right now? Will I be asked to come in to interview at some point?
  2. Should I wear a mask into the building or even during the interview?
  3. Will we be shaking hands?
  4. Where and how will be meeting (in an enclosed office with less than 6 feet of spacing, or a larger conference room or lobby)?
  5. Is there any flexibility for remote interviewing if I or someone in my family is immunocompromised?

The last thing you need is to be blindsided when you show up by being the only person in the room with a mask (or the only person WITHOUT a mask), having to explain on the spot why you’re uncomfortable shaking hands, sitting in a closet-sized room directly in front of your interviewer, or another situation that catches you off guard and distracts you from the reason you’re there: to make a great first impression.

Alison Green, author of Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, offers helpful tips on how to approach these topics if you’re uncomfortable. When it comes to requesting an initial phone or video interview, for instance, you could say:

“I’m trying to be very careful right now because of the pandemic. Would it be possible to do this initial meeting by phone or video? I’m of course happy to meet in person later in the process if we move forward.” 

Follow Your Gut

We talk a lot on this blog about company culture and finding an employer that matches your core values. Consider this issue a stark indicator of whether or not a certain company culture or job is the right fit for you. You may be determined to work from home or you may yearn to be in the office. You may be raring to travel as soon as you get the green light, or you may have sworn off client visits and industry conferences indefinitely. Those are your cultural preferences—they’re subjective—and it’s important to find an employer that validates and respects how you feel.

“It starts with empathy,” says Chuck Crompton, the founder and CEO of global consulting firm Medpoint, LLC. “Company leaders are seeing they need to listen more to their employees’ concerns, which are really everybody’s concerns right now. Many people have fear and uncertainty. It’s an opportunity to be more understanding and build relationships with the people you work with, and from there as a company, being better able to work in new and more collaborative ways.”

If you sense your concerns or preferences around interviewing during the pandemic aren’t being respected, you can safely conclude that your concerns or preferences may not be valued as an employee, either.

Be Professional, Respectful, and Flexible

If you’re interviewing virtually for a remote position, be sure that you’re set up for success. Prove to the interviewer that you’re comfortable and competent working from home. The lighting, connection, sound, environment, and your presence need to be polished and professional.

And if you do find that the employer’s stance is different from yours on whether or not meeting in person is the right thing to do, resist the temptation to get on your soapbox about it. Once again, it comes down to company culture, which is subjective. Maybe the company culture is too ridged and should change in light of our new realities—and maybe it will—but it won’t happen on account of your defiance. You have every right to decline a job interview or opportunity if the circumstances around it make you uncomfortable. But do it respectfully. Don’t burn bridges.

And finally, be flexible. Check in the morning of your interview to see if any protocols about coming in, wearing a mask, getting a temperature check at the door, etc. have changed (or should have changed) overnight due to an uptick in cases, local policy updates, or other changes. Show that you’re flexible and understanding about those modifications and the need for them.

These changes are hard on job seekers, but they’re also hard on employers. Your patience and understanding are more important than ever. If you have additional questions about interviewing during the germ age, feel free to contact your HT Group recruiter. They’re here to help.


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