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New Interview Questions Since the Pandemic

Two women talking at a table in an office.

​The work environment has changed significantly in many ways since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Hiring teams have subsequently changed the questions they are asking to assess candidates' knowledge, skills, abilities and potential fit.

Not surprisingly, HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers have found some new areas of importance to consider when interviewing candidates for jobs during the pandemic—and for the foreseeable future.

"It's always important to go back and evaluate the questions being asked of candidates when something radically changes," said Caitlyn Metteer, director of recruiting with Lever, a recruiting technology company in San Francisco. During the pandemic, she said, that radical change has been related to the "pivot to remote work and continuing to process the pandemic as new variants hit."

Assessing Comfort with Ambiguity

The pandemic work experience has provided a ready-made opportunity for assessing candidates' comfort with ambiguity. Not all have adapted as well or as readily as others.

Corey Berkey, SHRM-SCP, senior vice president of people and talent for Employ, the parent company of Jobvite, JazzHR and NXTThing RPO, has found that candidates are very honest about how they've done over the past several months. "Understanding how they have adapted to change is very transferrable to other work," he said. "Being able to speak to how their individual remote-work processes have evolved shows an ability to be self-aware, to adjust when things aren't working and to learn from situations as they go—all critical and transferrable skills in the new marketplace for talent."

A closely related question that Berkey often asks job candidates is "What was the biggest challenge of working remotely?" Their responses "put a spotlight on their practical problem-solving skills." No one's transition was perfect, Berkey said—unless they were already working from home. So, candidates generally feel comfortable in their responses. This can also be a good way to build rapport and get the discussion going, he said.

Paul French, managing director of Intrinsic Search, also feels that how employees navigated work life during the pandemic can be revealing and offer insights into their potential and fit for a position. He likes to ask: "What did you learn from the pandemic about how to cope with stress during this time?"

Fending Off Concerns About the Great Resignation

Another common concern for employers today: the potential that a new hire may represent turnover risk. The Great Resignation has made "Americans feel so confident about employment prospects that they are quitting in record numbers," Berkey said. That's obviously a concern and consideration when hiring new staff. Are they likely to stay on board once hired? To help gauge their retention potential, he asks questions like "What is important to you in a career and company?" Through questions like this, he said, "we hope to uncover what about the company or role a candidate would find fulfilling."

Then, he added, "we want to make sure that we listen to their answer and show them how our organization's support structure aligns with their needs." These responses, he said, also provide insights generally about what people are looking for so we can "put our best foot forward when it comes to attracting top talent."

Understanding Work Styles

In a world that has become far more "out of sight," but not out of mind, it's more important than ever for employers to understand how potential employees work and how they manage their ability to be productive, especially when they may face potential distractions at home.

At Lever, some of the interview questions they've asked related to this are:

  • How do you organize your day?
  • How do you spend your time in your current role?

These questions, Metteer said, help her team determine if candidates think about their performance "in terms of outcomes rather than activity." In the remote world, she said, a focus on outcomes is critical. "We also pay close attention to their communication style over e-mail and through Zoom or interviews as a signal for how they might work with the team, collaborating remotely."

How Candidates' Questions Have Changed

At the end of nearly every interview, most recruiters and hiring managers ask candidates: "Do you have any questions for us?" As with recruiters, candidates' questions also have changed during the pandemic.

"Candidates consistently ask about our travel and vaccination requirements," said Martha Angle, vice president of global culture, diversity and people for OneStream Software in Rochester, Mich. "They want to know what will be expected of them as our world responds to the latest safety measures."

Most candidates want to know if the company expects employees to return to the office or if there are opportunities to work from home permanently. "There are those who do not wish to leave their house and others who will only work for an employer who offers an office outside of the home," Angle said.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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