The pandemic affected all of us in one way or another, so it’s probably inevitable that COVID-19 will be on our minds for the foreseeable future. You can probably expect the pandemic to remain a topic of conversation across all types of social interactions—including at work and yes, even during job interviews.
On top of your typical interview questions, pandemic-related questions can be used to identify key traits, such as adaptability or a willingness to learn.
Surely, we’re all very, very tired of thinking about the pandemic by now. But that doesn’t mean we’re done talking about it. Here are eight COVID-related questions recruiters, hiring managers, and other interviewers might ask during and after the pandemic, along with insight into what they’re really getting at and advice on how to answer.
These types of questions are basically icebreakers. Keep your responses general, vague, and more or less positive. It’s totally fine to acknowledge the struggles of the past year or to express hope or excitement about the future.
Be sure you’re answering this question with the role you’re interviewing for in mind. Did you decide to finally take the plunge on that career change you’ve been dreaming about for years? This could be a great opportunity to share your journey and pitch your transferable skills.
And it doesn’t have to be anything drastic. You might say, “This last year made me realize just how quickly the economy can change and that reinforced my desire to continue to grow within my career and learn new skills as fast as possible,” go on to mention how you’d like to develop professionally or what new skills you’d like to focus on honing.
What a recruiter is really getting at here is: How do you navigate unexpected changes? Companies are always evolving with new hires, technological updates, new product rollouts, and more, and your prospective boss wants to know if you can roll with the punches.
This is a classic example of a “tell me about a time” question, also known as a behavioural interview question. You might talk about how you converted your closet into a home office, mastered an entirely different way of communicating with your teammates, or unexpectedly took to working from home like a fish to water. Whatever example you decide to use, be sure you tell it within a cohesive framework, like the STAR method:
If you’re interviewing for a remote or hybrid role, you can also expect a lot of questions specific to the logistics of remote work—especially around things like staying organized, working independently, and communicating with your boss and colleagues.
In other words, are you able to learn and grow through the hard stuff? Employers are always looking to hire people who are creative and solutions-oriented. They want to know that you can make the most out of a bad situation.
You might share that you decided to upskill by taking a class online, expanded your technical skills out of necessity and are now the unofficial IT expert among your family and co-workers.
Or maybe it’s something you learned about yourself or how you work. “Two years ago, I never would have considered a remote role. But after a year of COVID, I discovered that I can get more work done when I’m working from home. Having that independence made me far more productive.”
“Another version of that question is, what do you do when things get hard?” This is another great example of a behavioural interview question—which means you can use the STAR method to craft a solid answer.
You might say something like:
Things were pretty hectic at the start of the pandemic, especially since I was suddenly working from home and navigating remote learning. It made me realize that I needed to take a good, hard look at how I was managing my time and to decide which tasks I needed to cut, which I needed to keep, and which I needed to delegate. I made a list of everything I have to get done during an average workweek and created a detailed to-do list. Once I made my cuts and delegations, I created a daily schedule for myself. Having a game plan and a clear idea of what my priorities are on any given day helps me to keep stress at bay. That, and jogging. Jogging helps, too.
This is now a common logistical question. Interviewers are genuinely trying to gauge whether or not you’re going to be opened to returning to an office after working from home for so long.
Depending on what type of setup you’re looking for (in person, hybrid, or remote), you’ll want to be sure to clarify: Will there be an option to work remotely? Will you need to be in the office full-time or is part-time an option? “If you want to go back to an office, you might say, ‘I’m very open to going back into the office once things are fully safe, I would love to hear about your company’s return-to-office plans”
Translation: You won’t be able to join us for impromptu meetings. Are you OK with that? We ask people if they are OK with working in a different location from the rest of their team because that would often mean not being able to go to office events, parties, and other things that tend to make your work experience more exciting.
If an interviewer is asking this, it could be an indication that the company is moving toward permanent remote work for at least some of its roles. So, it’s worth asking what their long-term plans are—especially if you have strong or non-negotiable preferences around remote work.
Ultimately, hiring managers are looking for people who are going to make great team members. They want to know that when things go sideways, you’ll be resilient enough to push through challenging times, open enough to learn something along the way, and optimistic enough to find the silver linings.
That said, questions like this are tricky at best and triggering at worst. If you’ve experienced a COVID-related loss or hardship, being asked to identify something good that came from it could be incredibly painful. While the spirit of this question is well-intentioned, I think we can all agree it’s not a great one to ask. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come up during your job search (nor does it mean that the person asking is trying to bring up any bad feelings). So, it’s worth having an answer prepared.
Asking questions about how your prospective employer navigated the pandemic can tell you a lot about the company culture. Were they flexible and accommodating? Was the business agile enough to adapt to the changing economy? What will be expected of you and what should your priorities be if you were to come onboard? It’s also a great way to demonstrate your genuine interest in the role.
Here are a few ideas:
This won’t always be appropriate, but if you feel like there’s an opening, it doesn’t hurt to have a genuine human moment during your interview. Chances are, if your interviewer is asking a lot of COVID-related questions, the pandemic is on their mind. Emotional intelligence is a very desirable skill, so feel free to demonstrate empathy and compassion—if and when it feels right.
When COVID comes up during your job search, remember that this is still a professional interview—and you don’t need to bare your soul. When employers ask these questions, they’re trying to determine if you have the traits of a good team member, like grit, resilience, self-reflection, adaptability, and a willingness to learn. When in doubt, tie your answers back to one of those qualities.
Talking about the pandemic can be tough, but if you know what to expect and are able to get to the root of what your interviewers are asking, you’ll get through it. You might even come out the other side with an empathetic boss, an ideal remote or in-office setup, and a great new job.