While many of us thought that the world would go “back to normal” after widespread vaccination was achieved and mask mandates removed, there are still many aspects of day-to-day life that bear scars from painful and abrupt changes.
One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of these COVID-19 related changes is in the labor market itself. It should go without saying that hiring is tough right now due to the current labor shortage as top talent moves quickly between offers. If there’s the slightest whiff of something off about your company — whether that’s an outdated career site or poor employee reviews — they will move onto other opportunities without even a courtesy call to let you know. In fact, 84% of companies say that they’ve been stood up by candidates at an interview in the last six months.
Want to keep your preferred candidates interested in working for you? An easy way to do this is to spruce up the questions you ask in your interview process to reflect the current post-COVID work environment. Traditionally, interview questions have been used to assess a candidate’s ability to think on their feet and for the recruiters to get a better, more well rounded understanding of the applicant — and these post-COVID questions do too, but in a way that demonstrates that your business is keeping up with the ever-changing times.
To provide some guidance, we put together this list of five interview questions recruiters need to ask in a post-COVID world. In addition to questions your team needs to ask, we’ve also included three common questions that candidates are now asking potential employers. Job seekers are interviewing you as much as you are; a little bit of forethought to potential questions your team might be asked can help recruiters field them as they arise.
5 interview questions to ask in a post-COVID hiring market
How did the pandemic impact the way you worked at your last position? How did you adjust to those changes?
While this series of questions appears straightforward, there’s the opportunity here for recruiters to dig deeper. When the pandemic hit, everyone except essential workers were required to shift to virtual workspaces — leaving many feeling vulnerable in the roles they had to continue to work in to support their families and themselves.
This type of question is a behavioral interview question, which helps recruiters ascertain how resilient and adaptable candidates are in general. Typically, top candidates will respond to this category of questions with an answer that follows the STAR framework; if you ask them to walk you through the thoughts they had during this abrupt shift and how they continued to move forward in the uncertainty, you’ll be able to roughly determine how they approach obstacles.
What do you do to manage stress? Has your preferred method changed since the pandemic?
These questions give the impression that your business has accounted for the additional toll that the pandemic has had on mental health, both during and after. Just like small talk and email signatures have changed, so has what has become acceptable to talk about in the workplace. One of the major drivers for job seekers to find a new position has been a stressful work environment that was not conducive to their mental health.
For your recruiters, the candidate’s answer gives them insight into how the applicant handles themselves and stress. While it’s difficult to tell if the candidate is telling the complete truth, depending on the method of interview — i.e., video conferencing or phone call — there are physical and verbal tells that they are uncomfortable or highly stressed as is, which can give you a clue as to how they’d manage themselves at your business.
How did the pandemic impact aspirations you had for your career?
Just like many college students begin their higher educational career with one major in mind and end up switching at some point, many people went into the start of the pandemic with the assumption that they would be in the same career field when it returned to a new sense of normalcy. As we’ve seen over the last two years, that generally has not been the case.
With that in mind, finding a baseline for where your candidates want to grow their career is another goodwill question that your team should ask — especially if you have the sense that this is someone you really want on your staff. People will stay at jobs that demonstrate clear career pathways, rather than ones that offer little to no internal advancement. If you can align what the candidate wants and pragmatic opportunities at your establishment, you’re on the right track to make the next right hire.
What did you learn during the pandemic?
The pandemic wasn’t a two-year holiday for many that are currently seeking employment; between figuring out to avoid contracting COVID-19 and how to feed their families, this time period was rife with struggles. While most traditional interview questions will ask something like, ‘What’s something good that happened last year?’, it might not be wise to force candidates to search for something positive amidst the global pandemic. You don’t know what their circumstances are and if they lost anyone, let alone how they functioned for the past few years.
Instead, ask the candidate what they learned. Since this is an open-ended question, there’s a lot of free reign here to answer as they see fit. It’s a fun question that can solicit random responses, like a new hobby or self-mastery courses, but some applicants may also choose to remain work-related. That’s the beauty of this question — you get to learn something new about the candidate’s personality as well!
How are you holding up?
As mentioned above, small talk has changed. You can use this question to open up the conversation. Don’t expect candidates to reply as candidly as your best friend, but also don’t be surprised if you find out more than you had expected to. The way that people communicate has really changed since the start of the pandemic, whether that’s thanks to brevity being necessary in online messages or lack of interpersonal communication.
This is just a small way that your recruiters can take the time to make a one-on-one connection with the candidate. If there’s a point in the conversation that the two mesh really well on, that’s great because a good interview is like a dialogue.
What questions to be prepared to answer from candidates
How did your team adjust to COVID-19?
This is one of the most common questions being asked by job seekers across the country. As we saw, businesses responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways, for better or worse — and their employees ultimately paid the price.
Candidates are looking for reassurance that their health and well-being is a priority for the business that they’re seeking employment in. If your company doesn’t feel safe to them in terms of what they’re comfortable with — whether that’s mandatory mask use or vaccination status — there’s bound to be another business that will go the extra mile to ensure their peace of mind. It’s a labor market heavily in the favor of the employee, with two vacant positions available for every one job seeker.
In this case, it’s best to be honest with how your company handled the different phases of the pandemic. Most businesses did the best they could with what they knew — which was what everyone else was trying to do too. Transparency and honesty can go a long way, in addition to precautionary measures in place should something on this scale happen again.
How did COVID-19 impact the business overall?
The devastating effects of COVID-19 can be seen in every town and city across the United States. Businesses that cannot function without employees being there in person, like hotels and bars, were hit incredibly hard compared to tech companies or corporate offices that could make their operations remote.
Again, transparency is the best course of action here. Don’t say that you were a day away from shuttering your windows and locking the door, but focus on how your company rose to the challenge and found success despite the marked disadvantages. Just like you want your candidates to remain positive during the interview, your recruiters should as well because any sign of structural deficiency or source of wariness could cause them to ghost you without warning.
Were there any company culture changes that happened because of the pandemic?
Remember how you asked your applicant how they manage their stress? They’re likely just as interested in how your business supports employee’s mental health. Again, we’re seeing a lot of top talent job hunting because of a work environment that wreaked havoc on their mental health.
Other ways that companies have adjusted their cultures due to the pandemic are more in terms of policies, such as offering flexible scheduling opportunities, increasing the amount of employees eligible for your company’s benefits program, and more PTO, to name a few examples.
The only constant in 2022 is change. Taking the opportunity to breathe new life into your interview questions can help candidates understand that your business cares for their employees, and ultimately, them. All it takes is a little readjusting and some intentional phrasing to modernize your interview process and convert top applicants into your newest hire.