BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN
Remember February? Different world: we were thinking about planting, spring – several of my friends were thinking about applying for new jobs and career paths. Now that everything is very different, we need to look at applying for jobs and interviewing in a new way.
COVID has required companies to think in a very different way: from interactions like meetings and one on ones or lunch to business trips and working remotely, companies are taking a long hard look at everything. And as a job-seeker, you should, too! While unfortunately, I’ve seen recruiters mention companies that are questioning career gaps already (global pandemic, anyone?) you as the job seeker can ask interview questions, too – remember, you still can interview them, even in a moment of economic upheaval.
Here are a few reasons why their response matters, and how you can look at their response to the question “How did your company handle COVID?” more than at surface level:
Shows company culture
If their response is open, encompassing, and not defensive, you might be looking at an open culture, encompassing and growth-focused. The answer will indicate if they are thinking about their employees as well as new employees as part of a larger whole. You aren’t just some warm body they need to do any job – you’re part of the larger collective. Make sure you fit in the culture, and the culture fits for you!
Snacks over care?
Company culture was fascinating before COVID – from candy “bars” to snack stations to pool tables in the office; things will be different if companies are following CDC guidelines for sanitization. If they are proceeding with business as usual for common spaces in the office, you have to wonder if they are taking medically sound advice seriously. When asked about COVID, if they immediately start talking about perks, there’s a concern that they might not be thinking about handling another crisis. Yes, we all hope this will be the last – and the largest one – we deal with. To not potentially prepare for another similar crisis when we have disaster plans for fires in the office is concerning.
Communication with staff
Open communication is critical to a healthy work environment. If you ask about their response to COVID and they clam up, get defensive or ask why you care, there might be some underlying communication issues. No one likes to talk about negative things – if you ignore them and are only reactionary to a crisis, you aren’t preparing or learning. Employees also have a right to work in safe environments, so if asking “threatens” authority and a negative reaction is given, there may be larger issues when it comes to talking about smaller things like constructive feedback or medium to large issues that HR might have to step in to handle.
While much of the pandemic has become unfortunately political, the CDC is overwhelmingly on board with social distancing. I’ve had more Zoom meetings, classes, happy hours, and more – if you’re interviewing in person, is there space between you and the interviewer? Are they shaking your hand, sitting close, allowing you to maintain a distance that you choose – or are you sitting at a distance that has been chosen for you? I’m not suggesting you meet in a hazmat suit, but at the same time, with so many of us caring for intergenerational families and private preexisting conditions, if there isn’t an attempt for spacing during the interview, you might want to dig deeper.
If you have the space and ability to interview them to the extent they interview you, do so! You deserve it.