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How To Talk About COVID-19 In Job Interviews

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

June 6, 2021
|8 min read

It’s exciting to feel like we’re turning a corner with the pandemic! Summer looks like it’s back on track: restaurants packed with happy diners, gyms buzzing with athletes, and farmers’ markets alive with shoppers.

Job seekers are gearing up for a frenzy as well. The Society of Human Resource Manager’s (SHRM) Roy Mauer, refers to a “Turnover Tsunami,” explaining: “More than half of employees surveyed in North America planned to look for a new job in 2021.”  Likewise, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index notes that 40 percent of the global workforce is contemplating a job search this year.

If you plan to join the hunt shortly, it’s important to consider how supporting your employer through the pandemic has impacted your professional experience and how it has grown your skills. What did you learn while you powered through the pandemic? How did it make you a stronger, more resilient employee? How has the experience enhanced your professional skills?

It was a challenge to meet the demands that the pandemic heaped on workers from multiple directions. It takes debriefing, reflection, and soul searching to figure out what we learned and how we changed because of what we weathered. Here’s what to consider as you prepare for your post-pandemic interviews.

Check in with yourself.

Before you update your resume, revise your Glassdoor profile, and start searching for your ideal role; take some time to check in with yourself.  Before you gear up your reinvention, take a long pause.

Think about what you’ve been through during the last 15 months. What did your best day of the pandemic look like, and what made it so great? What did your hardest day of the pandemic look like-what made it so difficult?

Recognize, before you set your sights on the project of a job search, that we’ve been through a national trauma. We’ve all had to stretch our skills, patience, creativity, optimism, and resources to make this work. This is a hard experience to go through, but it grows us in important ways. Think about those. Give language to those.

Reclaim your center of gravity. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve learned, where you were challenged, and how you rose to the occasion. Get the help you need as you make sense of your experiences. Meet with a life coach, career coach, or therapist. Find clarity before starting your search, and use that to fuel your next chapter.   

Emphasize “soft skills” you honed.

These deserve a better moniker because “soft” doesn’t describe these capabilities. The only thing soft about these skills is that they stand in opposition to their counterparts; marketing, presentation, design, and project management are considered “hard skills.”  

Soft skills can be innate capabilities. They can also be learned and enhanced. They have been much discussed in recent years because these skills give human job candidates an edge over their AI competition.  Some soft skills include

  • Communication
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability
  • Resilience
  • Agility
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Work ethic
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving

Many employees likely found that the pandemic was a crash course in soft skills development and enhancement. Some employees, for example, who were not in leadership roles before working remotely, may have found themselves stepping up and helping their teammates rise to the occasion.

Maybe you were among them. If you found yourself helping colleagues find their remote-work sea legs, or you helped fill communication gaps, these leadership skills are definitely worth mentioning in your next job interview.  Perhaps you recognized your own skills gaps and upskilled to meet the moment. The efforts you made to rise to the pandemic's challenges are likewise important to discuss during your post-pandemic interviews.

Agility, flexibility, and resilience are also key soft skills. Many employees leaned on these heavily as they adjusted to the demands of the pandemic workload. “The global pandemic was the world’s biggest experiment in remote work, and it definitely has changed the way both employers and employees view work and the workplace. And, these views will likely continue to change as we all adjust to the post-pandemic workplace, which will likely be different than what existed before.” Explains Lori B. Rassas, HR Consultant, executive coach, and author of It's About You Too: How To Manage Employee Resistance to Your Diversity Initiatives and Improve Workplace Culture and Profitability.  

Showing your potential employers that you are flexible and you know how to manage a crisis is impressive. “Individuals seeking new roles should be certain to let prospective employers know that they are adaptable and understand the need to remain flexible as new policies and procedures are established. The reality is that most employers do not yet know what their future workforce will look like.” Rassas explains.

Make the case.

You can help prospective employers shape a future that is still emerging for them, just as you did during the pandemic. Look at the results you were able to achieve thanks to your soft skills. Then come to your post-pandemic interviews ready to discuss those skills and that data.

Discuss new hard skills you learned.

Maybe you had to greet customers, clients, or students. Perhaps your role was taking temperatures and ensuring that all guests, students, and participants followed protocol. Maybe you had to learn a new app or program to cover for a colleague who was taxed with another dimension of service. Perhaps Zoom was new to you, and now you’re using it to teach daily classes or facilitate meetings or workshops.

Whatever new skills you had to adapt to make operations run smoothly, those are important to mention during future interviews. You rose to the occasion. You made it work. You did all of this on the fly, and you learned about yourself, your skills, and your talents along the way.

Kyle Elliott, founder and career coach behind points out: “Employers are looking for candidates who can join their company and hit the ground running. Be ready to share a recent example of when you displayed your adaptability. If your current employer quickly shifted from in-person work to telecommuting, for example, you may consider sharing how you supported your team and customers in swiftly shifting gears.”

As you share these examples, make sure to mention any new hard skills that you learned or refined, which positioned you to take on new work.

Stay positive.

It’s revealing to navigate a crisis with an employer.  What do you learn about your employer and your colleagues by experiencing the pandemic together? Was the experience positive, negative, or a mix of both?

Why have you decided to search for a new role now? Mauer’s piece points to factors like disengagement, burnout, and the need for greater advancement opportunities, enhanced compensation, and increased benefits. Some common reasons that employees are looking for new opportunities. His article also points out that the pandemic delayed searches that employees likely would have launched if the pandemic had not disrupted their plans.

Whatever reasons you have for the timing of your search, it’s important to think about why you’re targeting a new role before you hit the interview circuit. This is always a delicate narrative to shape. You want to highlight any skills or leadership growth that you experienced while navigating the challenges that came with the pandemic.

While It may be true that your employer did not handle the pandemic well. Perhaps you and your colleagues were not managed or supported well enough, or isolation set in while your team worked remotely. Maybe your work on a team that was designated “essential,” and you had to remain on-site, where you did not feel that the team was well-enough protected from Covid. While these may have been negatives, they may have led to growth opportunities for you. The trick is to find a way to talk about the growth without speaking negatively of your former employer, which doesn’t reflect well on you during an interview. 

It’s healthy to do that emotional work and to decompress from your experience. You have room to reflect on where you think that your employer might have made different choices. But do that work outside of the interview situation.

Elliott offers this advice: “avoid the mistake of focusing on the negative aspects of the pandemic. Employers are seeking employees who are willing to roll up their sleeves during these unprecedented times. Demonstrate a willingness to remain flexible, open to change, and positive”.  Get whatever support you need as you let go of the trauma and put that into perspective. Then find a tidy and genuine answer about why you’re job searching.

You’ve got this!

Surviving and succeeding through a global pandemic is no small feat. While it felt exhausting and unrelenting, it can also build strength, skills, and focus. Make sure to acknowledge the rewards you've earned for weathering these challenges and emphasize them as you advance in your career. You’ve earned them.

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