April 28, 2020

Office Hours: Interviewing During a Recession

This post originally appeared on Medium.

If you scored a job interview during the pandemic (or any major economic event), congratulations! Many companies have put hiring processes on hold. The fact that you’re still making progress is no small feat; you should be proud of yourself.

As you prepare for your interview, you’ll find that many companies are still working remotely which might mean an adjustment to the traditional approach to interviewing. Most of the standard interview advice still applies, though, with some slight modifications.

If you haven’t already, start with our Guide on Nailing Every Interview Question, Every Time. That’ll get you prepared to show the hiring manager why you’re a good fit for the job. This guide will walk you through how to approach an interview in the midst of these uncertain economic times.

Test your tech.

Chances are, if you land a job interview during this time, it’ll likely be a video or phone interview. Make sure your devices are ready. Download whatever software you’ll be using in advance. Make sure you can get it running on your device and that you know where all the controls and settings are.

If you’re doing a video interview, make sure you have a quiet place where you can have a professional conversation. Open up the camera on your phone or device and check to see what’s visible in the background. If the background behind you isn’t projecting the professional, polished image you’re going for, consider finding another location, hanging a simple cover, or uploading a simpler background photo if the app and device you’re using will allow for that. Don’t go too far with the uploaded backgrounds, just a simple plain color or even an image of a window or simple room will do – now is not the time for beach views or memes. Some of the same rules apply if the interview is by phone too. Try to make sure you’re in a quiet environment that won’t be distracting to you or the interviewer. Lastly, make sure your phone or computer is fully charged before you start.

Prepare for plan b. 

Call it Murphy’s Office Law – even if everything ran smoothly during your test run, if the tech can fail, it will. If you downloaded Zoom, made sure it worked, and picked out the perfect place at home to project professionalism, the video call may still lag or be choppy. Make sure you have one backup device that you can use, even if that’s just switching from video to a regular phone call. 
Your best bet, if you run into any tech problems, is to roll with the punches and continue the conversation as quickly as you can on another device. Recruiters should be understanding and accommodating to issues that arise. Many people have had to move their entire lives to a digital space overnight, so don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go perfectly.

Get “there” early.

If you were going for an in-person interview, you would aim to arrive at the company’s offices a few minutes early. You should do the same for a video interview. Log on to the video conference or dial in to the conference call line at least five minutes before your scheduled interview time. This gives you a buffer in case you run into any tech problems and a chance to quickly switch over before you lose too much time. 

Get dressed.

We’ve seen all the jokes and memes. We know that after weeks at home, working and studying remotely, getting dressed hasn’t been anyone’s top priority (we love our sweats too!). But for a job interview, make it yours. Put on real clothes – top and bottom. You may think only waist up is necessary, but better to play it safe and get fully dressed just in case you have to stand up or grab something during the call.

Make sure you’re fully dressed and ready to be seen when you log onto the video chat. There have been folks caught undressed and unaware when they thought they were just testing their camera. And even if the interview is by phone, it still may be worth getting dressed just to put yourself in the right state of mind.

Focus on your flexibility.

Recessions and large scale global events, like a pandemic, often make companies change directions. Many times in ways that they cannot always anticipate. Projects that were important a month ago may be put on the backburner indefinitely. This is doubly true in startups, especially early stage companies that are still searching for their product-market fit. To be able to change directions quickly, they’ll need team members who are incredibly flexible.

While you’re answering questions and talking about your qualifications, you’ll also want to signal that you’re the kind of team member who is adaptable and can roll with whatever the day brings. If you worked on a project that encountered a lot of challenges, make sure you mention it and how you’ve learned to handle unexpected obstacles. When you’re explaining why you’re interested in the role, acknowledge that you know things might change and you’d be happy to work at the company in any capacity. Practice saying something like “my analytical skills would serve me well on your data team but I know things are constantly evolving. I’m so inspired by what you’re building here, I’d be thrilled to lend my talents to the team in any capacity.”

Ask about employee safety.

You’ll spend most of the interview answering questions about yourself – what you’ve done in the past and how that prepared you to handle responsibilities of the role. But at the end, you’ll probably get some time to ask your interviewer questions. You should be ready with questions about the role, the company, and that person’s experience there. If you need some suggestions, we have a list of sample questions here.

You can also ask some important questions about how the company approaches employee safety, especially in light of the current pandemic. It’ll help you understand how leadership approaches employee safety and shed more light on what it might be like to work there. Ask questions like “in what ways was your team well-prepared to work through the current pandemic and what new policies or procedures have you implemented in light of the current situation?” or “what has the current situation taught you about leading through a difficult time?”

Preparing for a job interview now isn’t too different than it’s always been. You just need to make sure you’re prepared and ready to let your experience shine through digitally, even if you can’t meet your potential future team in person just yet.