Now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in the U.S., more employers want workers back in offices at least some of the time.
According to a January survey of 133 U.S. executives, only 5% believed that workers did not need to return to the office to maintain good company culture; instead, the most common response was that employees should work at least three days in person. But a significant number of workers want to keep working from home for part of the week, and some never want to go back to an office at all.
As a result, the needs and wants of workers and employers may be at odds, and hiring managers are asking new job interview questions designed to reveal discrepancies. Companies don’t just want to know if you can do the job, but if your preferred working arrangement aligns with their return-to-office plans.
Here are the types of questions you need to prep for:
1. ‘How do you complete a project with minimal supervision?’
Daniel Space, who has worked in human resources for over 20 years, currently consults with business partners on strategic staffing, including interview questions.
“As it relates to COVID, a lot of the questions that we ask are ... behavior-style interview questions that tell us your ability to succeed in a fully remote environment,” he said. “What kind of touchpoints do you need? How do you take direction with minimal supervision? How do you handle different time zones? How do you keep yourself organized and managed?”
If you made a sudden remote transition at the beginning of the pandemic, this is an opportunity to show how you adapted when your boss wasn’t supervising you in person. Space said it can also be a way to share what you learned about old workflows that no longer suit you, and which ones do. It’s a chance for interviewers to engage in a dialogue about what they do and don’t do and whether that works for you.
Space said he’s seen candidates who are scared to be forthcoming and believe that interviewers want to hear that they don’t take any breaks. But he’s been impressed by creative responses, such as a woman who shared how she used to work late because others worked late until she realized, “That’s just not me. I’m a really early morning riser ... By embracing that approach, it’s been tremendous. My work style is so much better.”
2. ‘Can you share an example of how you had to adapt in your role during COVID?’
Adaptability and flexibility are always highly sought-after skills by employers. But now there’s a COVID twist to questions about these attributes.
“I’m hearing a lot of candidates being asked about adaptability. How did they adapt in the workplace during COVID, what examples can they provide to show their adaptability,” said Jessica Hernandez, a career development coach.
The goal is to show how you rose to the challenge. “Perhaps it’s that they quickly flexed to learn new software programs to work virtually, or to meet a need with their clients who could no longer travel in the office,” Hernandez said.
Thankfully, the career story you tell doesn’t need to be tied to a current job if you don’t have one. If you lost a job during COVID, you can talk about what new skills and experiences you gained or courses you completed in the meantime.
3. ‘Do you have any concerns about returning to work?’ or ‘Do you prefer to work in an office or at home?’
Hernandez said that interview questions around work arrangements are one of the most frequent queries she hears about from clients.
“For some job seekers, it’s been about their preferences as employers are trying to recruit talent. And for other job seekers, it’s been about fit, when an employer needs an employee present in the workplace to complete the work,” she said.
When you’re asked about your comfort level working in an office, Space recommends being true to your values so that you don’t end up in a job that’s a mismatch later on.
“If you say ‘I’m fully fine with going back to work [in an office]’ and then a month later you’re not, you put the company in jeopardy because they don’t want to necessarily take any adverse reaction against you. You put yourself in jeopardy because this is what you said, but now you’re saying the opposite,” he said.
Ultimately, if a company doesn’t align with your values on working remotely, search for some other employer who is. “If it means that they say, ‘We don’t think this a right fit, we are requiring everyone to be back to work by August,’ it’s better to keep looking for companies that are remote,” Space said. “We are in an unprecedented job soar right now since COVID started.”
“Do you really want to work for somebody that you know that you fundamentally don’t see eye to eye on?”
Tejal Wagadia, a senior talent acquisition specialist at MST Solutions, recommends asking recruiters what the expectations are for a given role. That way, you that you can get a sense of what your future boss thinks before stating your preference.
Keep in mind that some roles available now may start as remote and transition to in-person jobs in the summer. Recruiters may ask if you are OK with that, Wagadia said, and stating an honest preference for continuing to work remotely may take you out of the running for some opportunities. But Wagadia said that being honest may do you a service in the long run.
“Do you really want to work for somebody that you know that you fundamentally don’t see eye to eye on?” Wagadia said. “It might take you out of this position, but it might save you the grief later of ... constantly clashing with the manager.”