Even when it’s safe to return to the office, some businesses may decide to give employees the option to work from home permanently. Executives from Facebook, Twitter, Upwork, Shopify, and Square have already extended their telecommuting policy indefinitely. There are many benefits to de-centralizing office work that can be completed from home—for example, it can reduce real estate and property management costs, lower carbon emissions, support working parents, and encourage better work-life balance. But working from home also presents unique challenges, and employers who want to build out their digital workspace must screen candidates based on their ability to work remotely.
If you’re interviewing for a new job during the pandemic, here’s what you need to know about the questions you may encounter about telecommuting.
5 New Interview Questions in the Age of COVID-19
1. How have you adapted to working remotely?
With this question, employers are hoping to understand how proactive you’ve been about optimizing your process to suit the new demands of telecommuting. This is an opportunity for you to highlight your adaptability in the face of change; if you’ve helped a current or former employer transition to the digital sphere, talk about those experiences with the interviewer. If possible, point to contributions you’ve made that affect revenue, accountability, communication, or security, as these obstacles are widespread and may apply to the employer’s needs.
When you talk with an interviewer, provide detailed context whenever possible—instead of saying that you’re “efficient,” for example, explain the techniques you use to stay productive. It’s more memorable and persuasive to point to specific anecdotes or metrics rather than list a series of adjectives.
2. Are you comfortable working remotely?
If you thrive in group settings and want social distancing to end, you’re not alone. According to a Gallup survey published at the end of May, about 51% of employees say they want to return to the office after the pandemic ends and it’s safe to interact in public. If you prefer to work on-site, you don’t need to hide those preferences—in fact, researchers from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business found employees in a centralized office are more likely to ascend to a leadership position compared to their peers who work remotely. But you need to frame your response in a way that still proves you’re capable of doing high-quality work from home. Find a way to add a positive spin to your answer and show the interviewer they can rely on you, even during periods that are personally challenging.
3. How do you plan to lead a remote workforce?
Research how businesses in your industry are responding to the pandemic and remote workers. If you’re going to be tasked with developing new attendance and telecommuting policies, you must be informed about the subject before the interview. Analyze the company’s workforce and estimate how many of the employees can fulfill their responsibilities remotely versus workers who need to be on-site part- or full-time. Even if you only have limited data available as an outside candidate, show the employer you’ve researched their business and can help the company make intelligent decisions about navigating the pandemic.
In addition to sharing your perspective on broad, company-wide strategies, leaders need to also demonstrate how they plan to motivate and manage a remote workforce. Make specific proposals to facilitate digital communications, product development, operational changes, or community-building. Depending on your role within the organization, you might also elaborate on your management style and how you can support direct reports who are working from home.
4. Can you please describe your level of familiarity with today’s technology?
Digitalization is completely rebuilding the U.S. economy. Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, analyzed thousands of job openings for 545 various occupations. They assigned each job opening a corresponding “digitalization score” that indicates how much technological expertise a candidate needs to qualify for the role. Using 14 years of data, the authors discovered employers listed on average 57% more digital skill requirements across all occupation types in 2016 compared to 2002.
The pandemic will likely accelerate these trends and prompt more employers to consider new ways to leverage technology in their day-to-day business operations. Even at the executive level, candidates are expected to be technologically adept and should speak to those qualities during the interview. If you’re not tech-savvy, it might be helpful to brush up your skills using an online class or certification program.
5. How do you stay busy while social distancing?
Open-ended questions like this might seem innocuous, but it’s important to talk honestly about your experiences. If an interviewer senses you’re exaggerating to make yourself seem more productive, for example, this can make the interaction seem forced and disingenuous. Instead, use the opportunity to be personable and show that you’re enjoyable to work with. You might decide to discuss, for example, your new birding hobby or the reading you’ve caught up on during the quarantine. If possible, try to relate your response to learning something new, which shows the employer you’re naturally inquisitive, knowledgeable, and emotionally resilient.
Define Your Candidacy by Highlighting Unique Value-Adds
Executives are developing new telecommuting policies that address long-term needs. The pandemic is far from over in the U.S. and worldwide; offices that reopen will have to instate new procedures and layouts that permit updated sanitation routines and social distancing. Businesses that instead decide to go remote-first will have to adapt their strategy to support operations, team leadership, company culture, and a newly designed digital infrastructure.
Whichever direction your target employers decide to take, you must prepare for the possibility of continued telecommuting for months to come. These questions might seem inconsequential if you live in an area with lifted restrictions, but employers must reckon with the possibility of another shelter-in-place order if there’s a second wave or future disaster. To build a sustainable workforce, hiring managers are looking for candidates who can do the job remotely, stay focused on their objectives, and recover quickly during a crisis.
When you respond to interview questions like these that explore telecommuting, focus on addressing the employer’s needs to demonstrate your value to the business. As with any job interview, your success depends on how well you identify and address the hiring manager’s objectives.
For help preparing for a job interview, schedule a free consultation with a Career Advisor