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The Elbow Bump is Out: Interview Etiquette in the (soon-to-be) Post-Pandemic Age


As we look back at the past year, we can’t help but feel that meetings, interviews, and coffee dates conducted in-person all feel like distant memories. But finally, with 169 million vaccine doses administered and three million doses administered per day (as of April 6, 2021) in the United States according to Bloomberg, it feels like we’re on our way to safely returning to the office in some capacity. And with it, will come the return of in-person interviews. While in-person interviews for most roles have been stalled during this time, we’ve taken this opportunity to explore how they may differ from what candidates were accustomed to pre-pandemic.

Feel free to inquire about protocol. Prior to agreeing to an in-person interview, feel free to ask about in-person meeting protocol to learn more about what to expect and how the company is addressing risks associated with COVID-19, as well as if they are requiring that employees get vaccinated. If the position will require you to work from an office, you’re more than welcome to ask about health and safety protocol for in-office work as well.

Wear a mask and don’t be afraid to ask. Regardless of your location’s mask mandates and vaccination status, wearing a mask in any public space amongst those outside of your household is a common courtesy. Pandemic protocol varies from office to office, so don’t feel embarrassed to ask your interviewer how far away they’d like you to sit and if they feel comfortable with you removing your mask when speaking.

Prior to your interview, make sure to test your mask for comfort, style, and functionality. Think business casual when choosing a mask, and stay away from silly masks that fail to convey a sense of professionalism. Practice speaking in your mask to make sure that you’re not muffled and that you can breathe properly. A client who conducted an in-person interview during the pandemic shared with Director Sarah Mitchell that the candidate’s mask didn’t fit well and as a result, every time she spoke, she had to readjust which was incredibly distracting.

Let your interviewer take the lead. While most interviews start with a handshake, this is no longer the norm. Rather than get off to an awkward start by putting a hand forward, wait to see what your interviewer feels comfortable with. Or, say something as simple as “Nice to meet you; I’m sorry I can’t give you a proper handshake.” While fist bumps and elbow touches were popular in the beginning of the pandemic, they can come off as goofy so it’s best to start with a verbal greeting.

If you feel comfortable, feel free to volunteer your vaccination status. While being fully vaccinated should by no means discourage you from wearing a mask to an interview, if you feel comfortable informing your interviewer as to your vaccination status, feel free to do so. As with handshakes and mask wearing protocol, your interviewer may be the first to volunteer this information about themselves and, if so, you are more than welcome to follow suit. That said, as always with interviews, it’s important not to get too personal, so don’t make your political views or health conditions part of the conversation.

Prepare for the weather if you’re meeting outside. In lieu of in-office meetings, some companies have begun conducting interviews outdoors to minimize risk. Alternatively, you may meet in an indoor setting with open windows or doors. Feel free to ask prior to your interview where you’ll be meeting, and be sure to bring layers so you’re not uncomfortable throughout the process.

Don’t be deterred by a happy hour Zoom invite. Pre-pandemic, discussing a potential career move or conducting an informational interview over drinks may have felt taboo, but now some have resorted to happy hour Zoom meetings as a means of unwinding. This casual alternative to a traditional Zoom interview can be a good way to get to know a potential candidate or employer in a casual, more personal way reminiscent of the small talk that corresponds with in-person meetings.

Be prepared to discuss your work-from-home style. Most companies will not be welcoming their entire staff back into the office full-time and, as a result, you should be ready to address questions about how you like to conduct work from home. It’s worth considering how to address questions about your communication style, your approach to building relationships with clients or colleagues virtually, and what techniques you use to stay on track with your team when in-person check-ins aren’t an option.

Don’t feel pressured to meet in person. While in-person interviews are the best way to get a sense of a company culture and environment, if you’re feeling squeamish about the prospect of meeting with a stranger in close proximity, you’re more than welcome to request a virtual interview. For those who are high-risk or particularly COVID conscious, it’s also a good idea to get a sense of how much in-office work will be required of the position, at least until everyone can safely return to the office.

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