June 5, 2020

How to Interview in a Post-COVID World

Despite the massive unemployment numbers reported each week, companies are still hiring. In fact, the U.S. economy gained 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent. Job candidates with specialized skills, who don’t need a lot of direction or handholding, are especially in high demand because most employers are anticipating their workforces will remain remote until 2021.

Interviewing has also gone remote with most hiring managers meeting with candidates over Zoom and other video platforms, where it’s easy to get distracted by factors that don’t necessarily indicate whether an applicant is equipped to do the job. Typical distractions include whether the candidate is using a virtual background, not looking into the camera, or having a fixed unnatural gaze into the camera. Other factors that don’t relate to hire quality: their bedroom décor; what’s on the bookshelf in the background; connectivity issues; whether their dog is barking; or, their child inadvertently walked into the room.

In this post-COVID reality, we have become less interested in perfect Instagram moments and more interested in connective, heartfelt, moments, especially as community members in the United States and across the globe came together to protest against police violence and systemic racism in U.S. cities. Companies are realizing that workplace emotional intelligence is a key factor in hiring new employees, or in what some might call an employer’s brand experience. Now more than ever, hiring managers need to determine if job candidates are adept at managing change and uncertainty, solving for problems, and adapting to new situations. Most companies and the global economy are still on rocky ground as we prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 potentially coming later this year.

Because of this uncertainty, before a company can even begin to recruit and hire new talent, its leadership will need to wrestle with some hard questions. The management team can no longer operate the way it did in the past. Your pre-COVID hiring rulebook is mostly irrelevant and needs to be rewritten.

To start, the management team needs to understand its own operational systems during these times and what its vision and mission are based on our new normal and to be prepared to discuss the company’s own COVID and Black Lives Matter journey with all job candidates at the very start of any interview. Before you can hire for EQ, understand your own organization’s EQ so you can share the working situation from a product, project, company, and leadership perspective. Speak candidly with each applicant and explain the company’s progressive and proactive stance, as well as its vision along with your organization’s current challenges.

Explain how the company is managing the employee experience, and especially the experience of new hires while teams are working remotely. How is leadership resolving conflict, handling idea generation, making sure all employees are heard? The way management resolved these issues in the past probably doesn’t apply in a post-COVID workplace. Be honest about what your employees are experiencing right now, even if it means telling potential new hires that employees are confused, frustrated, or working 16-hour days, and how they are planning to work through it to a more favorable environment.

Discuss how the organization nurtures a new employee remotely to ensure they integrate with the rest of the team effectively. Keep in mind that long-standing employees have built up their confidence and know the invisible signs that indicate failure or success. But, for a new employee, it’s not just a new environment but one fraught with anxiety. Laying out all this information will help the candidate to assess whether they will fit into your company culture and prepare them for that reality.

Once the hiring manager lays out the company’s post-COVID-19 mission and vision, the management team can begin to ask the candidates questions to assess the five components that make up emotional intelligence—self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision making, and stress management. Pay close attention to the candidate’s response to these four items.

What to Ask Candidates

Ask the candidate, “Now that we explained our vision and our challenges, I’m curious to understand what you want to achieve in the role, and what challenges you expect to face?”

You can then assess how confident they are to tackle the challenge with the way they respond. If a candidate demonstrates confidence (not bravado) through their answers and can touch on various ideas, solutions, and experiences relating to the role that are compatible with what the company needs, you can be sure their baseline of self-regard (respecting oneself; having confidence), self-actualization (the pursuit of meaning, self improvement) and emotional self awareness (understanding one’s own emotions) is part of the self-perception composite. If the candidate can answer to these challenges, they will also demonstrate strong decision making (problem solving, reality testing) and stress management (stress tolerance, flexibility and optimism) composite.

Their answer will tell you whether they’re mentally engaged and excited to take on this role or just looking for a paycheck. Even in a post-COVID workplace, make sure you’re hiring the right person for your organization as a remote worker, who is seen as an asset to solving the company’s challenges for the long-term.

Reasonable Expectations

Go further on this line of questioning. Allow the candidate to showcase their problem-solving and stress-management abilities by asking the candidate to theoretically role-play the new organizational situation that’s been described to them. You’ll learn a lot from the candidate if they can speak to some, or all the human, project, product, and organizational variables. However, don’t expect someone to be “everything” in the very first interview.

Look for Flexibility

Evaluate their ability to handle stress by noticing whether they’re flexible with their thoughts and behaviors during the interview. You’re looking for someone with a growth mindset and agility of thought who could handle new situations being thrown at them. People who believe things must be in a certain way to operate productively are likely to have a fixed mindset, which will impact their productivity and ability to collaborate.

Be Sincere

Pay attention to the candidate’s energy level. Keep in mind that interviewing during the COVID era, particularly if there are four or five people asking the candidate questions on the same video call, is cognitively exhausting. Video interviews can eat up more of an applicant’s energy than a traditional in-person meeting, which is typically held in a quiet and focused conference room. If they show up to your Zoom meeting and they are doing well emotionally and physically, give them credit for that. On behalf of your organization and your own responsibility for representing your company genuinely, show warmth and sincerity—it will go a long way in demonstrating that your organization has a strong focus on interpersonal relationships, empathy, and social responsibility.

The interviewing game has changed, maybe for the next six months or maybe forever. Assemble your leadership teams so they can understand the best way to project the organization’s real brand so you can hire people who can drive your goals and vision forward.


Caroline Stokes is founder and CEO of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions and author of Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies To Save Your Company (Entrepreneur Press, 2019).