Pandemic interviews are something else. Where normally you’d be able to physically visit companies and get a sense of the scale of the organizations and how your role fits in, we now have a couple of heads in a screen prodding away at us with questions – assuming there aren’t any audio issues, and we can actually hear them.
In addition to the right salary, many people prioritize career progression when looking for a new role, in fact it’s a top reason for people leaving their jobs. And why wouldn’t you? you’ve invested time into the company and money into cultivating the right skillset, it’s only right that you see the fruits of that investment over time. But it can be difficult to gauge if prospective roles can offer this – especially in the middle of a pandemic
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for hybrid working – I believe it’s the future of work – but when all or most of your interviews are conducted remotely, there’s a lot of things you may not learn about the company until it’s too late. That is unless you ask certain questions in your interviews. But to ask, you must know what you don’t know and that can be challenging.
So, I’ve put together 9 things you can do and ask during interviews to better compensate for the information we may miss from normal in-person interviews. A lot of these points are applicable to in-person interviews too and will probably be helpful in those as well
1. Use Glassdoor!
It’s one of the only ways (that I know of) to find out what its like to work in a company from an employee perspective. There may be information there that you would want to know before joining the team – information that you wouldn’t have access to unless you personally knew people who worked there. You can get an idea of the organisational layout, difficulty of interviews, salary and benefits etc. before even applying for a role.
2. Make note of who is interviewing you and their role in the company.
My first interview for an engineering position had both the head of the engineering department and a HR representative present, the former asked more technical questions, while the latter asked more general behavioral questions.
Depending on the type of role you’ve applied for, they may do skill assessments before more ‘conventional’ interviews. If that is the case, then you can expect your ‘assessment style’ interview(s) to be conducted by a more senior-level member of your prospective department. For a larger company, the initial assessments may be conducted via an online portal instead with in-person interviews coming after that. Whether you are successful at the skills assessment stage or there isn’t such a stage during the recruitment process, you should expect to have HR representatives at your interviews at some point. Regardless of how many stages there are, I would query the complete absence of HR from the recruitment process.
Not only can it tell you the stage you’re at in the recruitment process, but it can also indicate the size of the organization. Some SMEs like to misrepresent their size so this can be important. If you haven’t applied for a senior-level role, but people with titles like CEO or MD are very involved in your hiring process, then the company is likely either an SME or a start-up.
I’ve only ever seen this done in very small companies or startups, which can come with their own headaches (lookout for future posts on my experience working in Very Small Enterprises or VSEs)
Remember, when unsure it’s okay to ask what the next stages of their recruitment process are at the end of your interview!
3. Ask what a normal day in that role consists of!
In addition to knowing the job description, you might also want to know what your day-to-day activities will look like. The job description should tell you everything you may be required to do for the role overall, but you wont necessarily be doing EVERYTHING in the job description EVERYDAY. If the job description contains a few things that you don’t actually like doing, it’s wise to make sure that those particular tasks don’t account for the bulk of the work you will be doing day-to-day. You need to know that BEFORE signing an employment contract or offer letter. The best person to ask will be the person representing your prospective department during recruitment, and the best time to ask is during your interviews!
4. Ask how the role came about
If the role is a newly created role and there are a few newly created positions, then the company may be experiencing expansion or growth. This is a good sign for you. If you are instead filling a recently vacated position, then it could be one of two things:
- The person previously in that role has moved to a different role within the company.
This can indicate that at least in the short term, there may be an immediate route for career progression for you within the company – after all, someone else has just done it.
2. The person previously in that role has left the company for a new role.
For a less senior role, this could indicate that there aren’t many open routes for upward mobility within the company and perhaps you could be inheriting the issues that factored into the old employee’s decision to leave the company.
5. Ask how large your prospective department is/ how many people in your team do they manage day-to-day
If you’re being interviewed by a more senior-level individual in your prospective department, then this line of questioning can help get a better understanding of not only the size of the company, but also the organisational layout. A company with a flatter organisational structure may not have as many routes for upward mobility and career progression within the company. This is often the case for companies where every individual reports directly to the head of department. There is no room for a promotion, simply because lead and managerial roles do not exist in the company’s structure. However, for a company with a more pyramidic layout, there are usually more opportunities for upward career progression because senior, lead and managerial roles exist as intermediaries to the head of department position. Theres pros and cons to each layout, so its worth thinking about.
6. Ask how they adapted to the coronavirus lockdowns.
You’re looking to find out if staff were furloughed, and an indication of how many furloughs there were.
If they are a non-essential business, they should have employed a WFH policy, but you should bear in mind that some companies had staff working from home, while on furlough (thankfully that wasn’t my personal experience, but rather information I recieved from someone else). A recruiter or company rep telling you the company were working from home doesn’t mean that staff were not on furlough at the same time. It’s likely no one would admit to this, but where possible I personally would avoid companies who had staff working on furlough. It doesn’t speak well of the company management/owners. I believe it’s technically corporate fraud too…
7. Ask about the training that’s available.
If they mention more company-specific training than industry-specific training, then they are likely an VSE or start-up.
8. If they’re advertising career progression within the company, ask how many people currently in the company have successfully used that route into management, senior or lead positions.
If there’s only a couple of people, then perhaps the company is overselling themselves. Either they are a large company who struggle to retain employees (that’s a red flag), or they are a VSE and as such there is no immediate room for progression within the company.
9. Looking at the offer letters and employment contracts, make note of the titles of the company representatives who signed the correspondence to you.
They should include someone from HR. where that is not the case, I would query that too.
Those are the top 9 things I learned interviewing and working over the last year. You may need to adapt some to better suit your individual situation – different industries and cultures may approach these conversations differently. I work in the engineering industry in the UK, but I think that regardless of your country or industry, these conversations are probably worth having to help make sure you’re getting what you’re looking for in your next role.
Feel free to share your own pandemic interview tips too! I’d love to hear them 😊