How to Conduct In-person Interviews during COVID-19

meeting, conference, laptop
Right around the second week of March all hiring activity came to a screeching halt here in California.  Taking a look at what was going on, as the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, public gatherings were being banned in San Francisco and the NBA suspended the season.  Within days schools were closing throughout California.  On March 15th, Governor Newsom ordered all wineries to close tasting rooms, and restaurants were ordered to reduce capacity to allow social distancing.  Four days later, the state ordered us to shelter at home.
In this new environment, many companies were quickly forced to close or send workers home to work remotely.   Not surprisingly, all open jobs were closed.  Positions that were recent

ly filled were in limbo–were newly hired employees still going to have a job to go into?  Recruiting practically stopped completely.
We went into the pandemic with full employment.  Often, finding the right person for the job was nearly impossible since everyone was working.  Fast forward to the end of April 2020 and now 19% of the California workforce had filed for unemployment benefits.  We are in a completely different environment for hiring now.
The wine industry is an interesting model during the pandemic.  Wine production and vineyard operations are essential, and my clients are continuing to have employees at work daily, whether that’s in the cellar, on the bottling line or in the vineyard.  And essential workers are still being hired to keep operations running.  But hospitality roles were severely impacted.  Many hospitality workers I know are currently unemployed, and wondering what the future holds.
As we start to re-open our economy, hiring will start to take place.  It will be a completely different landscape than two months ago, and we will need to follow different protocols to keep ourselves, our employees and our future employees safe.  Interviews for essential roles have continued during the pandemic.  My clients are implementing more phone and video interviews, but for important roles, the in-person interview continues to be very important.  Employers want to get a complete picture of a future employee, and candidates want to see where they will be working, learn more about the job, and get to know their future coworkers.  This leads me to ask, how should you perform in-person interviews in the Age of COVID-19?
Talking with my colleagues in Human Resources, they are having all interviewees wear a mask and keep all interactions at least 6 feet apart.  Some are conducting interviews outside, weather permitting.  Reviewing the CDC guidelines, and from recommendations of colleagues in the industry, here are my proposed best practices for interviewing amid COVID-19.
Set Clear Expectations:  With interviewees probably visiting the work location for their first time, giving them clear information about some basic items will be reassuring.  These include:
  • Where to park.
  • Where to enter the building.  If this is a production environment the employer may have certain areas only accessible to employees.  If there is an entrance interviewees and visitors are using, please let the interviewee know ahead of time.
  • Instructions on what to do if the interviewee isn’t feeling well.   Let candidates know to inform the interviewer if they do not feel well, and do not go to the interview.    Rescheduling an interview is a small inconvenience.

Interview Protocol:  Interviewing is often fraught with anxiety, and the added element of COVID-19 will likely increase this.  Here are some items that should be communicated to the candidate:

  • Mask:  If the interviewee will need to wear a mask, please let them know that ahead of time.  Many winery and vineyard workers have a mask for work, and can bring one to the interview if needed.
  • Greetings:  While I was taught the importance of a firm handshake from a young age, it is a completely unnecessary skill these days.  Greet anyone you meet and introduce yourself from a distance.  Don’t shake hands.
  • Social Distancing:  All interviews should be conducted with at least 6 feet of distance between all people at the meeting.  Knowing this ahead of time will eliminate any awkwardness at the beginning of the interview.  Some companies are putting large tape Xs on spots that either can or cannot be occupied during meetings.  An interviewer should let candidates know where they can locate themselves for correct social distancing
  • Embrace the great outdoors:  While many things are not understood about the transmission of the coronavirus, I do believe that having plenty of fresh air is a positive element.  If it is feasible, interviewing outdoors in a spot with plenty of fresh air can limit the potential for exposure even further, while you continue to maintain social distancing and wear a mask.

As always, have a sense of humor!  We are all in this together, and are figuring out how to get back to work, safely.  There may be some mistakes made, but as long as you are safe, I encourage you to be understanding and adjust to the situation.  We will get through this together, and be stronger as a result.

And at the end of the interview, remember, don’t shake hands!  Interviewees–follow up with a thank you email to the interviewers.  Interviewers–let the candidate know what next steps will be whenever possible.

Good Luck!





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