British Columbia Library Association

Hired in COVID – Lessons learned from interviewing during a pandemic

By Caitlin Keenan

I don’t always get hired for my dream job, but when I do, it’s in the middle of the first wave of a global pandemic.

Leaving the public service for academic librarianship was a dream I’d nourished for years. I vividly recall one point in 2018, while walking around the gardens at Royal Roads University, when I said to my husband off-hand: “in an ideal world, they’ll have a UX librarian position open up here in a couple of years and they’ll hire me for it!” Well, this is clearly far from an ideal world – but this spring I joined Royal Roads as a librarian in user experience, outreach, and assessment.

When life hands you lemonade, you take it – even if it’s April 2020 and the whole world is in crisis mode. However, it turns out that applying and interviewing for a job, while always a bit awkward and convoluted, is doubly so during lockdown. In case you, too, are hoping to hire or be hired during COVID, here is a Buzzfeed-style listicle of three key things I learned from the pandemic hiring process.

 

1. (Don’t expect others to) know your tools.

Naturally, I expected all aspects of the hiring process to take place remotely, although I live a five-minute drive from campus. What I didn’t anticipate was that this would require three separate video conference software solutions – none of which were the same as the two we used regularly at my previous place of work. Unfortunately, it turns out that not all conferencing software is created equal.

Case in point: I called into my preliminary interview a few minutes early, expecting to wait in a “lobby” for admittance. Instead, to my surprise, I was tumbled right into the meeting unannounced. I found myself suddenly in the midst of a private conversation amongst my interviewers and spent an awkward few seconds contemplating which was worse: bursting rudely into my interviewers’ conversation to announce my presence, or listening in without their knowledge? (Obviously, the former, but what a way to start the proceedings!)

Lesson: We’re all video conference aficionados at this point, but your Zoom skills don’t necessarily translate across platforms. If you’re going into a job interview with unfamiliar software, make sure you understand its parameters before the big moment. If you’re on a hiring committee, consider providing your applicants with explicit guidance about when to sign on and what to expect.

 

2. Plan on technology going wrong.

At this point, we’ve all definitely been in meetings where someone just couldn’t get their internet to play nicely, no matter how high-speed and hardwired it was. This is never ideal, but it’s arguably worse than usual when it happens during a job interview. The good news for me was that my internet connection did not drop during my job talk. The bad news was that it did drop during a one-on-one chat with my soon-to-be-boss’s boss. By the time I’d run downstairs to reset the modem, our scheduled time was up.

Lesson: There are a lot of steps in the hiring process, and therefore a lot of opportunities for your Wi-Fi connection to fail you. This is a foreseeable consequence, so why not foresee it? In my case, I should have kept my HR contact’s phone information close to hand. She’d thoughtfully provided it to me in an email, but I hadn’t written it out. Scrabbling through dozens of emails on my phone’s data when I needed to call and explain what had happened was neither an enjoyable nor efficient use of time.

 

3. Virtual snacks can be delicious.

Even – perhaps, especially – during stressful and strange times, creativity and genuineness can shine through. As one of the final components of my virtual “campus visit”, I sat in on a staff meeting with my colleagues in potentia. During this meeting, our University Librarian invited everybody on the team to describe the delicious treats they would have brought to share had we been able to meet in person.

From this exchange, I learned:

Lesson: This was a great icebreaker activity. It turns out you can learn a lot about prospective coworkers (and the overall vibe of a workplace) by hearing them talk about past and future social events. Participating in this virtual potluck effectively put me at ease while giving me valuable contextual information to help me make my decision. If you’re ever in the position of hiring over Zoom, I highly recommend an activity like this that lets applicants see, as organically as possible, how you gel as a team. (Alternate lesson: Be careful how much you talk up your pastry-making skills, because you might be hired and have to stand by your claims!)

Epilogue

Whether you’re entering the remote hiring process as a manager or an applicant, good luck and take heart! It’s not as awkward as you fear it will be. I hope these anecdotes bring some colour to the concept and offer some (virtual) food for thought.

 


Caitlin Keenan is a User Experience, Outreach, and Assessment Librarian at Royal Roads University Library

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