Risk reality check, job interview edition
January 19, 2021 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I have a job interview scheduled this Friday. I was very surprised to find that it will be conducted in-person. This seems already like a yellow (red??) flag. Can you all provide me with a reality check on the situation?

I cannot come up with any reason the interview needs to be conducted in-person rather than over Zoom. I would say I am a little desperate for a new job. I could easily reach out and ask a couple questions: would a successful first interview lead to a second interview? Why can't we meet virtually? (Will I be expected to work in-person at the job when virtual options exist? [I'd probably be offered the vaccine as a type of healthcare worker, if so, but IDK.] What is the salary range? [Not something I typically ask before the first interview, but seems a relevant factor considering the risk I'm taking to interview.]) Etc.

The person who contacted me for the interview seemed like an admin assistant type; she didn't say otherwise and the phone screening questions were so basic they seemed to want to weed out someone with glaring flaws as opposed to asking any hardball questions. She did say the position received hundreds of responses and my resume rose to the top. When offered the interview, I did state, "I am very cautious about covid and I'm sure you all are as well. What precautions will we be taking to stay safe during the interview?" and she described the usual: distance, masks, disinfecting. She said there I will be before a panel of three, possibly four people if she [phone screen lady] is present.

OK. My "usual" for staying safe means to avoid any in-person activity that could possibly be avoided; i.e., using Zoom.

Before I contact them again to request a Zoom interview-- am I gauging this wrong? This organization is run by highly intelligent folks, whose values apparently align with my own, for what it's worth. But this all seems bananas. And, gah. I currently work in an environment so toxic I can barely keep going... But I am currently employed, I am currently safe, and I can, actually, keep going.

This is in Oregon.
posted by shocks connery to Work & Money (18 answers total)
well, I think you can safely assume your values on COVID don't align with the org's and your idea of what's safe isn't their idea of what's safe.

I'm far from the most COVID-cautious person here - FAR from it - but I don't think I'd do this. Sitting in a small enclosed space for an extended period of time, TALKING, is not good. And interviewing with a mask on strikes me as suboptimal as well. It's not just the interview conditions that give pause -- it's that I'd expect these protocols to hold for the work environment if you got the job.

I do wonder if they just want to ascertain that you're actually local.

I'd do it if it were outside.

also: ignore this She did say the position received hundreds of responses and my resume rose to the top. It's sleazy at best to try to impress applicants with how competitive the applicant field is. Really competitive places (I used to recruit for the biggest tech in the world) don't do this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:36 AM on January 19 [25 favorites]

I work in an industry that seemed to really distrust remote interviews, even though the technology has been there for years. But over the last year, everything turned 180, and I've had preliminary and final interviews conducted only over teleconference. It would seem really strange to me now if I was asked to come to an initial interview in person. The only way I can see this not being weird if it was a formality interview, and they really just wanted to show me around the office or something like that. I don't think there's any way to spin this other than it reflects the management's priorities.
posted by skewed at 7:38 AM on January 19

Use microcovid.org to establish the actual risk of this activity. You and 3 others of average risk, wearing masks, for 60 minutes, in your area, talking normally.

The site uses worst case scenario for several factors (IE, they now assume all covid is the new strand), so don't freak out too much. In this job market, without any underlying conditions, I would personally feel fine taking that risk if the risk was reported on microcovid as under 2%, or 20,000 microcovids.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:55 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure literally any job gets hundreds of responses these days, no matter what it is.

But seriously, if they're being risky on interview #1, I don't think I trust their safety protocols for actually working there?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:56 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

You have to gauge your own personal need here, but one way to look at it is that if you did request a Zoom interview and they granted that request, its likely they are more reasonable and aligned with your own perspective on Covid-19 safety.

If they reject your request for Zoom, I'd imagine any accommodations you'd be expecting in the new job could be off the table, and if your request resulted in you outright losing the opportunity... then that's probably good you don't end up working there, in the long run.
posted by RajahKing at 7:58 AM on January 19 [37 favorites]

I also wonder if the person who is responsible for doing the phone screens and setting up the interviews is new to this kind of work and wasn't thinking about giving you another option.

I would absolutely write back and ask for a Zoom interview, and if they say no, that tells you more than you need to know about the organization and the org values. If you are able to change it to a Zoom interview, I would use that opportunity to ask more questions about precautions they are taking, maybe even asking something along the lines of "I was surprised that the interview was originally scheduled to be in-person - could you tell me more about how you are protecting your staff from COVID?".
posted by something_witty at 8:02 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

I don't think the microcovid calculations, nor any of the other group estimators, can be taken at face value because the majority of the population is not conducting in-person interviews. I do spend extended time in small rooms talking to people as part of my job, and I still wouldn't do this as presented, because you have no idea how many other people these folks have interviewed this way or when. If they're all vaccinated with both doses and do symptom screening on themselves as well as interviewees, I'd feel much better about it, but as presented, I don't like it. Go ahead and ask, but I'm dubious that there's a good answer forthcoming because they should have offered it in the first place if so.
posted by teremala at 8:10 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

>I don't think the microcovid calculations, nor any of the other group estimators, can be taken at face value because the majority of the population is not conducting in-person interviews.

That's an input. If you were nervous about the increased risk of the others, you could input "A healthcare worker / social worker".

Even after inputting that, and the notably risky situation here, my risk is 0.02%, or 2 in 10,000 times you would catch it. Just goes to show, just because something FEELS risky doesn't always mean that it is. This is about twice as risky as going to the grocery store.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:41 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

i think its entirely reasonable to follow up and ask about this.

a concern i havent seen mentioned in other answers is that an in-person interview with covid considerations sounds pretty horrible even ignoring the virus risks - presuming you'd all be masked and distant what would they have you do, answer questions in a conference room to several people each sitting 6-10 feet away? i love that masks keep us safe but they are hot garbage for communicating (as evidence by the way that NBA coaches LOVE LOVE LOVE to pull them down to shout at players - but i digress).

I cant come up with a good reason for an in person interview once i think about it - any of the "feel" you'd get for a person would (hopefully) entirely swamped by covid precautions making it a distant and impersonal interaction.

I dont think it is a sign of a negligent workplace, necessarily, but it does point to a lack of coordination/consideration internally.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:26 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

As someone who has to teach in-person, I agree that bbqturtle that given the risk calculation, this isn't shocking. I'm not saying I agree with it (why add risk when it truly isn't needed), but I doubt this is a mistake or the result of the HR coordinator being new on the job. IANAL, but if you have a medical reason for not wanting an in-person interview (age, pre-existing condition, etc.) then I'd explain that. In any case, I agree with those saying this is an indication that you would likely be required to work in-person, so if that is a deal-breaker for you then I'd raise this issue now, but expect to be disappointed.
posted by coffeecat at 9:26 AM on January 19 [9 favorites]

First of all, the microcovid thing is helpful but not medically rigorous and new strains may make it even more inaccurate. Second, shopping for groceries is ultimately necessary, in-person interviews typically are not. I would ask if you can make this virtual, unless you are personally in need of the job such that you're willing to incur this risk.
posted by wnissen at 9:36 AM on January 19 [4 favorites]

You don’t specify the job you’d be interviewing for, but “a type of healthcare worker” suggests that the work you’d be doing may well be in person. I’m a nurse, and my job can be done remotely, but I am in the minority of nurses and other healthcare professionals. In our area, interviews for in person healthcare jobs are still being conducted in person (with masks and distancing). Larger health care facilities in my state are strictly separating admin/management staff and specialty providers from Covid units/patients to reduce risk among non-ED/ICU/RT staff. If on site work is a deal breaker for you, better to find out ahead of time that’s what they’re looking for. I would ask some questions before moving forward.
posted by little mouth at 9:43 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]

These days I expect zoom meetings as the default—
So much so that I would expect an employer to be very explicit as to why they are not zooming the meeting.
posted by calgirl at 9:47 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

If this job does require in-person attendance, that doesn't give them carte blanche to schedule unnecessary in-person meetings. I'm still working in the office 40 hours a week, but the only in-person meetings I attend are brief standing meetings in our open floor plan spaces. I interact with coworkers plenty, but not in small enclosed spaces.

That said, I do think every workplace has a different COVID culture, in part because state and federal guidance has been so uneven. These folks probably don't realize their request is unsafe, and they may be doing well in other areas. So I think a neutral request for a virtual meeting, and a list of further questions to ask, is a good way to go.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:48 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Coronavirus.Oregon.gov has info on governmental restrictions/guidelines, and our governor has mandated relatively strong measures. Could be a good reasoning to cite when you request a Zoom interview, which I think is a good idea. Even lower risk counties are supposed to be limiting office work.
posted by momus_window at 10:30 AM on January 19

Given that current Oregon guidelines recommend limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 6 people from no more than 2 households, this in-person interview seems like a violation.

I would write back and simply restate the current state and county recommendations and note that an in-person interview seems like it goes against recommendations, what alternatives are available?
posted by brookeb at 11:31 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I work in a retail store, where employees have to come to work in-person every day and even we are doing online interviews. The first time we meet our new hires face-to-face is on their first day. I would absolutely ask whether it can be a Zoom interview.
posted by coppermoss at 3:55 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I would be reluctant to attend an in-person interview, all the more so having read this article in the Guardian this morning: "Talking can spread Covid as much as coughing, says research". It links to a new online risk calculator that you might find helpful.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:17 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

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