Interview Q&A | “What Did You Do During Quarantine?” was originally published on Idealist Careers.
As some of us begin to inch into the next phase of the pandemic, slowly figuring out how we may move forward once we’re able, new questions have started to bubble up. Google searches like “how to set up a home office” and “holding effective virtual meetings” have been replaced with questions about what comes next (and when), professionally speaking.
Eventually, you’ll be ready to pick back up on your job search (perhaps you already have), or maybe you’ll be called upon to continue an interview process that had to be put on hold. You may even find yourself in front of an interviewer (be it virtually or face-masked and socially distanced), and there’s a chance that you’ll be asked about your experience in over the recent months.
Before I dive in, I want to include a big caveat. This post is not about quarantine guilt! We are all experiencing the current pandemic in different ways and at different points on a vast spectrum. This post is not meant to shame, but rather it is intended to help you find a way to leverage anything you may have undertaken or learned during quarantine the next time you’re in an interview setting.
It’s also worth remembering that an interview question related to COVID-19 could go south pretty quickly. It’s quite possible that this line of questioning could get personal, political, or preachy, and the list goes on. So keep in mind that if you’re absolutely not comfortable with a pandemic-related interview question, you’ll want to consider what that means in terms of your comfort level as it relates to your working for an organization who included that question in the interview process in the first place (food for thought).
Alright. Let’s go!
How to answer “What did you do during quarantine?”
To prepare to answer this question in an interview setting, plan ahead by selecting an activity or undertaking that you completed from one of the categories below. Once you’ve identified what you want to share, you’ll need to rehearse your response (just as you would any other response to any other interview question) in order to offer your interviewer a succinct and concrete example of how you spent you spent your valuable time.
If you engaged in the pursuit of knowledge
If you’ve spent any time over the last few months engaged in some self or employer-driven learning, talk about it (in detail)! Intellectual curiosity is always a plus in a job applicant. And the fact that you likely had to drive yourself to read that book, take the course, or practice that ukulele tells an employer that you’re not just curious, you’re also self-motivated. Some examples of activities and undertakings that would fall into this category include:
If you choose to elaborate on an item from this category, be sure to map out a bit of a narrative around your activity. You don’t want to simply say “I learned how to compost” and leave it there. Instead, paint a picture for the interviewer.
Explain what moved you to explore composting in the first place. A personal interest in sustainability? A new awareness of food waste? Next, explain the steps you took to make your plan and move forward. Did you connect with an online community for advice, read a book, or ask a neighbor? And finally, what did you take away from the experience? If you can put your finger on one positive impact of your learning (or one specific and interesting new nugget of knowledge), you’re all set.
Keep it short and sweet while also making sure that it’s illustrative of your larger message: you’re a go-getter and a lover of learning!
If you engaged in activities that led to personal reflection and growth
Another area where many of us have been dedicating some time is the realm of personal reflection and growth. For a lot of us, a new, renewed, or strengthened interest in self-care and wellness due to the current pandemic has led to quite a bit of self-discovery.
While it may take some work to connect the dots and illustrate how an ability to reflect is a great quality in a job candidate, let me assure you that it most certainly is! Some examples of activities and undertakings that would fall into this category include:
- Learning something about yourself (expectation setting, boundaries, work style, parenting style, self-care, etc.)
- Developing a deeper understanding of yourself and your community by connecting with friends and family
- Working on a passion project
Did quarantine put you in a position where you had to push beyond your comfort zone to set boundaries with a loved one, an employer, or yourself? Maybe you learned how to say “no”, limit your screen time, or confidently ask for what you need. All of these are examples of personal growth, and finding a professional way to share your story in an interview can show a prospective employer that you are not only self-aware but that you have a growth mindset as well.
If you were providing community support
A final category is that which includes anything you did to connect with and support your community and others around the world during COVID-19.
This category is fairly self-explanatory, and the goal here is to share succinctly share with an interviewer the work you did as a volunteer and what you took away from the experience. Some examples of ways in which you may have engaged in connecting with and supporting others during the pandemic include:
- Community organizing
- Connecting with neighbors
- Participating in (or starting) a mutual aid group
If you’re a first responder or essential worker
If you’re a first responder, teacher, parent or caregiver, frontline worker (or any other essential worker or caregiver who has been incredibly busy “reporting to duty” these last few months and without a moment to spare), or if you live in an area that didn’t experience quarantine or shelter-in-place guidance, that’s a perfectly reasonable answer to this question, too.
If you’re not sure how to respond
Many of us have been exceptionally busy (and spread far too thin) focusing on the things that are most important: health, family, food, and shelter. And that’s plenty! And if you’re asked anything even remotely related to the shutdown and the pandemic during a job interview, it’s absolutely your prerogative to let the interviewer know just that.
Here’s one way to respond if you’re just not sure how comfortable you are with this question in the first place:
“I was focusing on what is most important: health, family, food, and shelter. But now, I’m thrilled to be here with you to talk about how I may be able to shift my focus to developing as a professional and supporting your organization’s mission.”
Get more tips from our Interview Q&A series.
What interview question stumps you every time? Tweet at us or email us firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we’ll do our best to walk you through the perfect format for a killer response!