This question about COVID-19 will make or break your interview

There’s one COVID-related question that will truly make or break your interview. And here’s how to best answer it.

“What’s your COVID-19 story?”

Statistics say that four out of every 10 people will want to change jobs this year, making the job market even more difficult to navigate than before. If your resume does pique someone’s interest, and if you score an interview, you’ll want to research potential questions — especially about COVID-19 and the past year’s quarantine.

While many future employers might ask about your coronavirus experience in particular ways, this question, in particular, has been popping up more than any other. It’s different than other COVID-related interview questions because an interviewer isn’t asking how you’re holding up or how your adjustment was. Those questions tend to lead interviewees to rose-tinted answers filled with phony performative vulnerability or superficial meditations on the state of work, and quickly differentiate creative, honest employees from those who just want to say the right thing to score a new job.

Asking about your COVID story, however, puts the ball in the interviewee’s court.

Your COVID-19 story grants you the chance to express yourself in a way that showcases your individual personality, while also granting the interviewer a greater understanding of who they may be hiring.

Someone who chooses to tell a sad COVID-19 story might be just as much of a red flag as someone who says the pandemic was the best thing that ever happened to them. This deeply psychological question can be easily deciphered by potential employers, and as a result, there are a number of right and wrong ways to tell your story.

The wrong answer

There are a few things you should try to avoid when tackling your COVID-19 story, lest you make a bad impression or, even worse, come off as forgettable.

In general, generic answers in interviews are rarely a good thing, and saying what you believe the employer wants to hear rarely results in a new job. Everybody else is telling interviewers that they had a hard time adjusting but, after a few months, got into a groove and eventually thrived in some nonspecific fashion. All the while, they discovered the true meaning of family or friendship along the way, like a corny made-for-TV movie.

Even if that’s just what happened to you, that’s not what employers want to hear, as they’ve been hearing it every day from everyone else. How will your story stand out from the crowd?

It’s important to not veer the opposite way either and tell employers a story that’s just too personal. Even if you suffered a devastating personal loss during the pandemic, like a death or divorce, unless it had relevance to your career or general life choices, save the sob story for your therapist. It’s one thing to want to change one’s career and pursue a lifelong dream as a result of trauma experienced in the past year, but it’s another to arbitrarily bring up your baggage before an employer has a chance to get to know who you really are.

You should also shy away from trying to sell yourself too obviously. Even if you’ve accomplished a lot during quarantine, like graduating from a program, getting a certificate or starting a new venture, don’t just list your accolades, as your resume does that already. If an accomplishment is particularly special to you, tie it into your narrative. But you need to find a way to work it into a more holistic vision of how you want to present yourself.

The right answer

There are a number of ways to tell your story eloquently and succinctly, making the material both relevant for the job at hand and for the tone of the interview itself. However, if you’re at a loss as to how you might structure your saga, there are a few ways you could go about planning for this complicated question.

Pick one attribute that you feel you’ve cultivated over the pandemic, like courage, loyalty, or empathy. From there, find varying events over the course of the past year that either fostered that attribute within yourself or taught you about the true meaning of it. In some ways, it’s like you’re telling a fairy tale with yourself as the main character. Make it riveting, dynamic, and fascinating.

Paint a picture of triumph and tragedy. If there were sorrows or hardships you overcame during the pandemic, include them, but make sure they fit into the larger narrative of whichever attribute you’re attempting to accentuate. Also remember to end your story on a high note, or at least with a somewhat positive attitude, as employers don’t want to hire someone they see as hopeless or despondent.