Your Step-by-Step Guide to Job Searching Safely During Lockdown

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Ask a potential employer if you can schedule virtual job interviews using videoconferencing until it's safer to meet in person.
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In the past several months, many aspects of life as we knew it have shifted online, from workouts to happy hours to dates. But things get a little trickier to navigate when you're interviewing for jobs.

Many hiring companies are going virtual in order to keep current and future employees and their loved ones as safe as possible. While it's smart and convenient, it's also not the most natural thing when you're used to meeting in person, shaking hands and getting a vibe for a company's culture.

Use the expert tips below to stay safe while job hunting during the novel coronavirus pandemic or if you're living with another medical condition — and for staying physically and mentally healthy once you're hired.

Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

1. Interview Over Video

Interviewing for a new gig can be a long process of phone calls and in-person interviews.

If anyone requests that you come in to meet with someone face-to-face, ask if you can meet over video instead, says Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, MD, infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. "Anything that can be done remotely, should be," she says.

Pick the Perfect Spot

It may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people take video calls with their roommates or partners walking around behind them, says leadership and career development coach Dorianne St Fleur. That can be a big distraction for you and your interviewer.

As much as possible, find a location that is private, quiet, situated so the light is in front of you and has a professional-looking background. You don't need a bookshelf full of big-name authors, but you may not want certain posters or clutter in the frame.

"Talk about what you actually need, how it works and how this will help boost your productivity and wellbeing."

Do a Test Run

Before a scheduled call, ensure that your laptop or phone is charged, your mic and speakers are working and any other devices are just as ready as you are to nail the interview.

Keep Your Notes Handy

"I prefer video interviews because there's so much prep work and notes you can have — and nobody has to know you have them," St Fleur says.

You can easily write down past successes you want to share, challenges you've overcome and other reasons why you are perfect for the job, as well as any questions you have for the interviewer.

Play With Your Angles

As you probably know by now, communicating over video isn't exactly the same as having face-to-face dialogue. So, if it feels right, don't just sit there.

"If I want to make a point and connect with the other person, I'll lean in. If I want them to see my passion, I'll lean back and speak with my hands," St Fleur says. Be as expressive as you normally would in person.

2. Be Safe Meeting in Person

If you absolutely must go to a job interview in person, only do so if you are not sick and follow the basic safety tips to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

Wear a face covering, distance as much as possible and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching any surfaces.

In today's world, hand shaking is a no-no. An elbow bump or fist bump is OK, Dr. Andujar Vazquez says. Let your interviewer take the lead; they may simply say hello. You could also ask if they have an outdoor space where you two can talk.

3. Ask About Safety Measures

You know how they always ask, "Do you have any questions?" If the interviewer has not already addressed how the company is keeping employees safe right now — or if their information doesn't satisfy you — speak up! Ask about the safety practices the workplace has implemented so you can determine if you would feel comfortable should you work there.

Also ask about sick leave. Previously, you may have gone to work with the sniffles because you didn't want to use up a vacation day, but that just won't fly these days.

"Now more than ever, you want to be sure the job you're looking for has permissive sick leave," Dr. Andujar Vazquez says.

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4. Consider Remote Work

For many industries, the work-from-home life isn't going anywhere. Remote listings on job posting site Glassdoor are up 28 percent compared to last year, even though overall postings are down 23 percent, the company told USA Today.

If your work can be done without going into a physical space, you may want to consider companies outside of your location that are hiring for remote roles. This not only keeps you from being in an office with others, you also cut out any commute, which could potentially expose you to COVID-19 if you use public transit.

5. Speak Up About Your Needs if You Have a Chronic Condition

Living with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or an autoimmune disorder puts you at greater risk of more severe illness should you get COVID-19.

From January to May, hospitalizations were six times higher and the risk of death was 12 times higher in Americans with COVID-19 who had chronic conditions than among individuals with no underlying health issues, according to a June 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It's particularly important for anyone in this population to follow the tips above for job interviews. Additionally, the advice below can help you decide if a job and company fit well with your situation.

Know Your Illness

You know your endurance level, if you can comfortably sit or stand for long periods of time, how often you need to attend appointments and what else you need to live well with your condition.

Keep these factors in mind when looking at job postings, but also remember that many places have remote openings or other flexible options right now. Working from home could be perfect for you.

Know the Company

In addition to Googling as much information on your potential new employer as possible, dig around to see how they treat employees.

"Do they have a written commitment to people with different abilities?" St Fleur says. Does their health insurance cover mental health visits? Are they known to put unattainable loads on employees? "Do your research to be sure you're not walking into a company notorious for being inequitable and unaccommodating," she says.

Interview at Your Best Time

For example, if you have energy in the morning but tend to need a nap in the early afternoon, don't accept a 1 p.m. interview. Instead, try to meet with the employer when you can show up fully and present your best self, St Fleur recommends.

Disclose... or Don't

You do not have to disclose anything about your personal health, and your employer (or a potential one) is not allowed to ask, says Erica Spatz, MD, MHS, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Yale Medicine.

If you wish to disclose, you can do so when you first speak to a recruiter or do an interview, during the negotiation process after you accept the role or once you've started. "It depends on your comfort level with sharing about your chronic illness and how much bearing your condition has on the role," St Fleur says.

Using your judgment, rather than starting with "I have X condition," focus on the accommodations you need, she recommends. Maybe that's a mini fridge to keep medication and snacks, to be able to leave for 90 minutes twice a week for appointments, more or longer breaks or a specific set-up at your desk.

"Talk about what you actually need, how it works and how this will help boost your productivity and wellbeing," St Fleur says.

She suggests something like, "In order to do my best work, I've spoken with my doctor and I've realized I need two days a week to work from home. I'm flexible which days those are, and on those days, I'll be accessible during work hours." Be direct and specific — don't try to overcompensate and say too much.

Highlight Your Resilience

"Having hardships or challenges in life can build resilience and skills that are helpful to a company," Dr. Spatz says. "To manage a chronic illness on a daily basis is no small feat. You are constantly monitoring your diet and medications, coordinating medical appointments and being alert to things that may trigger your condition. I've seen people be really successful in their careers because those things make them very organized, really good coordinators and really alert to subtle changes."

If you feel comfortable, find a way to convey to your employer how your condition may be an asset.

Use Online Resources

In addition to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to help understand your rights and the laws, St Fleur recommends checking out Chronically Capable. The platform matches people with chronic illnesses with companies that have flexible schedules, remote jobs and other benefits to support those living with chronic conditions.

6. Take Care of Yourself

"The job-hunting process is a very lonely and frustrating place," Dr. Spatz says. "Taking good care of your wellbeing is very important."

This is particularly so for those with chronic illness, since stress can exacerbate underlying physical health conditions.

See the Big Picture

These past few months have been an "emotional rollercoaster," St Fleur says. "Understand, acknowledge and accept the season we are in. Doing so can help you shift and reframe how you approach the job search."

That can also help eliminate self-blame or other negative self-talk if the job interview process doesn't go as you hoped.

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Plan Activities You Enjoy

Dr. Spatz suggests doing things that make you feel good and that you also know you'll accomplish throughout your job search; that way you have some successes for the day.

Maybe you take an outdoor fitness class, read a novel that's been sitting on your nightstand, do a short guided meditation or spend time with people who lift your spirits, St Fleur says.

Concerned About COVID-19?

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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