Further Questions: What are you doing for COVID safety during in-person interviews?

Every other week or so, I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question(s) are from a reader over on Mastodon (Hiring Librarians is at glammr.us/@hiringlibrarians

I would love to hear how hiring orgs are making it COVID-safe for people to do in-person interviews. What happens if a candidate says, thanks but I don’t want to have lunch with the hiring committee indoors in a restaurant?

Amy G., Head of Adult Services: In my area (Metro Detroit) COVID accommodations aren’t really the default anymore, so I could see how a candidate might be nervous and wonder what they’re walking into. However, just because our library no longer requires masks of users or employees, that doesn’t mean we aren’t open to accommodating job candidates. Our interviews don’t involve visiting outside establishments and are all conducted in-house. If a candidate prefers that their interviewers wear masks, we’re happy to accommodate. Moving beyond the interview could be trickier, as we’re a public library whose employees work with the public, and our state and local government no longer support mask mandates. I do have employees who still mask, and we do what we can to support them.

Head shot of Laurie Phillips, Who wears burgundy glasses and is posing in front of a bookshelf

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Information Resources and Systems, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I think we would do whatever is comfortable for a candidate. If we need to meet over Zoom or outdoors or wear masks, we would accommodate what we needed to do. We are doing far fewer meals for searches these days. They’re expensive and the process with multiple candidates can be exhausting, without much payback, for the search committee. For our last search, our finalist came in to meet all of us in person and we just had pastries and coffee in a conference room. We didn’t want to hire someone we hadn’t met in person. The candidate happened to be local, but we would have brought in a finalist either way. 

Headshot of Jimmie Epling, who wears a suit and glasses and smiles into the camera

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: We can acknowledge there are those seeking employment who have lingering concerns regarding the possibility of COVID infection. Each institution must decide, based on the latest information, the degree it can accommodate an individual candidate concerned about the possibility of being infected by COVID, not only in the interview process, but even more so in the workplace.

Those libraries with an interview process that includes a lunch with an interview committee must decide on the actual value of such a meeting before interviewing candidates. If the library determines it is an important part of the hiring process, than it is mandatory for all candidates to assure consistency and fairness in the hiring process.

Consider this….if a different candidate for the same position wanted to do an interview via ZOOM and not in person out of concern for possible exposure to COVID, would you accommodate that candidate? Likely, you would not.

In the scenario described, can we assume an indoor interview was scheduled previous to the lunch interview? If that was the case and the candidate accepted the pre-lunch indoor interview, then in both situations, a reasonable accommodation would be to allow the candidate to wear a mask. If the candidate had no issue with not wearing a mask in the pre-lunch interview, then why the need for an accommodation at the lunch interview?

Headshot of Alan Smith, who wears glasses, a tie and suspenders

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: We do our in-person interviews in a larger room with enough space for the interview panel and candidate to distance themselves. Members of the interview panel are usually masked, though it depends on who is on the panel, and we explicitly tell candidates that it is okay to continue wearing a mask, if they have one. We have had a few candidates ask about COVID precautions beforehand.

All our interviews are done in a meeting room at the library. The only position for which an interview might include something like a restaurant meal is mine, as Director. In that case a Board committee would be conducting the interview, so I can’t speak for them, but I imagine they would inform the candidate that this position has to frequently attend community meetings, County Council, legislative hearings, etc., where COVID precautions are non-existent yet attendance isn’t optional. I hate that this is the case, and I’ve done my best to advocate for remote or hybrid meetings whenever possible.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Retired: This is a difficult question to answer as we all know there are no absolutes. So – more so for the future – I would urge those reading and considering the issues to check the date on the answer to see where the world/world-of-work “is” with pandemic protocols. For the next 1 to 2 years; however, I would have these possibilities in place. And – although many don’t prefer this approach to sharing this information (!) a list is the best way to share the content.

1. I am pleased to see applicants concerned and I am pleased to see people ask about protocols in general. I would caution employers; however, to note:

  • What is the overall flexibility of applicant that is, someone who will ONLY do a series of things may have a broader range of issues and if your institution can’t meet these needs, they should make that clear. Specifically:
    • One would hope the applicant would be just as concerned about and express equal concern for the safety of others (peers, users/clients, etc.)
    • Applicants should be told what the interviewing process is overall and talk about the evolution of changes and returning to the workplace so the exchange is realistic.
    • Organizations should be clear that the questions asked of the applicants are identical for all applicants – therefore – conditions should not cause some applicants to have more of an advantage, etc.
    • Committee chairs or Human Resources (HR) should take care to speak of applicants equally so committees or hiring teams are not prejudiced against applicants asking for changes in the process or venue.

2. HR should review their entire process to offer options or scenarios of interviewing for the entire process – lunch included. This should include:

  • How many interviewing team members are required to participate? Can there be a temporary number for fewer people to allow for easier scheduling, identification of venues, size of table or area at lunch? etc.
  • Should there be a requirement of service protocols such as vaccinations status (allowing people unvaccinated to participate but wear a mask, etc.? of team members? tour guides? lunch companions? applicants?)
  • HR should create a menu of options for applicants to determine what IS possible? or specifically what is the comfort level?
  • HR should create a discussion structure for applicants so answers to questions about venue, etc. to make sure no one violates HIPAA rights of applicants, team members, etc.


There may well be problems finding a public food venue that conforms to needs such as health or vaccination status of waitstaff, etc. the presence of outdoors service? is it too hard to plan for weather permitting or the weather at all? That is, obviously an interview in Minnesota in the dead of winter may prohibit the outdoors event. 

What happens if an applicant makes comments that are counter to the processes/beliefs/values of the organization…about vaccinations? protocols? and how is this handled with interviewing team members? management?


Determine the reason for all aspects of the interview process and any possible issues due to wellness.

  • What is the “reason for lunch” before deciding if or how it will be changed or included. That is, is this the time peers and subordinates might observe peer or service interactions? Are there limited chances for others with applicants? Once the reasons for lunch are determined teams should discuss – is it really needed? is there another way to to handle things such as
    • No lunch at all…provide lunch for applicant but alone or with one other person, etc.
    • Box lunch it at the primary interview venue to allow for the organization to control the timing, those involved, etc.
    • Plan a light reception that allows for people to come or not, interact or not, distance as needed, etc. 
  • Can the teaching or presentation or program given by applicants be given to the same team or does an audience need to be brought it?
  • Can tours of spaces be prior to opening or after closing?

Processes should be clearly communicated to applicants so they will understand what the organization did/does and will do such as:

  • The PPE used for teaching or program presentation for staff is in place needed (or – in addition – youth programs or tech classes do not have an “up-close” interaction component “at this time.”)
  • Public and staff interactions take place – if desired – with PPE used as users or staff decide/offer. (Clear barriers, safe distancing, etc.)

Finally, each organization should have a summary of how they DID operate during the pandemic to inform not only potential staff but also patrons/clients as well as ongoing changes they might have made. This summary should also have content on what might cause the organization to move to certain levels or stages of advanced protection again as well as how the organization performs – now institutionalized – daily health and wellness protocols. 

If you’re a job hunter I have a survey for you! Will you please fill it out?

If you’re someone who hires LIS workers, the current survey is still open. There’s also a mini survey on cover letters.

And if you’re in either or neither of the above categories but you have your own personal professional website, here’s a survey for you!

Other ways to share your thoughts:

If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Further Questions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.