Job interviews, as painful as they might be, are a necessary evil. From phone screenings to preparation to fashion choices, making a good first impression can be an essential ingredient for landing a job. But in the time of COVID-19, do online meet-and-greets translate effectively? In a 2020 survey conducted by Jobvite, a job recruiting platform, more than 800 companies and job recruiting agencies were asked what challenges they faced in hiring and how hiring priorities and practices have changed this year. In addition to recruiters (and interviewees) favoring in-person conversations over virtual ones, the survey found that competition and lack of qualified candidates were the biggest challenges recruiters and companies with positions to fill faced in 2020. Jason Berkowitz, a Coloradan who works in customer success for Jobvite and has 20 years of experience in the job recruiting industry, says that 2020 stands apart when it comes to fluctuating job trends and hiring practices. We caught up with Berkowitz to talk about what has shifted with hiring this year and which changes might become permanent.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

5280: What kind of changes in hiring practices have you noticed in 2020?
Jason Berkowitz: We’re seeing recruiters say that the quality of hire is their primary priority for the next 12 months. In years past, recruiters would tell me that the most important thing was to hire people fast. There’s also a lot more pressure to consider a diverse candidate slate and deliver diverse hires than before. Recruiters are willing to actually move a little slower to get better candidates that represent a more diverse candidate pool.

What about interviews?
There’s been a huge spike in the number of customers that rely on doing video-only interviews, rather than bringing somebody in for a face-to face interview.

What are the benefits—and drawbacks—to interviewing someone over Zoom?
Not everybody has a fast internet connection. The number one complaint from recruiters about candidates is that their video interviewing is freezing or hanging up or you can’t hear the person because their bandwidth is bad. It does create a little bit of a disadvantage for folks at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Another drawback is that you miss some of the off-the-record parts of the interview; some of the subtle nonverbal cues are a little harder to pick up on a video interview. From a candidate’s perspective, a lot of people find it really nerve-wracking; they’re not used to being on camera.

Was it more difficult to find a job in 2020?
In Colorado, hourly employment, like at restaurants and bars, is way down. The energy industry, you know oil and gas, has fallen off a cliff. Most of those companies have not been able to pivot to a virtual model quick enough. The flip side is, if you’re in tech, outdoor recreation, manufacturing, the cannabis industry, life sciences, or financial services—all those industries are doing very well. A lot of Colorado’s top industries are doing fairly well from what we can see.

For people who couldn’t find a job in 2020, what’s the most effective way for them to job search in 2021?
From a job-seeker perspective, I always encourage people to take a two-phase approach, so you have to go through the exercise of traditional online job searching—find a job posting, submit your resume, fill out an application online, etc. The problem is, there are so many people looking for work right now that it’s really easy to get lost in the shuffle. The second phase is where you absolutely want to use LinkedIn and Facebook, and you need to network your way into someone at the company [you’re interested in]. You have to send a lot of resumes to get a job in this type of market, but the resume plus a word from somebody in the company will go a long way.

What questions are job candidates asking of prospective employers that rarely came up in the Before Times?
A lot more questions that never came up before are centered around flexibility—flexibility with having children and childcare. The other question we’re seeing that just never was relevant before is, “What are your COVID-19 protections? If I’m going to have to go into an office, am I going to be protected?” We’re seeing a lot more people asking about that and diversity. More and more candidates are asking about a company’s commitment to employing a diverse workforce.

Do you think the changes we saw in 2020 will have a lasting impact?
I think that we are definitely seeing an inflection point in the American workforce. A lot of people who were told in the past that they couldn’t work virtually because they had to be in an office have discovered—along with their bosses—that they can be really productive at home and that they actually like working virtually. We’re definitely going to see lasting changes as a result of what we’ve all gone through for the past year.

Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.