Richards: What happens when the formal handshake no longer exists?


Courtesy of The New York Times

A handshake always traditionally defined job interviews. Now, a new future awaits us.

Jason Richards, Staff Columnist

The job search and interview process, as we know it, has fundamentally changed. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the social construct of the handshake has been eliminated for the foreseeable future. What now?

There exists no professional standard of introduction over Zoom. A simple “hello” and smile are all we have in this new era of virtual-only interviews and recruiting. There’s no handshake, no eye contact, no “reading the room” of interviewers and handing your resume over. Now, it’s all video calls and PDFs named Resume_FINAL_2(1).pdf. 

There’s quite a missing link in the professional world now. For decades, the in-person interview was the basis for getting to know a candidate, and it has now been changed to reflect our socially distant world.

Innovation has taken over. As the only form of mass campus recruitment and communication in a socially distant world, virtual career fair platforms are surging. Networking events have gone virtual, where, instead of waiting in line to talk to recruiters or colleagues, you’re in a website’s queue, staring at the little preview of your webcam that’s staring right back at you.

At the same time, unemployment in the United States has surged too. Most people know at least one person who was laid off, either temporarily or permanently, from their job.

Beyond panic, the pandemic has invoked a state of uncertainty in a lot of areas––economy, health, Walmart’s new hours, etc. Now, we have the job market to worry about.

This leaves students here at Case Western Reserve University in quite a state of worry. What will the job market be like when we graduate? Are there going to be any available options for me? Will I be forced to return home to my bedroom-turned-office space, where my cat raids my video conference meetings? I don’t have a cat, but feline interruptions seem to be a commonality among virtual meeting issues, but I digress.

CWRU’s Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education has developed a COVID-19 response to help drive the internship, co-op and full-time job searches amidst this uncertainty. They’ve made funding available for students landing unpaid internships, reached out to over 200 employers to understand what plans they have for hiring in the pandemic and widened their remote service hours to better support students.

Students can explore remote options for all job types, and even enlist the Alumni Career Network to connect with CWRU alumni for assistance on specific career advice and networking.

There are options to reduce the uncertainty behind the current situation in the job market. The transition to remote hasn’t been an easy one, and there’s no telling where the country will be in the next year, or even the next few months, especially in an extremely tense election year, but it is important to know the resources available.

It’s hard to gauge the impact that a strictly virtual recruiting process will have on employment. On one hand, it’s possible you get your dream job and remain at home, which could be good or bad depending on your preferences. On the other hand, you lose the personal experience of an in-person interview. Besides technical difficulties, virtual interviews limit candidates exposure to the company—whether that be the culture, the interviewers themselves or the ability to genuinely judge an opportunity through the interactive process an in-person interview entails.

In virtual interviews, the entire scene happens in a group of webcam boxes. There is no driving to the office, experiencing the work-life balance in the flesh or walking past others who may be future co-workers. Physical presence is simply more genuine. Strictly virtual processes seem like a blind date between you and the company—you don’t know what they look like until you’re physically there. Who knows? The next form of catfishing may very well be virtual job interviews putting on a facade of the perfect work environment.

Some companies have already been turning their recruiting processes virtual. It’s simply more efficient and cost effective. Why fly a candidate out to take them for a tour and read their resume when you can do (almost) the same over Zoom, and at no cost? I fear that this revolution will continue to expand at a faster rate, given the circumstances of our current health crisis. In that sense, I think it’s important for companies to find ways to make the virtual experience more personable and relatable, and at the same time, as a candidate, to ask questions about company culture and community.

While I don’t think the elbow bump will equivalently replace the handshake, we have to make do with the resources we have in a professional world of masks, gloves and remote work. The recruitment process has changed, and consequently, we have to adapt to closing the difference between living online and making a living online.