will interviewers ask what you achieved during the pandemic?

A reader writes:

I’ve been seeing people online say that in the future, job interviewers will ask candidates questions like, “What did you do to continue developing your skills during the pandemic?” and “What did you achieve during the shutdown, even if you weren’t working?”

Some people in my circle have been spending time figuring out how to home school their children, applying for WIC and SNAP benefits, navigating the maze of applying for unemployment benefits, and figuring out how to stay in their homes. Are interviewers really going to expect everyone to be taking online classes and staying on top of their professional development? Right now there are lots of people who have been thrown into survival mode.

It seems as though people who are still safe and secure have no idea what life is like for others and they are a little disconnected and tone deaf. Since I am job seeking, I guess I going to have to figure out how I will be answering these question, but, I still feel a little sad about it.

I’ve seen these posts too. Here’s one ridiculous example of something that was being circulated by a university career center (they later retracted it).

It says something incredibly gross about the people propagating it. At a minimum it says that they’re remarkably out of touch with what’s happening right now and with what’s important to people. I’d argue it also reveals a serious deficiency in their values.

If someone is teaching themself a new language or building their coding skills during the pandemic, that’s great. But to present it as an expectation during a time when millions of people are struggling to keep their homes, feed their families, and stay alive — to imply people might be less worthy of employment if they needed to focus on their finances and their safety during a f’ing global crisis — no. No. Something has gone very wrong in anyone who believes that.

What’s more likely is that people are grasping on to this as it bounces around the internet without really examining it: “Oh, a timely question about resilience!” But it won’t stand up to any real examination, and it’s not likely to fall into common use.

That said, there will always be interviewers who ask absurd, inappropriate, out-of-touch interview questions — they’re the interviewers who ask about the worst thing that ever happened to you or who ask to look in your purse. Or in the less extreme, they’re the ones who ask what kind of tree you’d be or to rate the interview on a 10-point scale.

There are just a lot of crappy interviewers out there. We can’t control for all the absurd things they might ask.

But this isn’t going to become a standard interview question because no halfway aware employer will use it. Not only does it create potential liability around things like family status and disability, but it paints the employer as tremendously out-of-touch. It’s off-putting and alienating and makes the interviewer look like an ass.

But if you do ever get asked it, you should respond this way: “Well, I of course focused on keeping myself and my family solvent and safe, like most people! What can you tell me about how the company managed and what you did for employees during that time?”

{ 531 comments… read them below }

  1. Just J.*

    As a hiring manager, I would never ever ask this, but I bet you my tone deaf boss would. I would absolutely reply with Alison’s response. That completely nails it. And I especially think you should be asking how the company managed and took care of it’s employees through the pandemic.

    1. Elbe*


      It’s gross because it assumes that everyone had downtime. And it’s gross because giving an honest answer would require to give financial and health indicators that they would likely not want to give.

      But one of the more subtle reasons that this question feels so gross and intrusive is because it assumes that how people spend their personal time somehow correlates to how they use their work time. And it doesn’t. Someone can be a good, dedicated employee and still spend their downtime watching TV and sleeping. People are allowed to relax, particularly in times of so much external stress. In fact, relaxing when they are able to would arguably make someone a BETTER employee while they’re on their clock.

      I hate this idea that you should be thinking about and improving your work skill set 100% of the time, regardless of what is happening around you. Even if someone HAD downtime and even if they DID “squander” it… that’s okay! It was their time to squander! Why would you expect someone to take a class during a pandemic but not, say, during their evenings and weekends? Why is this time special?

      1. MP*

        That is interesting and I don’t disagree that excellent workers can use their own time in many different ways… but it is definitely contrary to almost all graduate recruiting I’ve ever seen. A list of extra-curriculars, volunteerism, work experience etc. on top of good academic results are a requirement for nearly all major companies graduate programs (admittedly I’m biased in my knowledge towards Banks, Professional Services and Mega Corporations).

        1. Elbe*

          It’s a bit of a tangent, but I actually think that a lot of what is used a indicators of “drive” is really unfair to a large portion of the population.

          Requirements around skills or experience are necessary, because those skills are required regardless of the candidate’s personal circumstances. But I would argue that someone who takes evening classes while holding down multiple jobs has a lot more “drive” than someone who has an internship or volunteered somewhere.

          Banks and professional services and mega corporations do their recruiting so that they can hire the “right type” of person, and unconsciously or not, that usually translates into an economic class. A lot of unpaid internships don’t actually provide that much work experience or responsibility (as opposed to say, managing a shift at a local gas station), yet companies use them to filter out applicants. It’s a very flawed hiring process.

          1. MP*

            Exactly right that someone who held down a job and went to evening classes is indeed seen as having drive and that’s how I’ve seen it played out in most recruiting efforts. I think the bias you are suggesting does play out in hundreds of unseen ways… but I think you’re assigning malicious (or at least reckless?) intent where most programs are very deliberate in their methods to avoid that type bias. I think there’s an argument that they still have a ways to go but the intention is there.

            My earlier comment was responding purely to your suggestion that “if someone HAD downtime and even if they DID “squander” it… that’s okay! It was their time to squander!” Sure, that is true, but there is a college student out there not doing that and in a competitive job market (an EXTREMELY competitive job market coming out of this pandemic) that’s going to make a difference. More of a difference, I would argue, for a college student then for someone already in the workforce.

            1. Elbe*

              I think that subjective measures like “drive” are just not something that companies can reliably screen for in an unbiased way, and as a result, companies should de-emphasize these in the hiring process. Way may seem like low drive could be a chronic health problem or family obligations.

              Companies should hire based on who is qualified for the actual work they need to get done and even potentially who has the skills that would form the groundwork for the position above the one they’re hiring for. That could mean than someone with more internships is hired, or it could not. If someone learned a skill relevant to the job, maybe that would make them more competitive. But I don’t agree with valuing the learning of ANY skill, as an indicator of drive or character. That’s why the “what did you do during the pandemic” question is so misguided – if they did something relevant to the position, it would already be on their resume.

              Someone who relaxed during a pandemic may not be as competitive skill-wise as someone who didn’t, but my point is that everyone should be judged based on their skills, not on flawed presumptions of character.

              1. MP*

                Well put. What any individual does during THIS time is no more relevant than what they did during any OTHER time. Their value is in the accumulation of skills.

                To quibble with just one tiny piece of what you have said, that “subjective measures like “drive” are just not something that companies can reliably screen for in an unbiased way, and as a result, companies should de-emphasize these in the hiring process.” Most of recruiting is subjective. If it was only objective it would itself be biased towards those who had time/resources to dedicate themselves to school… or whatever other measure one did use.

                In particular, when thinking about graduate hiring, the vast majority of applicants do not have the (hard) skills required of the job. The recruitment process IS searching for attributes that have proven useful for successful employees in the past. Those attributes might include a willingness to be self-directed (for example). Now, the advice as given is poorly thought out but the idea that students might need to be alerted to the fact that, contrary to appearances, the world has not stopped and that their competition in the job market might be improving their experience/resume/skills base as we speak, is not inherently wrong.

                1. Elbe*

                  I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. I’m not against all subjective analysis, but valuing things like “drive” force the interviewer to make very broad, sweeping generalizations about an applicant’s personal character from very little information. The odds that you can tell someone’s drive by looking at their resume is very small in a lot of cases.

                  Someone who has health problems or family obligations or financial difficulties is then penalized twice – once because they don’t have the skills that other people may have had time to develop, and again because they don’t seem like a “go getter”.

                  There are lots of subjective things that actually apply to the job, “Can this person demonstrate that they do well under pressure? Can this demonstrate that they learn well without supervision? Can this person demonstrate that they can deal with pushy customers?” These things don’t have clear, easy answers, but they may be relevant to a job. Companies should avoid questions that more or less boil down to personality preferences, or attracting the “right type” of person outside of the actual job requirements. If personal development is really that important to them, they can build taking classes and gaining skills into the job description and performance evaluations. They can formalize it so that the expectations are clear, so that they’re not just making assumptions about people based on the few things on their resume.

          2. Pomona Sprout*


            This really resonated with me, because of my own background. I started to try to explain in more detail but decided I can’t do it justice without writing more than I have the energy to write and probably a LOT more than anybody would want to read. So I’ll just say thanks for giving me a lot to think about!

          3. Edith*

            Then there’s people like me who just happen to be on maternity/parental leave during the pandemic. I was neither working nor had any down time, and the question would force me to divulge I’m a working mother, something a lot of women would prefer to keep under wraps until later in the process.

          4. Nanani*

            This. It’s a holdover from when only people born wealthy, who had servants and whatnot, ever did things like graduate school.

      2. Tidewater 4-1009*

        If you’ve ever known people who tried to live this way – to be always in work mode, improving, selling, etc. – you know most people can’t do that for more than a few years without burning out.
        The ones who are successful at, say, building their own sales business have two things going for them. 1. They truly enjoy their work so it mostly doesn’t deplete them. 2. They do allow themselves to relax.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Also, my (unsubstantiated, anecdotal) observations are that they often have others providing the support structures that take care of life stuff (e.g. cooking, cleaning, children if applicable, the emotional labor to keep a relationship going) so that the individual can focus on just pursuing their professional goals.

          1. TardyTardis*

            So true. The author of THE FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK sounds like he really has his life together–and then you find out he has a wife to maintain all that extra stuff that he doesn’t have to worry about. Ok, fine…

      3. TechWorker*

        This is 100% my least favourite thing about tech recruiting. The assumption basically seems to be (often literally written into the job ad) that if you don’t write code for fun with all of your free time then are you even a software engineer?

        I work long hours and I have a life… I do not have a whole bunch of motivation to do some hobby projects to put on github /endrant. :)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          Some things I have deliberately decided to do are:
          1) When my workday is over, leave my home workstation
          2) Work regular hours, like I was hourly, rather than all day and night
          3) Do mostly not-technical or not-computer stuff in my leisure time – only computer stuff in my off hours is social media and games, and do sewing or reading for leisure.
          4) Don’t feel guilty for not studying, upskilling, etc during a pandemic. I’m not Wonder Woman.

          I am not doing myself or any employer any favors by trying to “do it all” during SIP.

          I am not going to have an immaculate house, gourmet meals, a mountain of new! cutting-edge! skills!, umpty dozen dazzling new outfits, a home improvement showcase, and a full blown e-commerce website with professional grade photos of gobs of new hand-made merchandise after all this. Martha Stewart I’m not (nor do I have her staff.)

          I hope to have a healthy household, a reasonable work performance, and a bunch of homemade masks for friends & family (and maybe a few for sale).

          If someone asked me what I achieved during the pandemic, my answer would be that I spent my spare cycles making masks for family, friends and anyone I saw who needed some, like delivery drivers. (I literally have a box on my porch with masks in it that says “Need One? Take One!”) When in March people were charging $20 for a disposable N95, I figure that even with the commercial manufacturers getting in on it there would still be a need. If we start going back to work but masked, people will actually need multiple masks per day (I would advise four – change every two hours), and at least two days worth so they can avoid having to do laundry every night.

      4. Kuvemach*

        “Someone can be a good, dedicated employee and still spend their downtime watching TV and sleeping. ”

        Some of their downtime, sure. But I would argue that it’s completely legitimate to look for people who went above and beyond the bare minimum and did *something* to sharpen their professional skills.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Some of their downtime, sure. But I would argue that it’s completely legitimate to look for people who went above and beyond the bare minimum and did *something* to sharpen their professional skills.

          Sure, *on the job*, focus on hiring folks who go above and beyond to develop themselves. The point most of the commenters above are making is that not all of us have the time/energy/resources to develop ourselves professionally outside of the job.

          1. Kuvemach*

            …and that’s the focal point of our disagreement.

            I think it’s completely fair to screen for employees who’ve done *something* to better themselves or their communities when they’re not getting paid for it. (Why do you think things like professional associations exist?) You don’t.

            By all means, hire employees that agree with your stance if that’s important to your corporate culture. (I suspect you’ll end up building a culture of mediocrity and will get steamrolled by companies with more proactive approaches.)

            1. VintageLydia*

              So suddenly having a much higher workload (especially with children in the mix!) doesn’t count? I ask again: exactly what planet do you live on?

            2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              I suspect you’ll end up building a culture of mediocrity and will get steamrolled by companies with more proactive approaches.

              I’m fine with us disagreeing. I do wonder, how necessary or useful was that last comment to this discussion?

            3. Dezzi*

              This *might* be solid advice at any other time, but given the state of the world right now, it comes off as tone-deaf and gross. You’re basically saying “I think it’s totally fair to make hiring decisions based on whether or not people had to homeschool their kids or figure out how to not get evicted or take care of seriously ill family members.” Which is disgusting and discriminatory.

            4. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I feel that ‘coping with being unemployed, having extremely poor mental health, enduring people I love dying while I cannot even have a funeral and trying not to get a virus that’ll kill me’ is more than enough and shows a LOT of effort on my part.

              I’m not mediocre just because I literally don’t have the resources for anything else. I’m fantastic at what I do.

            5. JSPA*

              It’s lovely if keeping your family housed and fed doesn’t require you to take on only jobs that pay.

              Someone working two paid jobs instead of one paid and one volunteer job; or selling what they sew instead of donating it; or buying things at rummage sales and upselling on ebay instead of organizing a charity garage sale event; or running a pop-up kitchen for cash instead of cooking for the “disadvantaged” (because they themselves are “disadvantaged”)–isn’t learning a single extra skill. They are no less compassionate, for making sure their own mask is on, before helping others. They are no less connected, no less aware, and no less competent to handle a complex schedule. The idea that there is anything “mediocre” (seriously, WTF?) about people who start out with fewer resources is boggling, and gross.

            6. Elbe*

              If they had the proper skill set and could demonstrate that they were a dedicated employee, why should it matter if their skills were learned on the job or outside of work?

              It shouldn’t, of course. Skills are skills. But the reason that some employers look for it is because they’re looking for something for free. I personally think it’s unethical to screen for employees who the hope will essentially be doing work off the clock, and discriminate against people who want (or need) to get paid for their time.

        2. D3*

          No, practically speaking, that just filters for people who don’t have families, children, elderly parents who need support, hobbies, mental illnesses, chronic pain, or any other number of things that make going “above and beyond” accessible.
          It’s discriminatory, not “completely legitimate”.
          And frankly, I am so (bleeping) sick and tired of employers wanting “above and beyond”!! Just doing your job well IS ENOUGH.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            As someone with chronic pain and mental illness can I give you a massive high-five-over-IP?

            For me, going above and beyond is doing my job well, while getting myself dressed professionally (this requires my husband’s help sometimes), washed and clean, working through the pain and mobility restrictions, balancing which meds I need against which ones would impact my performance, keeping my mental problems from causing issues in the workplace, on top of the normal daily tasks and responsibilities an adult with their own home handles!

        3. Alton*

          First of all, I would argue that this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) necessary for a lot of jobs. There are plenty of jobs where showing career initiative isn’t necessary, and it’s okay for someone to want to work to live and do a good job so that they can support themselves and enjoy their life outside of work.

          But also, I would argue that it’s often possible to go above and beyond and take on career development opportunities at work. It depends a lot on your field and workplace, of course, but I’ve taken training courses, extra projects, and leadership opportunities at work. I don’t have much ability to do things like volunteer or take classes outside of work. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about “bettering my community.” It means I don’t have the time or transportation to do a lot of things and would like to spend my two hours of social time per week with friends.

        4. Not fond of the “over qualified”*

          I hate my job for the “online” classes they are offering. I have a full case load where I work even doing OT. I amongst 4 out of 60 am one on rotation for being in the office. It amazes me how many have a compromised immunity system. When do I have the time to take advantage of online learning?
          My experience is they will promote people who did the online training over someone who did the work as they believe in credentials

        5. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          We’re not in study hall. The current situation is emotionally, financially, and sometimes physically taxing just to get through the day to day. I’ve seen a scad of articles recommending people be kind to themselves and not drive themselves to do more when they simply may not be able to, and to not feel guilty about it either.

          Yes, employers will be in a position to be picky when hiring opens up and some will be unreasonably, unrealistically so. And for a lot of people, a mean job will be better than no job at all. But I’d be very leery of the employer who expects normal human beings to go above and beyond an international crisis. In the very least, I’d be suspicious of the work-life balance they offer.

          1. allathian*

            I definitely work to live rather than live to work. I do enjoy my job at least most of the time. I have a great boss and I like my coworkers. My org is big on continuous learning, which I’m ever so gently occasionally pushing back on. People should be allowed to settle in their comfort zone for a while before venturing outside it again. Under normal circumstances. These are far from normal and I don’t know when I’ll find my comfort zone again…

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            The mental health team (I’m totally okay with admitting I’ve ended up in hospital this year because my mind literally couldn’t handle this crisis) at my hospital told me over and over again that looking after your own mental health is just as important as wearing masks/observing social distancing etc.

            I’d love for people to recognise that simply trying to stay sane for a day in this can be a heroic effort. (Likewise if that’s not an option, it wasn’t for me without major help, you’re not weaker or lazier or lesser because of it)

        6. Elbe*

          Not all jobs are in fast-paced industries require constant training. And if they want their employees to be constantly developing new skills, they should be paying for at least a portion of that.

          I get why having an employee that worked in the off-hours would be attractive to employers. They’d be getting the benefit of the skill without paying for it, and of course that’s great for them. But I think it’s deeply unfair to the labor force for companies to expect that. It’s one of the main drivers of the eroding work-life balance pressure that employees (particularly entry-level ones) feel. And it’s puts people who can’t afford to work for free at a massive disadvantage.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was already kind of thinking along the lines of “I did my best to keep my family safe and to do my part in keeping my neighbors and community safe”, but the second half of Alison’s response really pulls it all together! Love it!

    2. Creamsiclecati*

      Completely agree. Turn it around on them. “How did the pandemic impact the company and did you to do protect employees’ physical health and job security during that time?” Their answer or lack thereof will tell me lots about their culture.

      1. Kuvemach*

        I think that Alison’s question is completely fair. I also think it’s fair to ask what the employee did during the pandemic.

        1. Alton*

          Except, the question to the prospective employee is very personal in a way that questioning the company’s policies and actions isn’t.

          Asking the hiring manager how they, personally, dealt with the pandemic outside of work would also be inappropriate.

        2. Avasarala*

          “I tried to do everything I normally do, except while wearing a mask/washing my hands every 5 seconds/fighting for groceries/facing incredible economic uncertainty due to the global pandemic.”

          Oh wait, are we supposed to suddenly have a ton of extra free time to start new hobbies? Where does this time come from?

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m just so incredibly glad that I didn’t hear about that tweet until after the college retracted it. Because I am now imagining all sorts of discussions of how I take a long lunch to get my groceries so that I get less exposure then in a crowded store at 6 p.m.. ARG!

    4. Willow*

      It’s not just throwing shade, though. How a company responded to the pandemic gives you key information about everything from their financial solvency to how they treat their employees. It’s a good (future) question for anyone interviewing for a job.

  2. Bex*

    Seconding (thirding) turning the question back on them. It’s a gross question that does nothing to give insight into a person and it feels so dang judge-y.

    So yeah. Throw it back at them.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I wish I was surprised that there are people with this mindset.

    My faith in humanity is at an all time low these days.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, the epidemic has brought out the best and the worst of humanity. After the first week, I made a rule to strictly limit my consumption of news and social media. It’s just too damned depressing.

      1. NightOwl*

        Agreed. The news was making me more anxious and didn’t do anything to help my mindset.

    2. Rachel in NYC*

      I liked my boss’s response. He said he realized that each month he has an extra 40 hours since he isn’t commuting. Theoretically, he could do all sorts of things with that 40 hours.

      Yeah, no. His family is getting through the day- and he now knows when his son is in part of Fortnite that doesn’t have to continued immediately (apparently the game has no pause? Don’t ask me, I have no clue.)

      1. M*

        Lol that makes me imagine a smart teenager telling their parents that the game has no pause so that they don’t have to get off of it in order to go to dinner or do chores or something else. Although I know nothing about fortnight so it could be true.

        “There’s no pause in this game, I just have to play it constantly until it ends”

      2. Eukomos*

        Pretty sure it’s one of the games that you’re playing with other people instead of an AI. You can’t put your friends on pause.

      3. SweetestCin*

        Apparently this is a thing. And I’ve informed the child in question that a lack of a pause button does not mean I can’t kill the WiFi thus completely ending it, so “chose wisely”.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with a mindset of learning or improving one’s skills if you have downtime. I hold myself to that, and as such I’m constantly taking classes, etc., precisely because it scares the crap out of me and I don’t want to be in a situation like I was in back in ‘09-10 were I was unemployed for over a year.
      But it’s wrong and you cannot expect this of everyone as situations are different for everyone, especially during a pandemic, which is vastly different from the usual unemployment situations of the past. If I were a hiring manager, I’d not ask this because of the pandemic.
      But I don’t think it’s out of bounds for a hiring manager to ask about skills in general: they need to know if you have what they’re looking for to do the job. I might be a little biased here because I work in a very skills-focused field where you’re expected to keep abreast of the latest trends, software or ways of doing things all the time. So, if you’ve had any type of long time away, you’d definitely be questioned about your skills and when/how you last used.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      I think it speaks to the toxicity of “grind culture”, placing all the onus on people (us millennials in particular) to constantly overwork, performatively hustle, and never be able to turn off in order to get ahead, rather than focusing on things like combating wage stagnation, promoting unionization and decent benefits, and advocating for the normalization of shorter workweeks.

      “Rise and grind”-ing can shrivel up your non-job life, so people who are finding themselves with time on their hands now (which is very much not everyone or even most people) still feel like they have to optimize every second, instead of easing up on themselves and tending to their relationships and spiritual/mental health. And that’s even besides the massive uncertainty and anxiety of living in such an unstable time in the midst of a pandemic worrying about your loved ones’ health and safety every day.

      I think there’s a Puritan streak in the idea too – that if you just work hard enough and deny yourself even the luxury of being OK with just coping right now, you can prevent bad things from happening to you. This whole “you should be writing your novel right now” thing sounds like big heaping bowl of denial of how acutally messed up things are right now.

      1. Susie Q*

        Ugh I hate “grind culture” and this whole “side hustle”. Even before I was married with a baby, the last thing I wanted to do was have another job on top of my pay the bill job.

        The whole side hustle schtick is also closely associated with boss babe and the various MLMs that target women.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ugh. This.

          I have a side hustle – it’s something that turns a hobby into money for more hobby stuff. Part of it has dropped to zero – there are now events to sell at. Part of it, the crafty part, is soaking most of my spare time – making masks.

          But I don’t *have* *to* do it. I don’t have to grind, hustle, and make my first million in day trading, Etsy, software applications, etc.

          I find the idea that I have to do all the things and “get ahead” to be revolting.

          So I agree with you both.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’ve never heard the term “grind culture” before – thank you for introducing it to me, and I thoroughly cosign this excellent post.

  4. The Original K.*

    100% agree with Alison’s wording, and in fact I think “what did you do to support employees during the pandemic” should be a standard interview question going forward.

    1. back*

      I’ve had interviews in These Times and I’ve asked “how has the work changed” and “how are you supporting your employees” and the answers have been great. In about 5 years from now, though, I don’t know how helpful the answers will be, since there might be enough turnover that they don’t know. But I’m definitely gonna be asking for the next year or so.

    2. Name (Required)*

      I hope so. Because I am livid with these types of show-off posts on LinkedIn right now and I guarantee the people I see posting them are the ones that would ask them during an interview. I really hope a standard question becomes “how did your company handle COVID-19” because having been let go from a company that reacted horribly to the virus…I know it is going to be on my mind.

    3. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      I definitely agree that “what did you do to support employees during the pandemic” should be a standard question to ask a potential employer.

      But, being the cynical guy that I am, I can’t help but think that there are going to be some employers who’ll lie. After all, there are employers out there who lie to candidates about the specific nature of the job – we’ve all seen stories where someone interviewed for a job doing X and got the job only to find out that 90% of the day will be spent doing Y. It’s happened to me.

  5. Emma*

    Setting aside how gross the question is…even those of us in a relatively privileged position (easy transition to wfh, company being mindful of safety, no worries about keeping kids entertained while trying to work, etc) don’t magically have tons of extra free time now. The only time I’m saving is commuting, which is about 20 minutes a day. Yeah, if I used that time efficiently I could learn something new, but it’s not really a reasonable expectation.

    1. MistOrMister*

      Yes to this! Some coworkers and I were commenting on how we thought things woukd be very different but we just do not have all this magical extra time that we expected with WFH. My commute is 20 to 30 minutes each way but one extra hour a day doesn’t translate to time to learn Mandarin in 2 weeks. I am beyond thankful for my situation, but it certainly is not quite what I expected.

      1. Bee*

        Yeah, my commute is around an hour, but it hasn’t translated into huge time savings because I struggled to get up then and now I just sleep an hour later. Theoretically I could spend my evenings doing something productive, since there’s nowhere else to go, but I could’ve been doing that all along! I did really think I’d somehow magically have all this time to fill, but instead I feel constantly busy and yet never get anything done.

        1. AK Climpson*

          I’m in the same boat — I gained an extra hour of sleep, but also existential dread isn’t conducive to sleeping well, so that’s a wash at best. Then the evenings don’t magically have more time than before, but social commitments have been replaced by Zooms/calls with friends and family. And since we can’t run to the store or pick up easy takeout, food planning time and cooking time have dramatically increased.

          As someone without kids and easy-ish wfh, I’ve felt bad that I’m not doing new things, and that I’ve even been missing all the available plays and concerts and things that are now being streamed. Then I realized that I was never going to an event a night before the pandemic, and I’m still working the same amount.

          1. Liz*

            and even on the weekends, i have to remind myself its ok to be lazy one day, since i am still working

            1. WellRed*

              I gave myself permission yesterday NOT to take a daily walk, even though the weather was lovely.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Seriously. My sleep has been utter crap, with really strange dreams.

              Sure, I gained back two hours from commuting, but getting groceries now has to take place in the early morning (I’m a night person) and has to be planned like a major expedition.

            2. Eleaner*

              Anybody find any good ways to manage the existential dread (work-wise)? I’m trying to do reformat my to do list so my brain shuts up after work, but I think I may have just put too much on it…

        2. TootsNYC*

          this is me–my commute time savings goes into a later rising time.

          And the other thing is, working from home means that I don’t really feel the break, so I find myself unmotivated to be productive.

        1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

          If I’ve developed any skills during the pandemic, this is the spur for one of them.

          I’ve never tolerated well having to wait in line. But with everything taking longer, I’ve had to teach myself some patience. Hopefully it will stick.

        2. Sparky*

          Yes! I have high risk roomies, and we’re ordering groceries in and then wiping them down with bleach water. Placing the order, indicating what we’d like as a substitute for each item, wiping them down, putting them away, figuring out the bill. Figuring out what to do about all of the things we ordered but didn’t get. Washing the extra dishes, etc. Trying to source or make masks. Washing the masks. Everything takes longer. Any extra thing is a huge chore; our electic garage door has been having issues and trying to stay safe while having a repair person in is huge.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, my entire household of five people is over 55, and two of my roomies are higher risk. Everything is a chore now.

      2. KimmyBear*

        Yup. My 45 minute each way commute is now taken up by the twice as long it takes to update the grocery shop app, meal planning when I see what actually shows up, doing twice as many dishes and cleaning twice as many preschool messes, trying to give spouse a break from being the full time stay at home parent while I work, listening to school board meetings to see what disastrous plan they are putting in place, calming the anxiety of my elderly family members, and explaining why I don’t want one more family zoom with people I usually talk to at Easter and Christmas. And trying to make sure my job doesn’t get outsourced while I learn a third language. :)

      3. Liz*

        Same here. my commute is about 25 minutes each way, but really all that does is give me maybe an extra 20 or so minutes in the morning, and 30 or so in the afternoon. It is a bit more convenient as i can walk at lunch, do laundry while I work (my laundry room is close by) but that’s about it. I’m still working the same number of hours, so am still in the same mindset, aka tired at the end of the day.

        While i’m VERY grateful to still have a job, which is pretty secure, and a paycheck, it WFH comes with its own challenges.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Any extra free time I got by not having to take my daughter to daycare and commute to work has been eaten up by all the extra cleaning that happens when a family is home all the time and making messes ALL THE FREAKING TIME WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

      Oh I do spend a lot more time running/walking as a way to keep myself from losing it even more than I already have, so there is that.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        If they’re too young to clean up after themselves, well, that’s why.

        If they’re old enough to clean up after themselves, they should clean up after themselves.

        1. Yorick*

          Even without kids, there’s a lot more cleaning needed now that everything is happening at home

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            When my kids were small, I remember a few return-homes where I was really struck by how neat and clean the house stayed when we were out all day.

          2. A*

            YES. I was just venting to my friends about this (they don’t have kids either, I know better than to complain about my single-person clutter to my friends with kiddos!). I’m truly baffled at how much time I have to spend staying on top of chores now. I’ve always had a decent bit of daily maintenance because I tragically don’t have a dishwasher OR laundry machines – but this has been crazy! I’m sweeping and vacuuming almost every other day, and I swear evil elves are leaving dishes for me!

            Turns out, 8+ hours a day more at home reallllly makes a difference! Also, the size of the hairballs in my apartment (previously 50/50 between me and the kitty) have grown. Now that I see the full amount I shed in one day, I’m concerned haha!

            1. Eukomos*

              On average we shed a hundred hairs a day, and if your hair is at all long that can be a substantial volume. Stress can also increase shedding. Nothing to worry about unless the hair on your head starts looking thinner!

          3. Temperance*

            Yep. I’m running my dishwasher about every day now, and it’s just two of us here.

            1. Liz*

              i’m running mine every couple of days, and its JUST me. but then again, i’m eaing 3 meals a day at home, where before it wasn’t nearly as many

            2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Family of five. Minimum twice a day. Apparently we have nowhere near enough side plates. We bought 8 extra water cups and are still always short. ACTUALLY HOW.

              1. D3*

                I finally sharpied some plastic cups with everyone’s names and YOU GET ONE CUP, DANGIT.

            3. alienor*

              I ran through a large bottle of dishwasher soap in two months–usually I buy it about once a year!

          4. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. We have more dishes to wash, floors to vacuum (because more traffic), masks to wash, garden to tend.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          She’s almost 3 and needs a lot of help cleaning up her messes. We have a long way to go until she can do a lot of stuff all by herself.

          1. Double A*

            My daughter is 19 months and for awhile there I was able to trick her into wiping her tray because it was novel (and then I would actually wipe). Now she’s over that. I’m really excited when she actually puts a toy in the basket when I ask her, but then she almost immediately takes out 2-3 toys. Basically anything I’m doing now is just introducing the concept of cleaning and tidying, but yeah, it’s gonna be so long until she can do any of it.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              Yep. The only things my daughter can do completely on her own without any help at all from a parent is feed the dog, put away her toys, and throw stuff away (and even then we aren’t completely out of the picture – we still have to bug her to do it). Everything else needs us to do something – show her which buttons to push on the dishwasher or laundry machines, wet the wash rag, get the cleaning spray out from the child locked cabinet, put away the dishes she hands to us, fold or hang the clean laundry, etc.

              It takes twice as long to clean when a small child is “helping” you but at least it will pay us back later in life.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah. I’m so happy my son can fill and empty the dishwasher! He’s 10. He hates filling it, because gunk, but doesn’t mind emptying it. We have some high cupboards where he can’t reach to put glasses and cups, but still…

        3. Working(?) from home*

          “Old enough to clean up after themselves” is good theory but doesn’t necessarily save time:

          Parent: Why is this all over the floor? You know you need to clean this up when you are done.
          Child theoretically old enough to clean up after self: I forgot.

          P: Why is this all shoved in a pile in a corner? That’s not cleaning, you know where these things go.
          C: I forgot.

          P: Why aren’t you cleaning up?
          C: I’m just getting a drink, jeez.

          P: Why is this still not cleaned up?
          C: This one piece goes in the room where you are working and I didn’t want to interrupt you.
          P: Well, clean the rest up.
          C: This goes in the baby’s room and he is napping so I can’t go in there.
          P: Then clean up everything except those two things. If I have to come in there and stand over you while you do this, you are not going to be happy.
          C: All right, all right, you don’t have to get mad at me about it! [Stomp stomp stomp.]

          P: Why are you dragging a kitchen chair into the other room?
          C: Because I can’t reach the bath towels.
          P: Why do you need the bath towels?
          C: I might have spilled something.
          P: Use the paper towels in the kitchen.
          C: There aren’t any.
          P: There is a whole roll on the counter.
          C: I used that up already.
          P: What? How?
          C: I knocked a plant over, and I was going to clean it up by myself, so tried to clean up the dirt, but it was still on the rug, so I poured water on it, and then it kind of spread around, and so I used up the paper towels, but there is still some stuff on the books and things . . .
          P: OMG.

          1. kt*

            First, love to anyone in this situation.

            Second, I’m 39, and my internal dialogue still sounds suspiciously like this. Argh.

          2. Sara without an H*

            Yeah, there’s a point where they have the theory down, but the execution is kind of sloppy.

          3. TeapotNinja*

            P: “You left all your leftover food on the table, it doesn’t just magically disappear you know. Clean it up!”
            C: “I had to tik tok with my friends.”

            I will uninstall that app from their goddamn phones. It’s evil.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          I swear I run the dishwasher at least once every other day, often every single day. We don’t use a lot of disposable stuff. Oooh, and laundry has ramped up a lot too, and potty training doesn’t help one bit! At least that one is my husband’s responsibility. I think I got the better end of the deal with that chore division. :)

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            We were running the dishwasher 1x/day, back when we cooked dinner most nights, 2x on weekends when we cooked lunches and did big batches for weeknight leftovers. We’re now 2 – 3x/day, just because we’re cooking more. Feels kinda 1st world problemy to complain, but it is still a time sink.

            And yeah, laundry. We’re doing more smaller loads, because we don’t have a ton of face masks and need to have 1 – 2 clean at any given time.

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              Whoa, that’s a lot of dishes! Although I guess I’d have that many too if I cooked every day. I do big batches all at once on the weekend so all we have to do is heat up leftovers throughout the week. I’ve noticed we all do a lot better with eating healthy if it’s already ready to dish up on a plate.

              1. Quill*

                Four person household (all adults) and somehow there is never enough food for leftovers. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. We went through a bag of onions in three days but I know why that happened: my brother loves them.

                1. Third or Nothing!*

                  We’re two adults and a toddler. I *should* be eating more with how much exercise I’ve been doing to keep from spiraling into depression, but somehow high levels of activity make my appetite disappear. It’s very strange.

            2. BeckyinDuluth*

              I read that you can wash facemasks by hand with soapy water, similar to how you wash your hands. We only have a couple, and I’ve been doing that both to help them last longer and to make sure they are readily available if needed.

            3. TardyTardis*

              At some point, I just do some masks in the sink because I get some pretty hot water there, liquid dishwashing soap works just as well, and it’s easier on the washer/dryer to do a couple of masks at a time, and then hang them over the tub to drip.

        2. Zelda*

          Small family of two adults– I used to run the dishwasher every 2 or 3 days. Now it’s almost daily. O Lord, let our 18-yr-old dishwasher not pick now to quit, pleasepleaseplease.

          Folks with children to clean up after– oy gevalt, how would you have time for anything else?

          1. Meg*

            my dishwasher broke a couple weeks ago….it’s the worst (and I live alone so it’s just my mess). I rent, so it doesn’t financially impact me to get it repaired, it just doesn’t feel like it’s urgent enough to warrant a repair during a stay at home order.

            1. Madeleine Matilda*

              If you feel safe having a repair person in your house, I would schedule it because it is giving work to the repair person. If for any reason it would place you and your family at higher risk then, of course, it may need to wait. I had to have my oven repaired right after the stay at home started. The repair person had a mask, gloves, and booties and we maintained social distancing. After he left, I wiped down every surface he had touched.

              1. Meg*

                that’s a good point, and one I hadn’t considered. I feel so exhausted from every little decision being a moral dilemma. Is it forcing someone to put themselves at risk and come into my space? or is it giving someone work?

                I had to have my garbage disposal replaced early in lockdown (apparently I have terrible kitchen luck lol) and it was fine…I kept my distance from the repair people and wiped everything down after they left.

                1. Forrest*

                  >>> I feel so exhausted from every little decision being a moral dilemma

                  ABSOLUTELY this. It was true of the way the responsibility for mitigating climate breakdown and human rights abuses in supply chains has been shifted onto individual consumers before COVID-19, but it feels even more urgent and immediate now.

                2. Pomona Sprout*

                  “I feel so exhausted from every little decision being a moral dilemma.”

                  Thank you for putting into words something I’ve been feeling but hadn’t been quite able to verbalize.

                  Everything. Is a moral dilemma these days, and it IS exhausting. Argh.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            3 adults here, we run ours almost every day. Used to be once or twice a week.

            I did have a dishwasher quit on me at the very beginning of the pandemic in the US (early March), but mine was 45 years old. (I did not know until I started looking into replacing it, and googled the make/model. They stopped making it in the mid-70s.) Bought a new one, but then I ended up having to have plumbers come out to cut through the pipes and the wires that were going straight into the dishwasher, reroute the pipes, reroute the wires and make a new outlet to plug the new one in etc. They certainly had an interesting way of building things in the 70s.

          3. Susie Q*

            I have an 11 month old. I work at our dining room table with the playpen in front of me and the TV. Our house is just cluttered because we are tired from working (my husband is essential) and I WFH while watching my daughter. I don’t have the energy to clean. Things are more cluttered than dirty.

            But hey, we are all still alive and have jobs so I can’t complain too much.

        3. Super Duper Anon*

          My mother’s day present was my husband doing all of the dishes. He normally makes the meals and I clean up which I am fine with because I don’t like cooking but oh man, so many dishes now. This was the best present!

      2. Megumin*

        Same here. My house is slightly (SLIGHTLY) cleaner than it was pre-pandemic. We’ve also been able to fix some things around the house we’d been putting off. But that’s the extent of our “achievements”.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          We’re super fortunate that our daughter is old enough to potty train, so we did that while my husband was home on his unpaid leave. We still have to use Pull-Ups for naps and bedtime, but there are only 2 diapers/day now instead of, like, 20. YAY! Course there’s also lots more laundry for obvious reasons, but at least that chore is my husband’s responsibility whereas mine is dishes. Totally got the better end of the deal on that chore division. :)

        2. Susie Q*

          This is the real reason I miss daycare. Those real food poops are no joke. They always happened during the week at daycare. Now I’m stuck doing them all while my husband is at work.

          Last week I was on a conference call and my daughter had a huge poop. I was changing her and talking. She managed to grab her poop filled diaper and throw it at me while grabbing herself below the belt and getting her hands covered in poop. It was quite literally a shit show.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            Last week I had to hose down my toddler, who had a poop accident in her big girl panties. Luckily it happened while she was playing in the backyard so I was able to clean it up with just a power wash. It was so, so gross though. I can’t even imagine trying to do that while on a conference call!

            Oh wait. Yes I can. I got to clean up another potty accident while on the line with IT just this morning. It was embarrassing but at least he was the only one who had to listen to the drama unfold!

            Have a kid, they said. It will be magical, they said.

            1. Susie Q*

              I had no idea how much of my parenting would revolve around poop and trying to get a baby to fart.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      My ‘extra’ time has been eaten up with one good thing (a daily walk with the family), but also with the extra time it takes to do normal things. The line to go into Costco was 30ish minutes, and at my regular store I had to circle back to one aisle 4 times before it was reasonably empty. Groceries take easily 50% more time than before and maybe more, and that’s with trying to go at odd hours / fewer trips.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        Do any of your local stores offer delivery? I’ve been home recovering from surgery, and it’s been a lifesaver (literally).

        1. The Original K.*

          It can be tough to get delivery windows in a reasonable amount of time since so many people are using the option.

        2. SweetestCin*

          Mine do offer this. Getting a spot for either delivery or “pop your trunk” pickup though, over a week out. And significant portions of order are missing (understandable). Typically I use the “delivery” service as they’ll actually interact with you and help you figure out substitutions (we have food issues that can kill in this house, so sometimes substitutions are not cut and dry) and yes, this is how I make our life work when we’re not in the middle of this chaos. I wish it had been available a couple years ago when I had surgery. It would have made life a lot simpler.

        3. Brett*

          Delivery is stupidly expensive here. Our local store requires a $99 delivery membership fee to open a delivery account, then charges $7 per order plus a 15% price surcharge. The charges are the same whether you do curbside pickup or delivery.
          We have been going to stores midweek and that has cut down considerably on the time it takes (similar to a normal weekend trip).

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          They do, but services aren’t good with substitutions. My family’s got strong food preferences, many tied into sensory processing and fine motor control issues.

          For example: if they’re out of brand X strawberry yogurt, I’ll take brand X peach / cherry / lemon but not X blueberry or popular brand Z strawberry. We taste tested our way through the dairy case one year. Most popular brand yogurts have a chalky texture or specific taste that none of us will eat, but the local grocery store house brand is fine (except for the blueberry). And I won’t touch raspberries ever, both the real and chemical tastes of raspberries makes me gag.

          It would be pretty unreasonable to expect a system to understand the complexities of that decision tree.

          We’re also reasonably healthy / under 50 / no underlying conditions / socially distancing, so masking up and going is worth the extra time and risk for us; our risk of catching / passing it on is lower than many. But I’m not going within 6′ of unmasked patrons.

        5. Stephanie*

          Yeah, I looked into it and it wasn’t cost effective for one person. I’m in a Rust Belt city where there aren’t a lot of large grocers that deliver to the city (in the Before Times, I drove to neighboring cities if I wanted a large grocery store) and the pickup slots are hard to get. I also have some ethical qualms about some of the third-party delivery services (such as no PPE for their workers), so I just suck it up and having grocery shopping be A Thing That Takes a Long Time.

        6. Curmudgeon in California*

          Delivery? We can’t get delivery windows but maybe every other week, and even then, things on sale with a card in store aren’t on sale for delivery! So we literally have to go to the &%&%&# store, wait in line, run around like a maniac, wait in line, then decontaminate. Grocery shopping takes twice as long for half as much stuff.

      2. The Original K.*

        I’ve noticed this too, about groceries. My store only lets in a certain number of people at a time & has fewer people working so they can distance at the registers. These are good things but shopping takes longer as a result, even if I go at off times.

        1. Liz*

          same. i’ve been doing mostly trader joes since they are the best at limiting the number of people inside, cleaning etc. and my local chain grocery. i haven’t ventured into any big box store except Costco once since all this started. Its just me, so i can get what i need doing what I do, and also for my mom. but it does take longer, esp if you have to wait in line to get in.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I’ve actually been pondering whether the risk is actually lower if we go back to short trips but more often.

        It’s probably less exposure, since it’s shorter. And the mask doesn’t have as much time to get damp and less effective, etc.

      4. Emma*

        This is very true. Having to keep a distance at the store, walk one way down the aisles, etc makes everything take longer than normal.

    4. Kiki*

      I have definitely been very privileged in all this, but all my “gained time” is now devoted to doing dishes. So many dishes. Where are they coming from? I only have three plates and yet also, somehow, 10,000.

      1. Can't Sit Still*

        Ditto! Who knew I had so many plates, bowls and cups and so much flatware? And yet, still not enough butter knives or glasses?

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          What is it with the butter knives running out so quickly? We’re in the same boat here!

          1. D3*

            YES! I made the mistake of buying nutella at Costco.

        2. wendelenn*

          Now I’m hearing Anna from Frozen singing, “Who knew we owned eight thousand salad plates?” (And SHE didn’t have to wash them!)

      2. Stephanie*

        Yeah, there’s a ghost in here generating all these dishes. It’s not me constantly drinking coffee/tea/water and snacking, not at all.

      3. Third or Nothing!*

        We have 3 plates and 3 bowls for the toddler, and I swear they all get used every single day. I have no idea how it happens, and I’m the one dishing out the meals and snacks!

    5. SweetestCin*

      What I save in commuting is offset in the extra time needing to be spend getting groceries and pandemic-schooling two elementary school aged children. And then some.

    6. BadWolf*

      Same, I am safe and secure and I don’t have magic extra free time. Things just shifted around.

    7. ASW*

      Yeah, I have a hobby that everyone at work knows I spend a lot of time on. While we were WFH, we had these weekly virtual meetings for everyone to catch up. Our CEO asked me in front of everyone if I was getting a lot of this hobby done. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, “uh, you realize I’m still working full-time, right? I’d love to spend more time on my hobby, but kind of figured you still expected me to do my job.” The saved commute time (under an hour) was spent sleeping in since I normally don’t get enough.

    8. Stephanie*

      Yeah, same. And my team has switched to “Let’s just meet more since we don’t have commutes”, so I’m not sure when I would learn Mandarin, haha.

    9. Peachkins*

      Yes, same here. No kids to worry about and transitioned to full-time WFH. I save my commute time and that’s about it. I have been doing some crafty things that I wasn’t doing before, but that’s more of a stress reliever than anything else. My husband was actually at home with pay for over a month, but he’s found plenty of things around the house that needed to be done, and he’s been doing all our shopping.

    10. Oddish*

      Yes, this. Our HR keeps messaging along the lines of “take care of yourselves first” and “tips and tricks for keeping busy” …..but we aren’t any less busy, on the contrary! Working on the financial side of the nonprofit sector, lucky as I consider myself to be for being able to keep my job and wfh when many don’t have that, currently comes with a lot of additional labor around the CARES act, staying on top of continuously changing guidance for the payroll protection program, running projections over and over based on changing circumstances, funding shortfalls or opportunities, and canceled programming or fundraising… you name it. No, I don’t use the 40 mins I previously spent commuting to learn a new language. Yes, I still work the same extra hours almost every afternoon/evening that I had to work before. It’s just so detached from reality to assume everyone is currently spending their days playing Animal Crossing (though, all the power to those of you who do that, we all have to cope in some way).

      1. TootsNYC*

        plus the work you’re doing probably takes a lot longer, because things are just slower and less organized. Which makes the day more exhausting.

    11. Temperance*

      I definitely have more free time, but I think that I’m the exception and not the norm. Most of the fundraisers and other events that I would typically attend have been cancelled (obviously), so my weeknights are largely my own. I’ve been cooking dinner and working on random cleaning projects, but mostly playing Animal Crossing.

    12. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, exactly. My job was already permanent WFH. Our business has not shut down in any way. So, so far, “during the pandemic”, the professional parts of my life have not changed. It’s the personal that changed. My work is still my work. I work the same schedule as before. I would probably not know how to answer this question with a straight face and not have it come out either snarky of befuddled.

      1. Sleepless*

        Same here. I’m still going to work since my job can’t be done remotely, and our logistics have become much harder. I’m usually a huge fan of professional development, lots of CE and so forth, but right now I’m doing great just to stay competent.

    13. Alton*

      For me, it’s actually been wonderful being able to get an extra hour of sleep and I’ve noticed an improvement in my energy level and ability to get things done in my spare time. I’m also having *more* social engagement in my free time than usual because of all the Zoom events. But it feels tone deaf and unhelpful to talk about how the quarantine has been mostly a positive experience for me when so many people are seriously struggling right now and when the reason for these changes happening is so terrible.

  6. Kiki*

    I work in tech, which is a field ripe with folks who are very out of touch with realities for most people. This sentiment has been percolating SOO much on tech social media and I LOATHE it. Fortunately, I’ve been seeing more and more pushback to questions/ views/ statements/ of this variety. I love Alison’s answer. Hopefully people will realize this is a terrible question and not ask it, but Alison’s response is a great thing to keep in your back pocket just in case.

    1. lost academic*

      All my friends in tech seem to have a lot more time for themselves during office hours under normal circumstances than I can imagine (being in consulting). Things are set to run/debug/whatever and while that testing runs, they do whatever they want, whereas I wouldn’t be able to bill that time to a client and would be working on at least one other thing.

      1. Talia*

        That’s always been a thing that confused me about tech– do they really only ever work on one thing at a time? Like, sure, I get distracted sometimes, everyone does, but the only time I ever do, like, random fun activities at work is if I’m trying to test said activities for possible future use at work.

        1. lost academic*

          I don’t really think everyone does just focus like that, but it seems like it’s much more acceptable to use the spare time for a nonwork task. I also don’t want to suggest that tech workers are on average slackers compared to other industries at all, but I do think it’s more acceptable to use testing time as you want. Having never worked in that industry I can’t really speak directly for the in office day to day mindset, though.

          1. LF*

            Having worked both in a consulting job where I billed my hours and in tech, I don’t think tech workers as a whole just have all this free time. There is plenty to do and all the people I work with work very hard. I do think there is more flexibility though, especially when not having to bill your hours. People will take breaks to do personal things here and there, but may also work late to make up for that time.

            1. Gumby*

              Yup on the working late. When I worked in (that kind of) tech I seldom got to work before 9, but I also almost always stayed until 7 or later. If I am babysitting a release at 1 a.m. you don’t get to complain if I nip out for a personal errand at 2 p.m. on a random Thursday. Overall I worked more hours per week then than I do now even though we didn’t record hours worked. Or more likely *because* we didn’t record hours worked. Now the act of recording the hours (for billing purposes) reminds me I have hit 8 hours. Before if I was in the middle of a task or had a deadline coming up or whatever, I could blow past 8, 9, 10 hours in a day without noticing.

        2. Eng*

          That’s really not my experience in tech. In functional workplaces, the running/compiling might take a while but we’re talking 5-10 minutes, not long enough to do another “activity” other than like, read AAM or go on fb. I’m sure there are exceptions but that’s hardly unique to tech.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, I think the only downtime beyond very short breaks that my dad gets during programming are the times that he’s being paid to be on call for tech support.

        3. Mill Miker*

          Many tech projects, especially “mature” ones, are later upon layer of undocumented mess, all of which needs to be considered at all times before changing anything. It can take 20-minutes to an hour of just flipping through files and notes before you have your bearings enough to get anything done, and that’s assuming it’s a project you’re familiar with and work on regularly. It’s often more productive to just goof off for 10 minutes when you need to wait, then to switch to another project and lose your place.

          1. programmer*

            I think this is the main thing for me. Those 5-10 minutes waiting for something to run are not quite enough to start a new project or even start doing stuff like documentation. It is enough time to check your email/reply to a text or facebook message/check on deliveries/etc. But I’m not exactly sure what people are thinking about when they say people have more free time during the day?

            1. Mill Miker*

              Part of it is probably seeing all the foosball tables, and assuming people actually get to use them regularly, and not just for promotional stuff/on lunch :P

          2. back*

            And then someone schedules you to have a 10am meeting and a 2pm meeting and there’s your entire day of concentration gone.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              This. I used to not have meetings on Thursdays and Fridays. Now I have meetings every day of the week, in the middle of the damn day, and then I wonder where my WFH productivity has gone. Most of it was from not having meetings!

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          When you’re testing, you usually need to keep an eye on the screen to see how it’s going. If you’re testing hardware that’s similar to what’s been tested before (ie, manufacturing) or installing known software (ie, new employee images), you can test several machines in parallel.

          If you’re testing software (code you’ve built), you can’t write much more code on that project until test is over. And switching projects is a huge mental shift that takes a lot of time – easily 10+ minutes to find your place and remember what you were planning to do. By then, test’s done and you’ve got another 10ish minute brain shift back to the test project. Saves time overall to keep your brain on the test project, do something mindless during test.

        5. Kiki*

          This depends on the company/office/team, but even if I generally have one piece of coding work to do at a time, there are generally other tasks I should complete (e.g. updating documentation, helping other engineers figure out their tasks, etc.).

          There are some reasons an engineer may end up with time to kill during the day that have to do with the way software development companies tend to structure their workloads and agile methodology and yada yada yada, but I personally do not have more time to do random stuff during the day as compared to other office jobs I have had. Maybe now that I work from home, I move over some laundry while tests run or make lunch, but I am generally expected to be consistently working on something, if not actively coding.

          In my experience, a lot of the most prominent media examples of engineers having tons of time during the day to do fun things come from companies like Google who offer stuff like that during the day to keep people at the office all the time, so those engineers end up putting in more than 8 hours of work anyway, they just also got a massage in the afternoon.

          There are exceptions to this, obviously, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm.

        6. A Non E. Mouse*

          As an addition: I do a lot of work afterhours and on weekends, to avoid as much downtime as possible for our end users.

          So yeah, I’m going to create my grocery pick up order during the work day, because Saturday at 8am I’ll be bringing a system down (or, 10pm tonight I’ll be monitoring a backup that’s been wonky, or upgrading a server Friday night so that the business unit that uses it all week doesn’t have any down time…)

          I think it’s the nature of the beast: If you want me available from 8am to 5pm for questions *and* want me to do most of the work that could cause blips in availability on the evenings and weekends, you are just going to have to deal with me reading AAM during the day when I need a brain break.

      2. TechWorker*

        Yeah I don’t think this is true most places.

        I do occasionally have slow stuff but either I a) am doing a bunch of things in parallel or b) I am working late or on a weekend and watching tv whilst I prod my slow thing. I don’t have a lot of down time during the normal working day.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’m also in tech. Most of my coworkers have kids – their free time, even without the commute, is *less* because they have their kids at home and have to make sure they do school stuff.

      But the SINK* and DINK** twenty-somethings assume that everyone now doesn’t have a commute or night life and should spend it leveling up in tech skills. Even as a SINK myself, I don’t have time or headspace to study. I need to get away from the tech stuff after work, not do more!

      * SINK: Single Income, No Kids
      ** DINK: Dual Income, No Kids

  7. Jules the 3rd*

    Baobab. Always go with baobab.

    “For my pandemic learning, I studied baobab fruit recipes. Killer ice cream.”

    1. Blueberry*

      This made me giggle. :)
      If anyone really needs Baobab information one of my favorite Youtubers, Weird Explorer, has a bunch of videos about the tree and the fruit. (random addition)

  8. Sabina*

    Well I kept myself and my medically fragile spouse alive. Thanks for asking. Also, too, eff you.

    1. A*

      Absolutely!! Minus the last bit this is the advice I’ve been giving to my friends – especially those with young children at home. Are you and your children alive and well? Congratulations, you are doing fantastic!!

  9. Anon Anon*

    I love Alison’s wording and throwing it back to the employer.

    This pandemic is going to further highlight those people who are truly out of touch with most people and what most people are experiencing. I figure 80% of the country are either out of work, struggling to hold onto the job we have, and/or struggling to manage childcare, eldercare, or some other form of care while working. The other 10-20% are mostly pissed that restaurants closed and other people are having forced “vacations”.

    1. voyager1*

      Nailed it.

      And if they are POed and protesting maybe they could find some gumption and get a real job. :)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        YUP. It’s time for those sort of people to take their own advice and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, if everyday schlubs are supposed to have no debt and six months of savings according to all of the financial gurus telling you to “skip the latte”, why don’t we have the same expectations of corporations? It’s like there is a double standard for working people versus the companies that employ them.

  10. Amethystmoon*

    I agree, this is an out-of-touch question. Internet access is actually still not a thing everyone has. Some cities have opened up hot spots during this, but not all of them. Additionally, one needs to have a smart phone or a computer to access said hot spots, which not everyone has those things, even nowadays. Even if one has those things, someone may still be literally spending all their time caring for their children or another family member. I definitely agree with the idea of turning it back around on the interviewer.

  11. LifeBeforeCorona*

    I am proud to say that I have yet to bake a loaf of bread and I am a baker.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      My daughter was so disappointed to hit on sourdough and discover she was smack dab in the middle of a trend.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I’m having fun playing with beer bread–I have a bunch of different types of beer, and it’s cool to see what difference the type of beer makes. (For me, imperial milk stout made the bread too bitter.
        Although teenage son ate it anyway because teenage son generally = appetite in sneakers.)

        1. SweetestCin*

          Know what I’ve learned? I’m dreading when the boy-child actually hits teenaged years as he’s not even there yet and is already a walking stomach with hollow legs. Just, how?

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            My friend has 3 teenage boys and before Corona their Costco runs were legendary. Now that they are eating all meals at home, it’s been…intense.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          I love beer bread! So far my favorite iteration is made with an unfiltered honey wheat ale made by a small local brewery. The flavor profile is amazing!

    2. alienor*

      I baked two loaves of bread early on out of necessity, because the grocery shelves were still empty and I wanted toast. Ever since then, it’s been store bought all the way!

    3. back*

      I am an irregular bread baker and haven’t done any since this started. I have done a lot of desserts, though.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Baking chocolate chip cookies is happening because I can give them away a few at a time.

    4. AuroraLight37*

      I’ve been baking biscuits a lot, because they’re quick and easy. Parmesan parsley FTW.

  12. Fikly*

    And then, if you have options, do not take a job at a company where an interviewer asks you this.

  13. Ray Gillette*

    “What did you do during the pandemic?” is a thinly-veiled way of asking “How financially and logistically privileged are you?”

    I’m working from home, harder than ever, so at the end of a work day I’m too tired to do much else. And I’m one of the luckier ones.

    1. Rock Prof*

      I think this is hitting the nail on the end.
      On a similar but personal level, I had my brother-in-law (who works in a field that is doing really well right now) ask me what my pandemic hobby was and went down a list of what his family was doing! (and I’m also doing well, all things considered) Like, I’ve been remotely teaching 4+ classes, running an academic program, and helping raise a 3-year-old. It feels like my hobby was been letting my research fall by the wayside.

    2. SQL Coder Cat*

      I am there with you. My job appears safe for the moment, although there’s the possibility of pay cuts in my future. My job is one that is relatively easy to do from home, but we were overloaded with our normal work before and now we have pandemic specific work as well. We had just gotten approved to add a new team member but that got cancelled due to a hiring freeze. Managing my work and my stress and my family’s health and safety is plenty, thanks.

    3. Double A*

      Nothing much as actually changed for me per se, because I was already working from home, we have family care for our daughter, and my husband works alone in a shop (turns out our default like is called “quarantine,” who knew?). And yet I’m finding myself more tired and less productive.

      I did briefly take up sewing again to make some masks when there were none to be had. But I find that a pretty depressing hobby so I didn’t make more than a half dozen.

    4. Observer*

      I don’t think so. I think it’s genuine cluelessness.

      Also, anyone who IS trying to get at that with this questions is ALSO genuinely clueless. Because, guess what? Even people with privilege may not have a lot of extra time on their hands at the moment. For one thing, there are some well paid and high status jobs where people STILL need to be at work. And, as others have noted if part of your privilege is that you’ve been working from home for ages, or you have the most minimal commute time, the pandemic won’t free up a whole lot of time. On the other hand, even a lot of very privileged people are going to have to spend time on stuff that they normally don’t spend time on because the people who would normally do those things for them are not coming to work. Whether it’s a nanny, cleaning help or a housekeeper, to name a few.

    5. Kuvemach*

      “What did you do during the pandemic?” is a thinly-veiled way of asking “How financially and logistically privileged are you?”

      I disagree with this. *Everyone*, no matter their socio-economic status, can do *something* to better themselves.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          The best way to better YOURSELF would be to read the comments in this thread explaining the situations a lot of people are in, take them to heart, and grow some empathy, compassion, and decency.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Really? So the essential worker who is worried about catching a deadly disease and who works 8 hours on their feet, in a mask, 5 or 6 days a week “can do *something* to better themselves”???

        Most of these people are paddling as fast as they can just to stay afloat. The idea of “bettering themselves” is a joke, and a cruel one at that. Most of these folks are hoping they don’t die due to their jobs and clueless people.

        Check. Your. Privilege.

      2. Third or Nothing!*

        Maybe the something to better themselves isn’t something that transfers to job skills. Maybe bettering themselves looks a lot more like using healthy coping mechanisms to deal with existential dread and isolation. I’ve been exercising more as my way to staving off the inevitable depression that I know from experience waits to pounce when I spend too much time shut up in the house. My husband has taken up hiking with me because he’s prone to the same problem. These are not things I want to discuss in an interview, nor are they relevant.

      3. Jedi Squirrel*

        Which, in and of itself, is a pretty privileged thing to say.

        I stayed alive. Which is what I did before, but now it’s a hundred times harder, and I’m getting clueless questions from privileged interviewers.

    6. OP Here*

      And this is what I am afraid of. To note I also have a response down thread under the name Eve where I have detailed some of the expectations that have been expressed. There are a lot of unemployed people out there right now. Their time is being taken up by trying to keep their heads above water. They don’t have the time to take yoga classes or volunteer (lots of them are relying on the services of volunteers). More than likely they don’t have the money to enroll in an MBA course and start taking classes on line. Hiring managers should be looking for candidates who have the skills and experience to be successful in a given job. They shouldn’t be looking for classes, volunteerism and other arbitrary things to make hiring decisions.

      1. Lurker*

        Gotta say…lots of people here complaining about how they don’t have the time to do anything because of homeschooling or whatever…but they’ve got time to post over and over again on AAM?

        1. Marvel*

          Posting on AAM is a low-energy form of social engagement that is enjoyable without requiring a lot of effort or brainpower.

          C’mon, people.

        2. Blueberry*

          Seriously? Multitasking is a thing, and reading and posting replies on AAM works well as a multitask item combined with watching the kids play/read/whatever — it’s easy to stop and start when needed. And it’s incredibly helpful for people to connect with others in the same position, and really cruel to want to talk people out of that.

  14. Barney*

    It seems as though people who are still safe and secure have no idea what life is like for others and they are a little disconnected and tone deaf.

    While there certainly are some people who are out of touch with what’s going on, I don’t think this is a fair generalization to make about people who have been able to safely stay home. Many of us have family members who are essential workers, our own preexisting conditions, and other many things to worry about. Most people are having a hard time right now and it’s frustrating that people like me are increasingly made out to be the enemy in all this.

    1. Spooncake*

      If you have lived ones who are essential workers and/or pre-existing medical conditions, this isn’t about you to begin with. The complaints are about those who have no exposure to worries about those things and who therefore live in a bubble where they don’t think about dealing with them sensitively.

      1. Barney*

        Maybe I did misinterpret it, but the number of people who have no exposure to worries is an extremely small group people. I don’t think an average hiring manager would fit in that category and that seems to be who OP is talking about.

        1. Talia*

          An extremely small group of people who are disproportionately concentrated in people likely to be hiring for white-collar jobs, especially in specific fields.

          1. Barney*

            No, a typical manager hiring for white-collar jobs is not free of all worries right now. That’s my point. They may be better off than average, but that doesn’t mean everything is peachy keen for them or that they don’t understand what’s going on. Any hiring manager who asked these kind of stupid questions is probably doing it because they are bad at hiring, not because they are not affected by this pandemic.

          2. Quill*

            Yes. But to be fair, if you’re aware and hiring for a white collar job and your clueless colleague brings this up… you gotta shoot it down like it’s an animal crossing balloon.

    2. MistOrMister*

      I didn’t read it that way. I read it as they were applying it to people who are asking these kinds of idiotic questions and pointing out that those people don’t understand how it is for people who have lost their jobs, etc. And honestly, anyone who asks that type of question in an interview IS going to come off as tone deaf and disconnected.

      While those of us who are employed also have a lot of stresses, I can understand how people who are newly unemployed might feel others are not understanding their plight. I think the majority of us are feeling some forms of stress right now, but the added worry of possibly losing your home, or dealing with food scarcity is an extra blow that it can be difficult to really comprehend. I am concerned enough about these things while working from home and my job is, seemingly secure. Hopefully we can all cut each other some slack and try to understand that a lot of people are very stressed and very scared and probably feeling very alone right now.

    3. Important Moi*

      Much is going for many of us, but this is a reach.

      “Safe and secure” is neither a synonym nor code phrasing for “being out of touch.”

      Unless you are entertaining thoughts that people should be doing more I don’t understand why you’d feel put upon.

      1. Barney*

        I agree with you that being safe and secure shouldn’t be associated with being out of touch, but that’s how OP used it when she said “people who are still safe and secure have no idea what life is like for others.”

        1. Important Moi*

          Then extend grace to people writing the letters that their language may be imprecise?

          If you look for a reason to be upset, you will be.

          At this moment in time in particular, I don’t see the value of assuming malice before anything else.

    4. Nesprin*

      The current situation seems like a degree of hard problem: Everyone is having a hard time, but some are having a harder time than others.

      We’re financially stable and not homeschooling, so we’re a level 1 hard- we’re coping (poorly) with isolation and dread/things taking longer than they used to/worries about future finances. I know friends who’re at a level 10 hard-so coping with keeping small kids entertained/ current financial instability/ working in emergency departments etc in addition to everything I’m struggling with.

      That being said- I’m still having a hard time.

      1. MistOrMister*

        Right! And just because some people are having a level 10 hard time doesnt make your level 1 hard time any less valid. Both sets of people are suffering and need to have compassion for each other. Obviously I can see that someone suffering in level 10 likely realy wishes they were only in level 1. And if you’re level 1, you have to take into account that the level 10s are really getting a raw deal. But there’s no point to dismissing or belittling someone else’s suffering because you perceive it to be less than your own. Of course, that kind of thing is always easier said than done.

        1. Nesprin*

          Not to derail but I think this is why people get twitchy about the word “privilege”. It doesn’t feel like a privilege to be at difficulty level 1, because things are still hard. That being said, I understand that getting to work a flexible job from home which pays well enough to cover the mortgage and health insurance is a massive pile of privilege.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            It is. Not having to home school, able to WFH in a job that has insurance *IS* a privilege.

            I have that privilege, and I do my best to not make things worse for those who don’t have that level of privilege.

          2. Blueberry*

            Privilege can be a lot like air — it’s not very noticeable when one has it but really noticeable when one doesn’t.

            It is very possible to have a lot of privilige and still have a very hard time — the privilege comes in when certain factors are not making the very hard time even worse. Think of how *much* harder it would be if your job no longer covered the mortgage, or if you were laid off. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard now.

        2. Philly Redhead*

          It’s like the circle of grief. Draw a small circle and put the name of the person closest to the tragedy in the middle of that circle (or in the case of pandemic, someone experiencing Level 10 of difficulty). Then, draw a larger (concentric) circle and put the name of the person closest to the center person–for adults, this is usually a spouse or partner, but may be children, parents, a colleague, or closest friend. Keep drawing larger circles around the other circles and add the layers of people–close friends, more distant friends, members of the community, etc. The person in the center circle can cope any way he/she wants. The job of those in the larger circles is to listen and support. When talking to a person in a circle smaller than yours, remember that you are talking to someone closer to the tragedy. Your job is to help. You are not allowed to dump your anger, fear, or grief to people in circles smaller than yours. Express these emotions to those in your circle or larger circles.

    5. Eve*

      OP here. I submitted my letter to Allison because of a thread that I was reading on ….. a popular online networking site. The thread was started by someone who had started thinking about what kind of questions they would ask prospective employees. The responders came from many different industries and job functions and I’m guessing the majority of them are still employed. Some of the responses were very reasonable, others were mind blowing. It appeared that a lot of responders felt that if someone was laid off or furloughed, then they should be spending their time taking yoga classes or starting a wood working project, volunteering, starting community support groups, One person responded that he would be asking how interviewees how they were handling their personal finances. Another suggested that they expected people to be enrolling in online MBA courses. I was offended on behalf of the millions of people who have lost their jobs during this pandemic.

      I saw a quote the other the day that said something to the effect that “we may all be in the same storm, but many off us a riding in different boats.”.

      Some of us are riding in yachts, kayaks or speed boats. Some of us are riding on life rafts or clinging to a life preserver. Some of the responders appear to be people who are riding in yachts, failing to see the people who are on life rafts. So if someone who is on a life preserver gets in front of a yacht passenger for an interview, are they going to be viewed as someone incapable of doing a job simply because they weren’t able to meet someone else’s lofty expectations of what they should have been doing with their “free time”.

      1. Barney*

        Don’t assume that everyone who isn’t in a lifeboat is on a yacht. The reality is that most people are somewhere in the middle.

        1. Eve*

          Ah, but that’s your reality. My reality is different My sole issue is that those who are conducting interviews should not be thinking that those who are unemployed have access to yoga classes or money to pay for online MBA courses. They should not be dismissing people who don’t have that access as a reason to disqualify someone as a viable candidate for a job.

        2. Avasarala*

          Sure but people on modest boats shouldn’t be looking down on people clinging to pieces of driftwood asking “what are you doing with all your spare energy to better yourself right now?”

          What a tone-deaf question. We are all trying not to drown.

  15. nep*

    Brilliant response, spot on. Alison, I so appreciate your wisdom on such things, and how well you are able to put this.
    Thank you

  16. lost academic*

    This is so gross. But. I think as we move down the road with this, we’ll both see it and we’ll see people needing to have a more polite reaction to it than the real one because we’re going into an economy drastically different than the one we had at the start of this calendar year and people won’t necessarily be able to afford offending crappy employers because the need for a paycheck and benefits is too strong.

    So many employers/interviewers are ignorantly behaving like trash in this and other respects. Let’s do our best to keep that from happening where we have some influence to do so.

  17. Meg*

    what a gross question. I feel like I’m pretty damn privileged in this situation, in that I’m working from home, I don’t have kids, and my job is secure. But like…I’m still working. I don’t magically have a ton more time to learn a new language or redecorate my house or run a marathon. My time is still accounted for 8-9 hours a day, and all I’m saving is my short commute (20-30 minutes). I’m just so sick of this idea that we need to be PRODUCTIVE with our time. There’s a global pandemic, my only goal is to survive.

    1. Elfie*

      To be fair, I’m in the same situation as you, and I also feel privileged. But why do we need to be PRODUCTIVE with our time when life gets back to normal? I work 8 hours a day, and I have a house to keep tidy – why must I spend the spare time I have being more productive so that I can be a better little employee? So much about our view of work bothers me (and I’m in the UK, not even the US!). I don’t want to become a better and better money-earning machine for some faceless corporate entity, and have my ability to do that be the yardstick against which I am measured in terms of some strange idea of ‘success’. Surely if this pandemic teaches us anything, it should be that it reminds us of what is really important in life, which is our friends, family, and neighbourhoods, the relationships that we have with others, and the need for self-care and being kind to ourselves and one another.
      Sadly, I fear that all this will do is concentrate power in the hands of the already powerful, and further widen the inequalities gap at a societal level. Whilst we’re all being kind to one another and clapping for our carers, the corporate machine is slumbering like a dragon, all the more dangerous now for being wounded but not destroyed.

      1. Stephanie*


        Yeah, in the same boat. I definitely feel this way (I’m in the US). I work for a large teapot manufacturer and work with our suppliers. The suppliers all shut down because we shut down (it is probably obvious what industry I am in, ha). But everyone has been running around making up work and it’s like “Ok, so we’re not operating, the suppliers are not running, and no one is buying a teapot right now. Why are still trying to act like we need to somehow be productive money-making machines right now?” I get most of this is driven by job security anxiety. I am tired though.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah. I’m an amateur musician, i.e. I have a hobby that I work at and actively try to improve, and it probably sounds impressive to people that I do it…but that’s not my motivation for doing it at all. I do it because it brings me joy, even though it doesn’t make me any better at my day job. And I work at it not out of a sense of obligation for productivity, but because being able to play something exactly the way I hear it in my head just feels really good.

      3. High school teacher*

        Agreed. I am a huge Bravo TV fan, and I saw a meme at the beginning of all this that essentially said “why are people asking me what I’ll be doing in quarantine? I plan on working and then watching Bravo for five hours, like I did before quarantine.” While it’s humorous, I related! I’m fiercely protective of my personal time and I don’t have shame for choosing to spend my evenings reading or watching tv.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      This — I am incredibly privileged and incredibly lucky. I’ve always worked from home, never went out that much, don’t have kids and my job is as busy (or even busier). I don’t have any more free time than I did before — actually less since I don’t have help with things like I did before. I’m trying to do my job, do chores I used to have help with, the once-every-two-week grocery run is a feat of three day planning — even cooking (which I love) requires careful, time-consuming menu planning . I am the luckiest, most fortunate of people, but this question would tick me off completely.

    3. Fabulous*

      RIGHT?? I’m working from home too and the only thing different for me is that my toddler isn’t going to daycare so I also have to wrangle him on the days my husband is also working (essential employee). I have no other free time – actually less now since I can’t go anywhere or do anything substantial with my toddler in tow.

    4. nnn*


      I’m fortunate enough to already have been working from home, and in fact my workload has increased.

      But what I’m “doing during the pandemic” is the same thing I’ve been doing for most my adult life, complicated by the fact the practical challenge that many aspects of maintaining a household have become logistically more difficult, and the emotional challenge that every single person I love in the world is in a medically high-risk group.

    5. Kuvemach*

      “My time is still accounted for 8-9 hours a day, and all I’m saving is my short commute (20-30 minutes).”

      I keep hearing variations of this. In your case, this means 30 minutes (each way), round trip, or 5 hours per week. You couldn’t squeeze in even one webinar during that time? No one who is asking this question is expecting that you completely do a career pivot, but doing one thing is too much to ask?

      Or for that matter, if you’re still working from home full time, you could roll off what you accomplished at work during that time.

      1. VintageLydia*

        Uh, acquiring and making food is taking longer, there is more house to clean, more caretaking responsibilities, sleep is overall less quality and the COLLECTIVE GLOBAL TRAUMA takes a mental toll even in otherwise mentally healthy people.

        Seriously what planet are you on because one in which this pandemic isn’t invading literally every facet of life sounds like literally heaven.

        1. Kuvemach*

          1. Your decision to keep a clean house versus watch a webinar or two is still a decision — it’s about what you’re prioritizing. My own view is that the world will revolve around its axis if a couple of dishes get left in the sink while you watch a webinar.

          2. The blunt answer: I’m on a planet that also endured the Siege of Leningrad and the Blitz, and yet many survivors of those global traumas still managed to do something (“keep calm and carry on”) for their communities. You’re not coming across as Rosie the Riveter here. You’re seriously going to tell me you couldn’t spare ONE HOUR over six weeks of lockdown to do *something* other than clean? If you’re that fragile, how are you going to react when the company has some kind of crisis to address?

          It’s a big planet, and one of the advantages of that, of course, is that you’re entitled to disagree with me. If that’s the case, then find a workplace that’s more in line with your values and less with mine. Just don’t be surprised if it’s a less resilient workplace in the next global crisis.

          1. VintageLydia*

            You’re making a lot of assumptions about my life just because I can exercise a bit of empathy. But also the health and well being of my children, including the education I’m suddenly in charge of (is helping with their e-learning sufficient for you? Because any “free time” as a result of no commute is dedicated to that plus extra childcare duties.)

            1. VintageLydia*

              sorry didn’t finish my statement, but yes the health and well being of my children and household is pretty damn important to me. Especially when cleanliness is literally life saving right now.

              1. Kuvemach*

                Cleanliness from the point of view of wiping frequently touched surfaces, yes. Cleanliness such as “all toys must be put away now,” no. Toys on the floor, some dust on the shelf, and a few dirty dishes in the sink or papers strewn out on the desk aren’t how viruses spread.

                With due respect, this has more than a whiff of virtue signaling. By all means, if a House Beautiful-ready home is your most important value, then spend your time cleaning. If your role as a parent is the only important value in your life, so be it.

                But life is all about priorities; if your career is important to you, then you need to make some time for personal career development, even if that means some weeds in the backyard remain unpulled — or even if it means your kids go unsupervised for a short time while you read professional journals. (Indeed, I would argue that sets a good example for them, particularly girls, when they see that strong women pay attention to their careers.)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  What on earth. Have you done much hiring? I don’t know a single accomplished manager who does a lot of hiring who thinks people “need to make some time for personal career development … even if it means your kids go unsupervised” right now. This is just remarkably out out touch.

                  People have professional track records they’ll be judged on, not whether they they spent a few months in 2020 learning a new professional skill.

                2. VintageLydia*

                  Dude my youngest kid is 4. It’s more than keeping my house looking like Martha Stewart lives here He’s a toddler and constantly trying to kill himself, as toddlers like to do. I ain’t neglecting my kids for the sake of my career. That’s bananas.

                3. Gazebo Slayer*

                  “Even if your kids go unsupervised”

                  Um, depending on the age and needs of that particular child, that could literally be endangering and neglecting the child. I hope you’re not a parent. Or anyone who ever hires people, for that matter.

                  And as Marvel pointed out, scolding VintageLydia for “virtue signaling” is mind-bogglingly hypocritical when you’re all over this thread being smug about devoting all your out-of-work time to Professional Development and Career Advancement and how everyone else should do the same regardless of family situation, health, finances, or global crisis.

          2. emmelemm*

            Well, you’re pretty much invalidating your own argument by falling back on “Keep calm and carry on.” That is literally the antithesis of “why didn’t you keep your life from falling apart AND take a webinar on llama grooming?”

            I didn’t bring up this comparison between Covid and The Blitz, you did – for the record, I’m not saying they are or aren’t of equal intensity, stress, reach, etc. But if the answer for getting through the Blitz was “try not to panic and keep things as normal as possible”, why isn’t that answer sufficient for getting through this Covid pandemic?

            1. mrs__peel*

              Plenty of people did panic during the Blitz! There was also black marketeering, fighting in shelters, etc. The upper class used their wealth and connections to get special treatment. Real life wasn’t like “Mrs. Miniver”.

              Also, the UK government at that time was far more active in actually Doing Something to help people during the war (e.g., evacuating children from the most dangerous areas, improving farming methods to increase the food supply, instituting rationing, etc.) compared to our current failstate. To the extent that people did manage to “carry on”, it was arguably more due to government action rather than just individual mindsets.

              1. Armchair Expert*

                I hope this isn’t a hijack, but do you know any good books about this? I am perpetually fascinated by this era, and the way that we’re romanticised it as Everyone In It Together (despite the fact that rationing was brought in literally to stop people hoarding, afaik), and it sounds like you might have a title or two up your sleeve to share?

          3. Avasarala*

            How clean were houses during the Blitz? Are you seriously reciting wartime propaganda as an actual fact of life? How much life changing information can be packed into one webinar? Has anyone ever learned anything from a webinar?

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          You are right, everyday life is taking longer to manage. Ideally, I should be watching a webinar on how to make artisan chocolates in order to help advance my career. But I’m not. Why? Because we have no real idea of what is going to happen 3 to 6 months down the line. Best case scenario, we are back to close to normal. Worst case scenario, resource rationing while mass graves are being dug.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        “You couldn’t squeeze in even one webinar during that time?”

        The problem isn’t whether they can or can’t. The problem is “Why should they just to live up to someone else’s idea of what they *should* be doing with their free time?”

        Why should they squeeze in a boring, stressful webinar, when they can read a novel, lie out in the sun, or play a fun game? Why do they always have to be nose to the grindstone? Why do they always have to live up to the expectations of the privileged and clueless?

        Sure, they save 5 hours a week commuting. But they have 6 hours more in longer shopping, more cooking and dishes, and more cleaning because they’re home more.


    6. spock*

      Capitalism demands that we always be PRODUCTIVE and EFFICIENT as the only important outcomes. It’s gross.

      1. Elfie*

        ^^This is what I was trying to say, only much more succinct. I’m fed up of making rich people richer. I’ve already lost someone to Covid-19. Time is such a precious commodity, and you really only realise this when it’s gone. After you hit retirement (if you’re lucky enough to work until retirement!), the companies you devoted all of your spare time to will forget you ever existed. Hopefully you’ll have nurtured your relationships to the point where your friends and family won’t.

  18. bunniferous*

    I am not job hunting, and my work did not change at all (was already pretty much working from home, my wonderful bosses are are a bit germphobic so they were awesome with all this) but if I were to answer that stupid question honestly it would be that I learned to make dalgona coffee , Cremora fake cheesecake, and other internet recipes like a boss.

    1. juliebulie*

      I have been watching Drunk History. I am becoming familiar with some interesting but garbled historical anecdotes.

      Also, no lie, I have been making bread.

      I will be happy to “up-skill” if my employer is willing to pay for the training and scale back my workload to make time for it. Right now I am doing more work than before, not less.

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        frinkfrink, you’re is the first quarantine accomplishment I’m actually envious of

      2. Llama Face!*

        frinkfrink, your comment made me laugh at myself for a silly reason. I was grossed out for a sec at “sock bun” because your reply was right after juliebulie’s comment about making bread and so my brain translated it as the edible definition of bun (ie. making food using socks). And then I clued in that you meant the hairdo. Not the same at all! Lol

    2. Kiwi with laser beams*

      Ooh, mine would be “I got into a regular exercise regime because for the eight years prior to the pandemic, I struggled to do that because I was WORKING TOO MUCH.

  19. MistOrMister*

    So gross. Are employers really expecting that people are shelling out for classes when they have possibly lost their jobs? Because if it comes down to rent/food vs a new certification, anyone expecting you to get that certification but then go hungry for a few months is someone who has no business being in a position where they manage people and are expected ro have some empathy.

  20. Oof*

    I think there are versions of this question that could be really helpful, in the same way that asking a company how they handled the situation. Just take it out of personal life, and apply it to work life. I’m seeing so many people rally knock it out of the park professionally, in how they managed the transition, kept things going, took their departments in new directions, or found better efficiencies to serve their audiences. I’d have to think on the wording, but it can be done.

    1. nep*

      But I think anything like that would come in responses to other normal interview questions.

      1. Elbe*

        Agreed. If they accomplished a lot during the pandemic, they can talk about that when they’re asked about their accomplishments. It doesn’t seem like it’s fair to make it a specific, stand-alone question.

    2. Shortstuff*

      Agree. I think the difference between a good question and a poor one, is that you don’t want to force people to make their answer about covid-19 if they don’t want to. I mean, if you want to know about a time when they managed transition you just ask about that, and they can talk about getting their whole team working remotely during covid-19, or they can talk about the time that they merged two teams, or whatever is their best experience. I guess the exception would be if it was referred to in their application or otherwise in the interview. I’ve asked about people’s experiences working on the Olympics when it’s been part of their career history.

      Honestly, as long as it’s ethical, who cares where they got their skills and experience, it’s whether they have what you need for the job you are interviewing for.

  21. Mad Woman*

    I work with career services professionals at a major US research university. They said they directly heard from employers that they would be asking “What did you do during COVID-19?” After more digging, it sounded like it was more directed to new, young graduates who may not be able to find jobs or had internships canceled – did you play Animal Crossing all day or did you take an online course in your field? Even with younger people, though, it still feels nasty to be asking them what they did – just because they are young and entering the workforce doesn’t mean they don’t have the same or similar stressors. Not to mention adult learners graduating! I pushed back on this but ughhhh.

    1. Elbe*

      Yeah, this feels like yet another variation on how young people from privilege are given advantages in the hiring process.

      Anyone who has to navigate receiving benefits, or providing childcare for their family, or leaning on their not-so-fancy side hustle for cash are not going to have great answers to this question.

      It’s very similar to the recent grads who have 8 internships on their resume because their parents could cover their rent and living expenses so they could take the more plentiful, less competitive unpaid internships in their field.

      1. BB*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to lump childcare in there. The choice to pursue education prior to family planning isn’t something I view as a ‘privilege’ persay. I get what you are saying, and absolutely agree – I just feel like this wording could get a bit messy. It isn’t a competition, and I don’t think the answer is to diminish the accomplishment.life paths/choices/whatever that others made. There’s a big difference between what you listed and what I would consider privilege (access to solid resources, having grown up in a stable area, financial assistance from family, access to education etc.)

        1. Elbe*

          I meant caring for younger siblings. A lot of college-age people are providing child care to their siblings in order to keep their family afloat. Their parents would not be able to make ends meet without it.

      2. Observer*

        As noted elsewhere, this is not about privilege. I mean of course someone who has privilege is more likely to have the opportunity to do all of these extra curricular stuff. But not necessarily.

        Which to say that having privilege does improve your outlook, but anyone who is fool enough to think that you can tell anything about anyone based on the fact that they didn’t use their time in ONE PARTICULAR way, deserves all of the bad results that are likely to endue.

      3. Kuvemach*

        “leaning on their not-so-fancy side hustle for cash are not going to have great answers to this question.”

        A not-so fancy side hustle may be the perfect answer to this question. The people who ask it are looking for evidence of your ability to hustle, period.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Then I don’t want to work there.

          I’m not in sales.

          If I were asked that kind of tone deaf question, my answer might be “Leveled up in Toon Blast.”

          1. Kuvemach*

            “Then I don’t want to work there.”

            Then don’t. Corporate cultures aren’t one-size-fits all. Find one more to your liking.

    2. anonymous 5*

      Yeah. Those “new, young graduates” not only had internships canceled/job offers pulled/jobs not exist but also *probably weren’t able to save much money* during the school that they’ve just completed. So they have no work experience in the field, minimal-to-zero-savings, possibly student loan debt coming due soon, and possibly additional housing/health/food insecurities or stresses. An additional online course in their field? Definitely not a reasonable expectation.

    3. Fabulous*

      I think it’s possibly even worse to ask younger people this question. I know a lot of younger people in their 20’s who are dealing heavily with mounting mental illness that they can’t get treated because their psychiatrists aren’t seeing patients or prescribing medications. With as much as I don’t care for video games, Animal Crossing or similar may be their only escape from the reality of the situation.

      1. A*

        Yes – but there are also unfortunate realities of needing to become/remain marketable. My heart goes out to recent graduates. But I graduated in the great recession as a financial orphan, and I don’t think sugar coating the situation to new graduates will be beneficial. Regardless of whether it is fair, employers might look at these things and finding a balance between self-care and career development should be encouraged.

        I’m not trying to be ‘pull yourself up by the boot straps’ by any means – I just have lived through the most recent comparable economic situation and saw first hand what a disservice sugar coating and coddling was. Ten years later, it’s made a really big difference when comparing those in my extended circles + alumni base. Those that took the whole ‘take 6 months + as a breather / life is so hard right now don’t pressure yourself etc’ to heart, where ultimately harmed by that attitude and have been quite vocal against it.

        1. Fabulous*

          I graduated into the great depression as well and worked my way through out. The biggest difference is that there is a distinct difference between “our” generation and “theirs” – meaning that “our” generation are older Millennials have a substantially different work ethic and values than younger Millennials and Gen Z. I know it’s not everyone in their 20’s, but statistically (and I hesitate to use this word because I’m basing it on opinion vs. researched fact) it seems they have a lot more mental issues than we do for some reason, whether it’s from coddling or not.

          1. anonymous 5*

            Also, not for nothing…if you graduated in the 2008 recession, you could conceivably get a job waiting tables, or working retail, or a handful of other things that wouldn’t necessarily do a great job at paying bills, but would do a bit. Those jobs either currently don’t exist at all, or exist in a fashion that puts you at risk to your own health and to that of others. I don’t want to take away from how devastating the financial crash was. But there’s a limit to how far the comparisons can go.

          2. VintageLydia*

            I’m an elder millennial as well and the only thing I can fault younger millennials and Gen Zers for is… the normal foibles of youth that we all have been through.

            And the increase in mental health issues is most likely an increase in awareness and diagnoses and the larger societal understanding of what that entails. I’m seeing a lot of people my age and older being diagnosed with issues they admit they’ve struggled with their entire lives. The current young people will be getting support we didn’t even imagine was possible which is a GOOD thing.

          3. Nanani*

            You are hereby exempt from being a Millenial. Take your participation trophy and trade it in for a boomer card, you clearly are in the wrong place.

            JFC. “from coddling.”

        2. duckduckround*

          Totally. You can’t pretend that employers are just going to let grads write off six months. If you have a legit health issue fine! Same goes for low wage jobs, caring and so on. That’s all fine! What is not fine is to have a holiday for six months. It’s just not going to make you competitive and that’s a fact.

        3. Observer*

          No one is suggesting “sugar coating” anything or “coddling”anyone. What we are saying is that anyone who wants to know if students took extra courses during the pandeminc (ESPECIALLY IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY IN SCHOOL AT TIME) is being an idiot. Both because not taking courses most definitely does NOT equal playing Animal Crossing, and because even if that’s what someone was doing it does NOT mean anything about what kind of employee they might be or, in fact, anything about the person that is remotely relevant to the employer.

        4. back*

          I graduated right before the recession and was unemployed for a long time. No one asked me what I did during my unemployment. I had an interviewer ask me in something like 2013 about the gap in my resume and I said “that was the recession and–” and she said “oh, right!” and moved on with the interview.

    4. Qwerty*

      Would they be open to rephrasing the question to something more about how the candidate kept their skills up to date? (Still not great phrasing, I know).

      I heard a lot of questions like that in the aftermath of the recession (I was shadowing interviews at that time). The question wasn’t so much about ‘how productive were you when unemployed” but more like “how much rust needs to be knocked off”. Plenty of people answered with either small amounts of time each week, or even nothing relevant until the couple weeks before the interview. (ex: “well recently I started using HackerRank to shake off the rust”). I work in tech, so a lot of candidates ended up having unique answers that made them memorable, even if it was just “I wanted to learn X but never had the time to go more than surface level”.

      1. Qwerty*

        I should clarify this advice was for if you weren’t able to eliminate the question.

        1. Mad Woman*

          This is sort of what we ended up with! Still preparing students for the question but trying to make it feel more attainable, emphasizing free resources from the university.

    5. miho*

      agreed. just because someone is a student doesn’t mean they are immune to the stresses of the pandemic. I think the NYT ran a piece a few weeks ago about students attending a small liberal arts college on the east coast – one student is able to complete her courses online while living at her parents’ vacation home on the west coast, and another student is struggling to complete her assignments online while helping her parents’ Puerto Rican food truck business during the day. Her family’s livelihood has been completely destroyed by the pandemic, so having to juggle between her family’s income and her studies isn’t easy.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Exactly. It drives me nuts that so many people *assume* that a young person must have a private/quiet space to do classwork, a computer, reliable home internet access, uninterrupted time with no family responsibilities, etc. Those are all privileges and by no means universal.

    6. M*

      Asking this question to young people is a bad idea too, I say this as a young person in college taking online classes, who lives with six other roommates, can barely afford rent (thanks pandemic), only has wifi access in one part of the house, and is having extreme anxiety during this time.

      One of my roommates IS playing animal crossing all day long and frankly, that’s much better than when she was crying and obsessively cleaning all day long. Much much better.

    7. Observer*

      Someone needs to bop these people over the head. The idea that just because someone is young the choices were “Spending all of your time playing games” vs “Taking on line courses” is just beyond stupid. And that’s kinder than they deserve.

      1. Mad Woman*

        That was my poor example, but there was definitely an attitude of OBVIOUSLY they will be upskilling/taking LinkedIn Learning courses/volunteering, and saying “employers won’t want to hear that they just sat around all day”. They were understanding when I pushed back about it, but I could definitely tell they thought it was a reasonable question. :/

  22. SQL Coder Cat*

    In some mythical future, this is where I fix the interviewer with a death glare and state, “I spent a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me, both on a personal and a professional level. I decided it was crucial to my own well being never to work for a company so out of touch that they considered the pandemic an opportunity instead of a humanitarian crisis. What did do to help their employees and the community during the epidemic?” And then, if the interviewer doesn’t have a good response, I end the interview there and sweep out dramatically.

    1. Kuvemach*

      You know, it is possible to consider something *both* a humanitarian crisis and an opportunity. You’re creating trade-offs where none exist.

      I guarantee you that practically every business in the world is asking itself how it can adapt to changed circumstances. Maybe that’s restaurants simplifying their menus for delivery. Maybe that’s a tailor moving into sewing masks. Maybe that’s a manufacturer retooling lines to produce masks and PPE. Maybe that’s an airline moving more cargo rather than passengers. If you can’t envision the possibility of companies thinking along these lines, your choice of employers is going to be very narrow indeed.

      One of the goals in asking this question is to get a sense of how adaptable potential employees are and how quickly they can think on their feet. A snarky response will not benefit you. (To be clear, I also think asking, “what did you do to help employees and the community” is a completely legitimate question.)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I think a general “How did you adapt to the pandemic” is a better question. That removes the obsession with upskilling, and pinpoints the adaptability.

        For some, it might be “Paying more attention to my physical and mental health.” Others might have “Homeschooling my kids.” For me, it is “Making masks for my family and friends, including researching the best designs and materials.” (This research literally was 40 hours of work to do.)

        1. Kuvemach*

          “I think a general “How did you adapt to the pandemic” is a better question. That removes the obsession with upskilling, and pinpoints the adaptability.”

          I think that’s a great way of phrasing things.

      2. mrs__peel*

        The idea that everything must have some kind of a silver lining is so toxic. Sometimes things just suck, and people do the best they can!

      3. Avasarala*

        Well the way pandemics work, staying inside and playing Animal Crossing all day is actually helping the community. One less person on public transport, possibly spreading the disease.

  23. Mazzy*

    I think the tweet is shorthand for “don’t spend quarantine zoning out on tv shows and Reddit and video games.” Remember the target audience is 20 years old and many people in that age range will do those things (I’ve recently learned this as I myself sojourned into social media for real for the first time in March and April). But it also shows how out of touch universities are, I wonder if there is going to be a backlash from parents who are seeing what they’re paying exorbitant tuition for, if they’re seeing bad career advice and professors only teaching generalities you can learn on youtube, for example.

    As per this concept of “what did you do during the pandemic,” I think it comes from human nature and the rush to be the first to come up with something new. We saw it in the beginning with venues rushing to cancel events way out, in order to be the first to show they care, even though there was no reason to cancel events in August or October in March. Now we’re seeing articles online trying to be the first to redefine a “new normal,” where many of the items aren’t really tied to corona. I think people just want to be the first to say something so they can be credited when it becomes a thing. Well, now we apparently have interviewers wanting to ditch boring, time-tested questions to be new and hip. New expression of an older trend IMO

    1. MayLou*

      “don’t spend quarantine zoning out on tv shows and Reddit and video games.”

      Why not? I’m still working full time (but from home now), and while I admittedly have been learning a language – or rather, refreshing an existing language – during lockdown, I’ve also watched a lot of TV and played a lot of Animal Crossing. Life is stressful, the media are full of dire news and worries, I can’t go and see friends, why shouldn’t I spend my free time how I please?

      1. duckduckround*

        You work full time. You can do what you want in your spare time. I think it is fair to try to avoid people who are in fine health and deliberately spent six months doing nothing but full time chilling. That’s just not competitive.

        1. Observer*

          Well, students who are in school are also busy. The tweet (and most of these questions) are about what you are doing IN ADDITION to school.

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        Bad worker bee! Bad! You’ve failed capitalism. Go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done!

    2. emmelemm*

      “don’t spend quarantine zoning out on tv shows and Reddit and video games.”

      Yeah, I’m more than twice 20 years old, and I may or may not be doing this in quarantine because I’m freaking stressed out at the moment.

      1. back*

        I’m so stressed by all this, I don’t have the attention span to watch a 45 minute tv show. Thank god for “join the dots” games.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. With my stress levels, I sure as hell am not studying for new tech skills. I have too much on my plate.

      3. mrs__peel*

        Arguing with strangers on Reddit is a great way to kill time without spending any money, imho!

  24. EddieSherbert*

    +100, Alisen!

    Sadly, I can totally see my company doing this in interviews. My company’s new favorite word has been “opportunity” with lots of pushy buzzwords about learning and ‘how you should be spending your time’ since we started working from home. It’s been hugely discouraging/frustrating for literally every coworker I’ve had a conversation with about it :/

  25. Person from the Resume*

    This is awful. This tone deafness is not limited to bad interviewers though. How many news reports and click bait are about all the things you can do in your “free time”? They just bought into the media hype and are asking about it. they are not the only ones.

    1. nep*

      Absolutely. It’s a trend.
      There is a difference between What did you achieve? and How do you keep yourself mentally/physiologically well in order to avoid the immune-system-crushing stress that is inherent to the pandemic. Not that this should be an interview question–I mean, just in general. There are a lot of efforts out there to help people find and cultivate a deep peace in order to manage stress (which kills); that’s different from ‘Oh, you must learn new skills to prove yourself!’

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Yes. There’s a huge difference between, “Here are some new crafting/baking/whatever activities you can try if that is a thing that will help your mental health!” and, “Learn this new thing to prove you haven’t been a useless member of society during this time of global crisis!” The latter seems to draw heavily on the long-standing mentality that sah parents and folks who wfh have all this free time on their hands.

  26. Elbe*

    Alison’s suggested script is excellent, as always. It does a great job of redirecting an inappropriate question into something actually relevant.

    About the purse thing – it’s unsurprising that it was a guy asking this question. Purse organization depends on a lot of different elements (specifically, how many interior pockets did the purse designer include) and some of the most organized women I know have purses like a black hole.

    1. nep*

      I couldn’t get to the exit quickly enough if someone asked me that during an interview.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I would look at them with a dead-eyed stare and say “What purse? I don’t carry a purse.”

        Seriously, that question is so sexist it makes me sick.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      I attempted pancake shapes this weekend! I got fairly recognizable hearts and Mickey mouse, less recognizable snowpeople. Also, I’ve managed two omelets that hold their shape and area actually omelets at the end of cooking, and not scrambled eggs with stuff.

      (Commenting because I was excited about the pancakes, but I still agree this is gross question.)

      1. ellex42*

        Scrambled eggs with stuff is the best kind of omelet. Also, try putting cottage cheese in your pancakes. YUM!

  27. Wing Leader*

    If someone did ask me that:

    Interviewer: So what did you do during the Covid-19 pandemic?

    Me: You mean while trying not to die?

      1. Nesprin*

        This is perhaps less than kind. Most people I know either have a health issue that makes them high risk or have close family with health issues that raise risks.

        1. Kuvemach*

          …which still means they’re sheltering in place at home, and they’re finding some time to occupy themselves while doing so. How did they spend that time?

          1. VintageLydia*

            I think you need to do some learning on how elevated stress levels effect energy. Obliviously, you have a lot of free time and a low mental load. I propose this be your personal betterment project for the week. Maybe you can find a webinar or two. It’s certainly topical so they should be easy to find!

          2. Philly Redhead*

            Trying to cope with the fact that there’s a deadly virus out there. Worrying about whether they’ll catch it if they have to go to the store to get groceries because there aren’t any delivery slots available. Stress is draining, mentally and physically.

          3. Wing Leader*

            Have you thought that, even if someone is not high risk or in much danger themselves, they most likely have friends or family that are? We all have grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. I bet all of us could name someone who is high-risk that we know. That alone leads to a very big mental load.

            1. Philly Redhead*

              No, Kuvemach only hires humanoid robots, who don’t have the burdens of health and family, so they can focus on always making themeselves better.

          4. Gazebo Slayer*

            …you know, you should take your own advice and make yourself a better person.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I drive by a nursing home that has had almost 30 deaths. I’ll stop by at a social distance and tell them not to be overly dramatic.

  28. A nom nom nominous*

    “I stuck pins in a voodoo doll of a certain politician and I sewed masks for all my friends and I exhausted my supply of psychedelic mushrooms. What did YOU do?”

  29. Rich*

    Alison’s wording is great. But I also think this is something that’s the sign of a terrible interviewer. Maybe not a terrible job, but a terrible interviewer. One of the things I’ve found with terrible interviewers is that they have a hard time letting go of the script.

    Finding out how they supported employees during the pandemic is important, and you should ask anyway, but someone who will ask this type of question is unlikely to let it go. There are good reasonable answers above, but I’d be perfectly willing to show a little incredulity here: “It was a pandemic, not a sabbatical. I’m happy for people who taught themselves to sing Opera in Latin, but there was a lot happening in the world during the last several months”.

    The goal isn’t to be argumentative, and I’d keep my tone light and non-aggressive. “singing Opera in Latin” is an appropriately ridiculous example that keeps the mood of the response from being too heavy. But it’s a way to show them how stupid the question is in order to deemphasize it in their minds.

    Teaching them how foolish the question is buys you some breathing room if you were a normal human who got through it all as best you could. But it also gives you a leg up on people who did learn “Opera in Latin”, because who cares?!

  30. Retail not Retail*

    I learned to do new tasks at work to make up for the loss of our work release crew. I was recognized for being adaptable and cheerfully taking on new tasks!

    What were those new tasks… well what had happened was… mowing and weedeating all day instead of planting or pulling weeds.

    Yes hello mr office job out of touch hiring manager? Is this not what you meant?

  31. Elizabeth West*

    Well, I will get a variation of this question (and I have) because of long-term unemployment predating the pandemic. However, part of my answer does cite it as a reason my job search screeched to a halt. So it’s a little relevant.

    Basically, I say I moved in November because the job market in OldCity had stagnated and just as I was getting interviews over here after the holidays, the pandemic hit. For most of the before time, I’ve been writing and recently created my own imprint to publish my indie work, using skills A, B, and C, and I’m really interested in this job because yadda yadda yadda.

    I’m the kind of person who will give you a band-aid if you need one (or a handcrafted disposable shop towel mask!) but if you ask to see what else is in my purse contingent on hiring me, I will GTFO.

  32. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    The only interview this would be appropriate for would be someone being hired to handle a hospital’s infectious disease protocols or emergency preparedness.

  33. Nicki Name*

    In the medium term, I’d expect pandemic stuff to come up in casual, breaking-the-ice sorts of questions, too. But more with a tone of “Wow that sure was an event, wasn’t it? What kind of craziness did you have to deal with during shelter-in-place?”

  34. Falling Diphthong*

    “I composed an 18-hour one-person rock opera on the existential nature of laundry. I shall perform it for you now.”

    1. wendelenn*

      Mama, just washed a mask, now it’s back upon my head, clean and neat so I’m not dead. . .

      1. Peter*

        That’s now stuck in my brain – I fear another distraction from work. I like it lots!

    2. whistle*

      This is the formula right here. No matter how you answer the question, the key is to end it with “I shall perform it for you now”!

  35. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Does the same go for recruiters who are asking? I’ve spoken to a few recruiters the past month and they all seem to grill me on how the job search has been going, where exactly I’ve been applying etc. I had an answer ready to the “how’s the job search going?” which was “In the best of times it can have a lot of changes but with the way things are nowadays I’m managing my expectations.” Some nod in agreement while some want to dig deeper. I’ve applied to companies but not hearing back, and hearing there’s a lot of competition so….I’m not sure what answers they’re looking for.

    1. BRR*

      I think everything Alison said still applies and your answer is fine. If you’re being grilled hard on this by recruiters, it’s more likely they want to know what the current job market is like both for their company or other potential commissions, how desperate are you, or feel entitled to candidates answering everything in depth etc. Unless it’s a recruiter who’s shopping you around to companies, they don’t need to know this information (and eve then). As for what answer they’re looking for, I have no idea what would please them. There was an astronomical, sudden spike in unemployment at the same time companies implemented hiring freezes. There’s their answer.

  36. duckduckround*

    I disagree. It is a reasonable question to ask someone what they did for several months of their lives. If the answer is ‘focused on assignments’ or ‘continued at my job’ or ‘cared for family’ or ‘took a health break’ then that’s totally fine. It is reasonable to try to weed out unmotivated young people who spend months playing video games.

    It’s not targeted at those struggling mentally or those who had to work low wage jobs or care for family or didn’t have internet access. It’s targeted at those who wasted several months doing nothing. It’s fair enough for a company to look for motivated people while also being understanding of what motivation can look like – it can look like caring for family or working a low wage job or simply focusing on college work.

    I don’t think it is fine for a young person to spend up to six months binge watching Netflix unless they have a health condition. I would absolutely hire someone who cared for family members or just did homework or worked at Amazon. I would want to avoid someone who spend six months lazing about treating it as a holiday. It’s not about privilege as such an approach would accomodate low income people, it’s just avoiding the lazy people – probably the well off lazy people you’d want to avoid the most.

      1. duckduckround*

        Wow what? I would expect a healthy adult in a normal home life to do something other than chill for six months. That’s not unreasonable.

        If there is a reason someone took time out, no worries. Maybe they were unwell or had mental health issues.

        But if you’re a fine functioning adult in a comfortable home who spend six months doing absolutely nothing it’s just not competitive. You need to do something. It may be caring, it may be a low wage job, it may be your assignments. You can’t just watch Netflix full time for six months and write it off as ‘because Covid’

        1. nnn*

          I would strongly recommend against proceeding with this line of inquiry in an interview, because you might be breaking the law.

          In many jurisdictions, asking questions about people’s medical condition and family situation is illegal.

          Since your standards are based on whether the candidate is “a healthy adult in a normal home life” vs. “unwell or had mental health issues”, in order to assess the appropriateness of their answers against your stated standards, you’d have to ask the candidate questions about their health and background that would put you in risky territory.

          1. duckduckround*

            I wouldn’t ask those questions in an interview. I am just saying if someone is spending six months doing nothing because of their mental health there is nothing wrong with that.

            In an interview it is not illegal to ask someone what they did during Covid and interviewees need to have some kind of answer.

            For people with health problems I really reject the commonly given stupid advice of being honest and saying stuff like ‘I had a health issue that is now resolved.’ Way to get discriminated against. As someone who has health gaps I know you need to have a story.

            If you spend six months watching Netflix, for whatever reason, you’re going to need to have something to say about how you spend your time that is a little bit better. That’s just the reality.

            These comments like you can just say ‘How funny a question” or whatever are unrealistic. In an ideal world maybe. It may be realistic for competitive hires with lots of work history but for a young grad it’s not.

            1. limoncello day*

              But if you think it’s a reasonable question, why wouldn’t you ask it?

              1. duckduckround*

                I would ask someone what they did during Covid, I wouldn’t ask about their mental health.

                You can’t not ask a question because a minority of people may have taken a health break. Normal interview questions like ‘why have you been out of work for a year’ get asked all the time.

                It’s not weird to ask someone to have an elevator pitch on how they spent Covid. If they answer was ‘looked after the kids’ then fine. But you’ve got have something you can say.

                You can do a course online for two hours a week and use that. That’s not a big ask.

                It’s a really long stretch of time to leave unaccounted for just on the off chance someone may not have been coping. And I say that as someone with health issues. When I interview I still expect to be asked all the ordinary questions and I prepare answers for that.

                1. Anon for this*

                  My answer would be, “Planned and attended virtually 3 (touch wood that there will hopefully be no more) funerals for loved ones that I didn’t get to say goodbye to”. Would that be an acceptable answer for you?

                2. Observer*

                  It’s not “the off chance that someone may not have been coping”.

                  It’s the overwhelmingly high chance that they were, as Allison put it “focused on keeping myself and my family solvent and safe, like most people!” and that this included a lot of stuff that most reasonable people are not going to want to share.

                  People’s home, personal and living situations present and ESPECIALLY past are not the employer’s business, and essentially requiring people to share this stuff is a major over reach.

            2. limoncello day*

              Oh shoot, I see now you probably meant that the types of questions you wouldn’t ask in an interview are related to family/health background.
              I still think you seem to be on both sides of the fence, though.

              1. duckduckround*

                I’m not on the fence about asking the question. I’m just open to the idea there are perfectly reasonable reasons to not have accomplished much during Covid. Or that you may not have been coping.

                For young grads Covid is going to represent a significant chunk of their history, so they are going to have to come up with something to say. Instead of advising people to be antagonistic about it just make some rubbish about researching the industry, reading academic articles, keeping on top of trends or some nonsense.

                You can literally read an industry journal for an hour a week then play animal crossing for ten hours and chalk it up as having done something and given yourself something to do.

                We’re setting the bar pretty low saying you can’t do anything right now. It’s really not hard to pad out a resume a little bit while also still watching Netflix.

                1. limoncello day*

                  You say you’re open to the idea there are perfectly reasonable reasons to not have accomplished much during COVID, but you’re still expecting people do have done so, based on your definition of them being otherwise “fine.”

                  You say that you have expectations of a “healthy adult in a normal home life”, but also say you wouldn’t take those into account when hiring, and recognize that it’s wrong to ask questions that, intentionally or not, weed out people based on those factors.

                  No one is saying you can’t do anything right now, just that if you do or don’t, that’s your call and a company you’d want to work for would be respectful of your choices. Also that a company you’d likely want to work for would not want to ONLY hire “healthy adults in a normal home life” because a) it’s an unethical hiring practice, and b) those things aren’t the company’s business.

                  I don’t see anyone advising people to be antagonistic about how they spent their time in COVID, but I see a lot of commenters agreeing, for various reasons which sit opposite to your points, that the question SHOULD be seen as inappropriate for an interviewer to ask.

                  I think we all recognize that just because it SHOULD be seen that way, does’t mean that it will, and sure, to your point, you might plan for the worst and go ahead and have some kind of answer ready. However, I think a lot of us agree that having the question asked in the first place would seriously make us consider screening out that company at all, for myself because it is indicative of an overly controlling and possibly manipulative environment.

                  For what it’s worth, I also play a lot of video games and see my successes as creative achievement, because I prefer unscripted sandbox type games where I can build, test, control, or master ideas. I know that people in my close life might not care about my “successes”, like my partner or my boss, but I know there are people on the internet who are trying to solve those problems too, and we can collaborate on them. I also spend a lot of time planning out games when I’m not actually on the computer, so it helps me work on organizing my ideas, and eventually executing them or presenting them to others. In my work industry, these are qualities that will make me more successful; collaboration, creative problem-solving, organizing ideas, how to deal with losses and failures, and what the important take-aways were from my successes, because they were not always what I thought the outcome would be.

                  I literally fell asleep on the couch last night – yes, watching TV as well – while I brainstormed a narrative about a Big Brother – Apocalypse edition for a game I love. My idea (which is in no way inspired by panic and current events ; ) ): a group of 16 people goes into a completely enclosed “bunker” and shortly after realizes that the outside world has ended, and has to make relationships with the survivors to get supplies, while avoiding the apocalypse baddies. I apparently would be your worst nightmare hire, haha. But consider that, even with that information, you don’t know me at ALL. You don’t know that my current company is EXTREMELY entrepreneurial and that I am successful here, that I am consistent and thoughtful and thorough, that I get routine compliments from our customers on those aspects. You don’t know how much I am valued, but you seem to have some assumptions about my worth. It’s unlikely you’d hire me, but it’s also really likely that we would probably just not have a good working relationship because of your strong views and judgments of my off-time, and that if our working together ultimately didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be “my fault” because you can’t appreciate what I get out of my hobbies.

            3. Observer*

              Yes, they will need to have an answer. Not because it’s a reasonable question – it is NOT. But because for the next few years, a lot of people are going to have fewer options so they are going to have to have answers to questions that are stupid, intrusive and useless.

            4. Kuvemach*

              +1 to duckduckaround. I think this question is legitimate, and in no way expects every single candidate to have produced Galileo- or Shakespeare-level work during quarantine, or even to have learned Mandarin. All you have to say is something like, “I took a few webinars on llama grooming to keep my skills sharp.”

              1. Philly Redhead*

                Oh, that’s “all”? While trying 100 times a day to file for unemployment? While trying to care for a child, or multiple children? While trying to care for a loved one with coronavirus? While just trying to maintain sanity during this traumatic period?

                1. Kuvemach*

                  Yes, while doing all(*) of those things. Being a parent, for example, doesn’t obviate the need to keep yourself marketable. There are 1008 hours in six weeks. You really mean to say that if you’re serious about having a career, you couldn’t take ONE HOUR, meaning 0.1% of your time, to at least read a journal article or two about your chosen field? And if you’re unemployed, then when the economy recovers, you’ll be competing against people who did invest a little bit of their time in their professional development.

                  (*) As I hope would be obvious, if you or people in your household have actually contracted the virus, that’s a different matter. And at this point, most of us probably know someone who did contract the virus. But’s it’s also true that the vast majority of people are sheltering in place while healthy. If that’s your good fortune, you need to think strategically about what you’re doing during that time.

                  There are going to be other crises in our lives. I hope that COVID-19 will be the most serious; I’d even bet on that, although I would have probably said the same thing on 9/11. But regardless of their seriousness, there will be other crises. Successful companies need employees who can function and keep a level head during crises. If your only response is to withdraw into a cocoon , then yes, you’re making yourself less marketable.

                  Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that we can expect people to be as productive during quarantine as during normal times — of course not. All of our lives have been disrupted, and we are on edge. Part of the way of coping with that, however, is assigning yourself something to do.

                2. Observer*

                  If what you want is an employee who can keep a level head and keep functioning in a crisis, you don’t expect them to “only” take extra classes or “up skill” or whatever. Because for some people that is the LEAST appropriate response to a crisis. And for many more, it’s just irrelevant.

                  Continuing to function means CONTINUING TO FUNCTION. *Not doing all sorts of extra stuff.

                  Claiming that what you want is “someone who keeps their head and continues to function” when what you are demanding is something completely different is a function of deep cluelesnes or less than complete honesty about what you are ACTUALLY looking for.

              2. Curmudgeon in California*

                How about “I kept up to date on the latest layman accessible science about the coronavirus.”??

                Then I would refer them to the most turgid scientific paper that I’ve found.

                That doesn’t have anything to do with my home life or family.

              3. Philly Redhead*

                Comments can’t nest anymore, so I’m replying here. No, I don’t plan to take any time out of my week to read a journal article to keep myself marketable. This is a global pandemic, and my priority is to keep my family safe, my home clean and virus-free, and keep myself sane.

                If this were any other recession, asking during an interview what someone did to keep themselves marketable wouldn’t be so offensive. But people are trying to stay ALIVE. They’re trying to keep a roof over their heads. Someone who prioritizes keeping themselves marketable (or prioritizes hiring someone who keeps themselves marketable amid a deadly pandemic) has questionable judgement about what is important at a time like this.

                1. Wing Leader*

                  I agree. This is about family safety and priorities, not figuring out how I can spruce up my resume while my friends and family are struggling to survive around me.

        2. Jellyfish*

          My spouse got laid off and also has one of those underlying conditions that keep killing people who get Covid. The grocery stores around here are hiring at minimum wage with no benefits, and frankly, I’d rather deal with moderate financial hardship than have him die in the name of productivity. (All respect to the people still working those jobs, it’s got to be so hard.)

          He’s not learning other languages, or rushing out to volunteer, or taking classes that we can’t afford. He’s staying alive, cooking, taking care of the house, getting minor home projects done, and yes, watching Netflix and playing video games. He’ll go back to work when his job reopens. Until then, he’ll do what he can to 1. stay alive and 2. enjoy doing it.

          That’s not a moral failing. It won’t and shouldn’t make him unemployable for the rest of his life.

          1. duckduckround*

            Personally I think no one should work ever and we should all chill. I hate working, I am not ambitious, I like Netfix. I see no moral benefit in working or any of those things. I wish we could all do nothing.

            The reality is people who do nothing to improve themselves during unemployment are not as competitive unless they already have a stellar resume and are sought after. I don’t make the rules nor do I agree with them.

            There are plenty of free things you can do at home on your computer for a couple hours a week to give yourself some interview small talk about what you got up to. It’s not hard. Just read about your industry every now and then and say you kept up with industry trends and mention some trend that sounds interesting.

            I think advice needs to be realistic and instead of telling people to defend why they spend time baking why not advise people on all the easy things you can do that make it appear like you are doing something and seem to appease interviewers.

            1. Observer*

              I hope you don’t do any hiring. The idea that someone who is not doing anything to “improve themselves” is not as competitive unless they have a reason that meets your criteria for acceptability is totally not reality based. Any hiring manager who holds that idea is, AT BEST, really bad at hiring. At worst, an employer who I would not want to work for.

              1. Kuvemach*

                It’s completely legitimate if you’re looking for employees who are proactive, value self-improvement, and are looking to do anything beyond coasting and doing the bare minimum.

                Don’t give me all the excuses about why you can’t do it. *Everyone* can do *something*. Maybe you thought a little bit more about how to improve your industry. Maybe, like the Haverford College student who had to help run her family’s food truck in Florida, you helped run a small business and saved two employees’ jobs. Those are all accomplishments.

                The point of this question is not do demand that you gained Mandarin fluency in six weeks; it’s to see whether you’re capable of a little introspection on professional development, skill-sharpening, and strategic thinking when a crisis emerges. It’s also a chance to showcase your communications skills. You can have a more polished answer than “I played video games.”

                If all this means I’m “not an employer who I would want to work for,” by all means find someone else. With due respect, if you object to continuous improvement, you’re not an employee in which workplaces will want to invest resources.

                1. limoncello day*

                  #1 – “Employees who are proactive, value self-improvement, and are looking to do anything beyond coasting and doing the bare minimum” do NOT owe you those things on their own time, even if that’s why you chose to hire them.
                  #2 – I don’t owe you my free time to think “a little bit more about how to improve your industry.” If the people who do work for you don’t in fact have down/off-time, you might consider putting some measures in place to avoid their [eventual] burnout.
                  3# – If I’m new to a part of the country where I have no contacts, or just decide not to expose myself to COVID where I can avoid it, I might not have the resources to help run someone’s food truck.
                  #4 – FWIW, I have been teaching myself sign language. I also spent 12 hours in one day this weekend playing video games. I can guarantee you that the skills I get from the games are more important than sign language, at least to my job, and yet the hobby existed WELL before the career. It’s almost like… I don’t know.. I get something out of my gaming hobby that you refuse to recognize because you have strong opinions against the type of person who would choose to game for a long time? Or maybe I’m just not a workaholic who can’t appreciate others’ choices? *shrug*
                  #5 – Based on your needlessly aggressive stance on this, I can tell you that you are DEFINITELY not an employer who would ever receive the benefit of my various skills, and that if you asked me that question, fully knowing all the reasons put forth to you from different people on why this is a ludicrous expectation, I would make that public, and a lot of talent will self-select out of your application process because You’re Just Not Worth Working For.

                2. Curmudgeon in California*

                  I don’t “object to continuous improvement”, I object to your expectation that I do it all on my own time!

                  So no, I wouldn’t want to work for you.

                3. Observer*

                  Nope. Not at all. Your entire response is a perfect example of the total disconnect with reality I was talking about.

                4. Kuvemach*

                  >I don’t owe you my free time…

                  Of course you don’t “owe” me your free time. Nor does a potential employer “owe” you a job. We are talking about whether you ought to make yourself more competitive vis-a-vis other applicants in a competitive job market, and whether doing something in your free time makes you more marketable. If you don’t care about being marketable, fair enough; just don’t expect employers to shower you with offers.

                  >FWIW, I have been teaching myself sign language.

                  Great: you have an answer to the question about how you sharpened the saw. Whatcha complaining about?

                  >I also spent 12 hours in one day this weekend playing video games. I can
                  >guarantee you that the skills I get from the games are more important than
                  >sign language, at least to my job

                  …and if you can explain that *in a way that convinces others*, great. (Hint, however: “I guarantee it,” without more, isn’t a convincing explanation. Our current C-in-C spent a lot of 2016 “guaranteeing” things: that went well.)

                5. mrs__peel*

                  I’ve been involved in hiring for my company on many occasions, and I personally find this kind of attitude to be completely inhuman and unreasonable.

                  I think you’re making a lot of unwarranted assumptions about people who hire/interview and their values.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No. I’m sorry, this is just out of touch with how hiring really works. I’m sure it sounds good in your head in theory, but this is the kind of thing campus career centers say, not anything that actually reflects how real life hiring managers actually screen people.

            2. Nesprin*

              There’s such an opportunity for unfair hiring inherent in this stance: justifying why people who stayed at home and survived weren’t more productive would require disclosing health risks, home life, finances etc.
              There’s no way to say that I homeschooled my kid without disclosing a kid, no way to disclose that you took care of a sick spouse without disclosing home situation, no way to say that I’m high risk so I stayed home to reduce potential ICU burdens without disclosing health issues etc.

              Basically the only winners are the people without health issues or care burdens, who are financially able to make distance learning work, which would tend to favor white men with no health risks, who are either child free or have spouses to manage childcare. I guarantee that the best applicant pool is not limited to these people and I sincerely hope that hiring managers understand that diversity in hiring is good hiring.

              1. mrs__peel*

                Yep. I mentioned above that I’ve been involved in hiring for my employer, and I would personally not touch this issue in interviews because there’s SUCH a high potential for discrimination based on (e.g.) health, gender, family status, etc.

                Any *reasonable* employer/interviewer can assume that a huge percentage of the population either has some pre-existing health condition that puts them at risk, lives with someone who has those risks, and/or needs to provide childcare because daycares and schools are closed.

                There are plenty of ways to assess someone’s fitness for a position without demanding that they account for their “productivity” during a deadly, likely-unprecedented-during-their-lifetime, worldwide catastrophe.

          2. Kuvemach*

            “He’s not learning other languages, or rushing out to volunteer, or taking classes that we can’t afford. He’s staying alive, cooking, taking care of the house, getting minor home projects done, and yes, watching Netflix and playing video games.”

            There are quite a few free courses available on places like Coursera and HarvardX, so “taking classes we can’t afford” is a strawman argument. And whether you like it or not, by your own admission, you’re more than just “staying alive”: you’re doing minor home projects, watching Netflix, and so on. I am not, of course, saying that no one should ever watch Netflix. But if you’re doing home repair and watching Netflix to the exclusion of any career development, that *is* a choice you’ve made.

            Will that choice make a difference? Damned if I know. If he has an office job to come back after quarantine, maybe not. If he needs to interview elsewhere, or is jockeying for a promotion, maybe it will. You can’t complain if someone who took a project management course on HarvardX gets a promotion over someone who didn’t.

            1. Philly Redhead*

              You think someone hiring for a project management position is going to be impressed by someone who took a course on HarvardX? Cute.

            2. mrs__peel*

              Those kinds of courses are not particularly impressive or relevant for many hiring decisions.

        3. Observer*

          No one in the US is in a “normal home life”.


          Even if your living condition is perfect and no one in your immediate circle is at risk, if you spend more than a few minutes a day on the news and you actually walk outside of your door on occasion, your faced with a storm of pressure over the pandemic. And if you do NOT walk out the door, because you are at high risk or live with someone at high risk AND you are lucky enough to be able to have someone do all of the outdoor work for you, you are DEFINITELY not in a normal situation and you are dealing with a fairly significant burden.

          Expecting people to “prove” that they are not “spoiled millennials” (or whatever other stereotype) by sharing all of the personal specifics of their situation so they can demonstrate that they spent their time in a way that you personally approve of and think you would have done as well is not reasonable or sensible.

          1. limoncello day*

            Oof.. your words…
            Reading them, I swear I actually heard a little crack in the emotional dam I’ve got up to maintain a straight face all day.
            You put that so well, thank you. I really appreciated that part about reading the news, because I’ve come to realize that I think I’ve “trained” my brain to quickly pivot from emotion to emotion due to what kind of news I’ve chosen to receive on my phone.

            ****I’m going to give actual examples, so if anything I say is upsetting, I hope Alison sees and deletes this comment. I’m just attempting to commiserate, definitely not upset anyone further.****

            It’s like, look at these cats!
            Zoo animals are getting up to stuff!
            Cute animals running obstacles!
            People are baking bread!
            LOCAL POLITICS
            You should work out!

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Don’t watch or read news, except maybe carefully selected articles about your industry or interests. News organizations make money by creating drama and making people fearful. This makes people watch/read more, and the more and longer people watch/read, the more money they make from advertising. No matter how benign the subject, they make it as dramatic and fearful as possible, and if it’s already off-the-charts fearful – like a pandemic – they still do this, and cause much more panic and stress than the situation would in itself.
              I had to stop watching news in 2015 because it was literally making me sick. I get news from what my friends share on FB – and I have to unfollow some of my more dramatic and panicky friends.
              The good thing is if you ever need to know about a specific subject you can just google it. News articles going back several years come up and you can get the whole history when you need it.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                I definitely go on news diets at times, but I think “just don’t read or watch news ever” is dangerous advice. An uninformed populace falls for all kinds of misinformation and lies, fails to notice threats (like COVID), and ends up ignorant of important sociopolitical issues in a way that causes real, harmful consequences at the ballot box and elsewhere. It doesn’t help that people avoiding news are going to hear nonsense from rumors and people’s social media feeds instead.

                I’m not appreciating the whiff of conspiracist “FAKE NEWS MEDIA” in this comment either.

                1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  I have smart friends who share real news on FB and instantly call out fake news. Also I’m smart enough to recognize fake news or propaganda. If I couldn’t stay informed this way, I’d find another way that doesn’t make me sick from fear and anxiety.
                  I’m saying the way news is presented is manipulating people to be fearful. IME TV news is much worse than print, but all news is negative in its view – you rarely see front-page stories about good things!
                  The continuous stream of bad news and fear is very bad for people. IMHO it has been bad for this country and had a very bad effect on our culture. It’s been this way for decades and gotten worse with the internet.

    1. Slothy Coffee*

      In my opinion, that still doesn’t make it a useful interview question: how many people who spent the lockdown doing nothing but playing video games (for example) because of sheer laziness would actually admit to that in an interview?
      It’s part of human nature that some people will look for an opportunity to be lazy: many of my teacher friends are fully aware that during online lessons, some of their teenage students do things like take a screenshot of themselves and put it up so it appears that they’re present, while in fact they’re playing on their phones/painting their nails/reading a magazine, or making excuses about poor Internet connections to avoid work. The students are taking advantage of being more technologically advanced than their teachers and parents, or the adults having too many things to do to be able to catch them out. However, these students would never admit to it, if asked!
      I think the question about what you’re doing during the lockdown could be useful if asked by a teacher or instructor, to students who they know well, if they suspect that they are the type who would lose focus by being at home all the time and learning remotely. I don’t think it’s relevant to a job interview.

      1. duckduckround*

        It’s partially just checking if people are smart enough to have an answer, whether the answer is true or not.

        It’s like those people who don’t cover gaps in their resume. Unless you are high level in which case you’re very accounted for in your time, it’s not hard to paper over the cracks in a resume.

        It’s not hard to come up with some kind of pitch about how you spend Covid. If someone can’t come up with an answer to the commonly asked question (asked in personal and professional life and outside of Covid) of ‘what are you up to’ or ‘what were you up to’ then you have to wonder.

        It’s just not street smart to have stretches of your life where you openly answer ‘did nothing.’ It may be the case for whatever reason but you shouldn’t say that in an interview. It’s not smart.

        In an ideal world we could all take six months to chill and it should be fine. But that’s not the world we live in. People need to be able to present their story in an interview in an compelling and competitive way.

        1. Kuvemach*

          “It’s partially just checking if people are smart enough to have an answer, whether the answer is true or not.”


          1. limoncello day*

            But are we discussing the fairness and worth of the question in the first place, or the good-enoughness of the answers? If we agree the question is inappropriate, we can’t then argue about the validity of any potential answers.

            If you do think the question itself is appropriate, I’m curious how you don’t see it the same way that you’d ask about one’s general “ability,” which can include factors about their background that are illegal to factor into a hiring decision. You’re seeing this as proof of motivation, when a lot of people are struggling in ways they shouldn’t have to illuminate to a hiring manager.
            Before COVID, this question wouldn’t even exist, yet hiring managers still asked questions about motivation and productivity. So why should COVID be a factor at all? It seems pretty reasonable to find a way to still ask about those things while not asking specifically about COVID, given how differently it is affecting people due to their background – which again, not the best thing to consider for unbiased hiring.

          2. Elbe*

            You do realize that you’d effectively be screening for a) people who were lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn a skill and b) the best liars.

            I have no idea why you think that the two groups above would be ideal the pool of the hires.

            There are a ton of honest workers with pre-existing health conditions and family obligations.

      2. limoncello day*

        I think that’s a great point, that if the relationship was based on a mentorship of some kind, that it could be a relevant question. Still to be used with caution though, definitely not in a, “well how MUCH tv are we talking?” kind of way, unless I had expressed that I wanted help with productivity/time management/etc.

      3. mrs__peel*

        This is an extremely stressful situation, and stress has very real and well-documented effects on mental health, attention span, executive function, etc. Kids and teens are just as susceptible to the mental effects of stress as anyone else.

        People who are mentally checking out of classes or feeling a need to distract themselves on their phones are not necessarily just “lazy” or “taking advantage”. Those can be legitimate expressions of stress, depression, and anxiety.

    2. limoncello day*

      I have a suspicion that your opinion will be outnumbered, and probably there will be at least some unkind reactions (but maybe not! AAM is a wonderful community), so I will do my best to be respectful and open-minded about your character. But I do hope that, going forward, you may revisit your stance on this.

      I heard earlier today a re-phrasing of a saying that hasn’t set right with me, one that has been going around a lot lately. The saying is, “We are all in the same boat.” I’m guessing that may be where you stand on all this.

      But I disagree – we are not all in the same boat, but more like in the same storm.

      To you, what it looks like inside your boat, is that laying around all day watching netflix or playing video games = lazy = unmotivated = not okay under any circumstances. But that won’t be how it looks in someone else’s boat. Another point, is that you say it’s okay to take time to deal with mental health, but reject what may work for someone else to do exactly that (watch a lot more TV, enjoy purely recreational hobbies). If I was supporting/treating my mental health by doing these things in my own time, I would have no obligation – COVID or not – to reveal that to a hiring manager/otherwise.
      On the one hand, you say it’s ok if I do these things if I am struggling mentally, but on the other, surely we can agree that I shouldn’t have to reveal anything about my mental health struggles in the job-searching process?

      I’m starting to ramble, because my initial reaction to your comment was just so multitudinous, and emotions run high at the moment. But if you can see it that way, try to remember that going forward, that we are NOT all in the same boat/in possession of the same number of spoons. You seem to only want to work with a specific “type” of person, I’m guessing that is alike to yourself, but don’t seem to get how that isn’t a diverse method, and you might be passing up some great talent that also REALLY likes to watch movies alone/with a partner, or someone who is discovering they are great at managing groups of people who play the same game. Someone may just be really interested in a new experience, and not looking to gain anything substantial from it. You are judging what someone does in their off-time pretty harshly, or maybe not recognizing that their off-time is not your business. You are not seeing the inside of everybody’s boat, but only your own, when you have the perspective you seem to have currently.

      1. duckduckround*

        I think we overstate mental health and I say that as someone who has health issues. Everything comes down ‘but they may have mental health!’ We always focused on the exceptions.

        Just assume someone is perfectly fine and their life is fine and they did nothing for six months by chill out. Is that someone you’d want to hire for a competitive role?

        This isn’t about off time. Do what you like in your off time. This is about the fact there are millions of people off work who now have more free time than they had before and their life is fine and they are fine and it is reasonable to expect they did something at least mildly productive in that time.

        There are of course exceptions but don’t focus on the exception. What would be your expectations as an employer in a competitive role for a perfectly fine person who now has tens of hours of free time per week? Wouldn’t you expect a little something from them? They can still watch TV! But may spend god like two hours a week doing something that you can talk about in an interview. It’s not a big ask.

        1. limoncello day*

          But according to your logic, you’d pass up someone who would be honest about what they do in their free time, when it has nothing to do with work, in favor of someone who would lie about how they spent their time just because you like the sound of their answer better? Why do you not think they’d lie about their work performance as well?
          Also, say you hire the person who DOES fit your expectations, but they start to watch a ton of TV or get really involved with a game after they’re been hired? How would it affect you/their work performance? How would you even know?
          And I’m interested in your take on this: would you not hire someone who watches a couple of movies EVERY night after work, but you would hire someone who watches a few movies after work because they have a hobby/side job as a movie reviewer? Is it being able to quantify/qualify for yourself what they are getting out of the hobby/side job?

          Honestly, with VERY few exceptions, I don’t even want to know what my coworkers do outside of work at all. I can say it DEFINITELY wouldn’t come into play for a hiring decision.

          Also, assuming that someone even wants to do something for two hours a week just to please you in an interview, especially during COVID, is a big ask.

          1. duckduckround*

            Many of you are misunderstanding ‘free time’. After work or caring or volunteering people can do what they like.

            I’m talking about people who now have totally clear schedules. No work. No caring. No nothing. You can’t just say you watch Netflix 8 hours a day. You’re going to have to say something else.

            And no, I wouldn’t hire someone who thinks saying ‘I did nothing all day’ is a reasonable answer, even if that is what they did do.

            You can’t just say you did literally nothing for months on end. It doesn’t look good and advising people of that is wrong. You’ve got have something to say about several months of your life – you looked after the kids, cared for your elderly parent, did a free online course, whatever. You can’t say ‘nothing’.

            1. limoncello day*

              But again, no one – or at least no one I am seeing – is saying that. Most people are defending their choices to do whatever they please, or saying that your line of questioning and assuming can veer dangerously toward biased hiring. We’re saying the question is wrong, and that your assumptions are… I don’t want to say flat out wrong, but.. shortsighted about what makes up a good employee.

            2. VintageLydia*

              I know literally no one with such free time right now, including young adults and students. Even my unemployed friends are finding that normal life maintenance stuff is taking MUCH more out of them than before between how time consuming normal errands are plus the emotional toll a collective global-wide trauma imparts.

              Again, this isn’t a sabbatical and most of the things you’d normally do to wile away the time in a productive manner is gone (volunteering, especially.)

              1. Kuvemach*

                The mayor of my city has hosted several conference calls about volunteer opportunities (including virtual ones) available during quarantine.

            3. Observer*

              Who do you know of that has “totally clear schedules”? That’s a total straw man. This question is not being asked of people who are re-entering the workforce after a spell without any other commitments. These questions are being directed either in general or specifically to people just getting out of school, because being in school is EXACTLY like having no obligations and nothing on their schedule.

              Your defense of the question seems to rest on a fundamental misunderstanding of the lives of most people. Most people, young and old, do NOT in fact have “totally clear schedules. No work. No caring. No nothing.” So you are asking to people to share their personal lives – lives which are none of your business – JUST IN CASE you might be interviewing the one person in your entire city that actually had NOTHING AT ALL going on in their lives.

            4. Avasarala*

              Who is not working or caring for anyone, and also lying around the house like they’re on summer vacation? People are trying desperately to survive while not being able to leave their homes.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          *Everyone* has to tend to their mental health during this pandemic. Even “normal” people. Fear, anxiety, feelings of isolation, stress, worry, grief, anger, etc are present for most people to a greater or lesser degree, but it *is not zero* for everybody.

          Why the hell should people have to “two hours a week doing something that you can talk about in an interview.”???

          Why? What gives anyone the right to demand the performance of virtue like the interviewee was a trained company monkey?

          IDGAF what someone does in their free time, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. It’s their time. If they want to spend it in lotus position praying for whirled peas they can.

          My employer doesn’t get to command my free time. My future prospective employers don’t either.

          1. Kuvemach*

            “IDGAF what someone does in their free time, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. It’s their time. If they want to spend it in lotus position praying for whirled peas they can. My employer doesn’t get to command my free time. My future prospective employers don’t either.”

            Dude, of course you have the *right* to do whatever you want in your free time. It’s not like me, duckduckround, or some Big Evil Company has a hologram avatar that can force you to read a book rather than pray for whirled peas.

            But you’re competing against other people for jobs and promotions, and some of them will have chosen to use that time strategically, as is *their* right. And the companies awarding those promotions may look for people who have used that time strategically, as is *their* right.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              If that is their criteria for hiring, I hope they get what they want: A soulless, subservient automaton who puts work and career ahead of family, friends and their own mental health. I’ve worked with people like that. The burnouts are spectacular.

            2. mrs__peel*

              There are plenty of employers out there who don’t treat their employees like replaceable cogs in a machine. If that’s been your experience of the working world, I hope you manage to find a better one someday.

              Many of my coworkers and I have been with the same employer for 10+ years, and they have very good retention because they know that *every employee* is a human being and is sometimes affected by circumstances outside their control. Any company that approaches hiring right now with the viewpoint that this pandemic is just like any other normal time in their employees’ lives, and that makes no exceptions for exceptional circumstances, is going to lose a LOT of money on staff turnover. It’s an incredibly poor and shortsighted way to conduct a business.

        3. mrs__peel*

          “the fact there are millions of people off work who now have more free time than they had before and their life is fine and they are fine”

          Are we living in the same universe? Because this certainly doesn’t describe anybody I know right now.

      2. Important Moi*

        Your words are so kind limoncello day. I will incorporate the phrase “going forward, you may revisit your stance on this.” It says so much with so few words.

        I must must speak on one one particular aspect of your post: “You seem to only want to work with a specific “type” of person, I’m guessing that is alike to yourself, but don’t seem to get how that isn’t a diverse method…” The birth of the good’ol boy system. The topic is not about how a lack of a diverse talent pool/place of employment develops, but this is exactly how it starts. You hit the nail on the head!

        1. limoncello day*

          It’s… a new skill, for me. : ) I have a lot of less mature ground to make up for. I’m so impressed when people show their grace and tactfulness. In the past, being vindictive and angry, and even belittling sometimes, was a survival instinct, and it may have served me well in some ways, but I think it ultimately holds me back from developing my thoughts fully. It’s not possible to treat every situation with kindness, but I’m trying to at least start there more often.

          And we definitely agree on the good ol boy system!

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            You are being a better person than I am. My instinct to excoriate things I consider inappropriate tends to be high.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              I’m with you. Whatever instinct I once had toward “when they go low, we go high” has been beaten out of me by the last few years.

    3. A nom nom nominous*

      I used to work for a Fortune 500 company that offered all employees not only a generous vacation package, which we were encouraged to use, but at the ten-year anniversary of our hire a three-month sabbatical, which we were required to take. It was an opportunity, we were told, for us to just be. We could do with it what we wanted. We were expected only to return to our jobs afterward rested and refreshed.

      Some people have been working nonstop they were small children. School, summer enrichment activities, extracurriculars, college, internships, career.

      Now, for unfortunate reasons, fate has handed them a damned break. If they want to photograph their pets or binge crime shows or make snarky needlepoint pillows or smoke weed or build pillow forts, good for them! Doing nothing (or, let’s be accurate, doing nothing marketable) is something all of us should try doing when the opportunity presents itself.

      I have gaps in my resume, both before and during Covid, because I like aimless leisure time so much that I work and save money so I can enjoy some intermittently. It’s utterly harmless, and doesn’t make any less valid the skills and accomplishments on my resume.

      If a hiring manager prioritizes finding someone who will stay at their job until retirement, I’m not the right human, because I am 100% going to step off the hamster wheel when I have the means to do so, not so I can found a startup but so I can do whatever I want, including dick around doing nothing useful at all.

      It’s pretty awesome. You should try it.

      1. duckduckround*

        I very much enjoy aimless leisure. Telling young grads that they can answer the Covid question by saying ‘aimless leisure’ is doing them a disservice.

        Competitive hires can do what they like. If you’re an in demand employee it doesn’t matter. But if you’re someone who is competing hard for jobs then no you can’t just tell an interviewer that you spent months on aimless leisure. That’s unrealistic.

        1. limoncello day*

          But I think people are saying the question just shouldn’t be asked, and you’re saying it should be asked because it reveals aspects of their character that make them more desirable/hireable – and then we’re all saying that we disagree with you that it does NOT make them either more desirable or hireable because those things don’t matter at work.

          I’m confused where you’re seeing anyone suggest that a new grad should tell an interviewer that they “spent months on aimless leisure.” Could you point out where you see that?

        2. Anon for this*

          You are aware, though, by asking that question you might be putting your foot in the middle of a lot of pain and it would make you seem tone deaf, insensitive, and out of touch because you seem to be assuming young, healthy people can’t get sick (they can) and can’t lose people they care about to COVID-19. Three of my loved ones have died and, as the unemployed person with no care taking duties, I am the one charged with planning the funerals and settling the affairs and that, and mourning, is all I am going to accomplish for the time being. What, exactly, does, “Planned 3 funerals and mourned” tell you about my ability to do a job unless that job is funeral planning or professional mourner?

    4. Kiki*

      I once spent a full month getting very into McDonald’s monopoly but I am now an incredibly productive (exceeds expectations on every review) software engineer. People take time off, have dry spells, or need time to find something they’re passionate before becoming industrious. Narrowing in on a very specific spell of time in someone’s life in a job interview, especially one that is known to be widely traumatic and full of hardship for many people, is rarely demonstrative of how they’ll be as an employee. You have to look at their record as a whole.

    5. Business Catto*

      I really don’t like this judgment of how people spend their time during an unprecedented, global pandemic. We’re all trying to not die. My free time is not your concern.
      Additionally, assuming applicants will willingly reveal they “took a health break” is shortsighted- it teeters on the line of expecting people to disclose medical conditions!
      (and it’s super condescending to assume playing video games and watching Netflix means you’re unmotivated. They’re just one of the few things keeping people sane right now- mental health is declining across the country. )

    6. M*

      How would you be able to tell who is “struggling mentally” and that was the reason that they didn’t “accomplish” much????

    7. Nesprin*

      Major issue: how do you determine if someone has a health issue that lead them to binging netflix without asking them about their health? I mean, it sure would be great to be able to discriminate based on health or income or home situation, but legal gets twitchy.

      /end sarcasm

  37. Jam Today*

    I suppose “flattened by crippling anxiety and depression over the shameful state of humanity and our cruel selfishness” is probably not a good interview answer, yeah?

  38. BRR*

    I have no doubt this question will be asked a good amount, but I’m going to hold on to some hope that it won’t be that common. Now that I put some more thought into it I can only imagine the awful covid-19 questions that are going to be asked.

    Anyways, this gives me strong vibes of “hiring advice from people who don’t do any hiring and/or need a ‘hack’ to give because a lot of people don’t want to read basic job search advice.” Also I imagine a lot of people who are passing this around think that because it’s a more common question for unemployed candidates and that this advice was given a lot post-2008 recession , it’s going to be asked. This situation is so unprecedented though who knows.

  39. LegallyRed*

    I would LOVE to be asked this question on day. “How did you make yourself useful during the pandemic?” By growing a baby and fighting cancer AT THE SAME TIME.

    1. Tidewater 4-1009*

      Reminds me of when Gloria was pregnant on Modern Family. IRRC Jay asked her why she was tired. She said, “I don’t know. Maybe because I’m turning food into a person?”
      I had never thought of pregnancy that way before.
      Good luck! That sounds way too challenging.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I’m fostering some bottle-baby kittens, and I’m here to tell you: they turn kitten formula into more kitten (and some poop).

  40. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

    You could try asking them if their arms are sore from waving that giant red flag.

    Seriously though, this is infuriating, not least because often this type of content floating around online is just often written as content for the sake of content, with no real thought behind it.

    OP try not to worry, take each day as it comes and trust you when an opportunity does arise you will be valued for what you bring to the table – and if not, it wasn’t the right fit for you anyway.

      1. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

        he he, sincerely hope you don’t need to use too often though :)

  41. nnn*

    The weird thing about this question is there’s no norm for asking people what they did during other externally-imposed downtime. Interviewers don’t ask you “What did you achieve during xmas break?” or “What did you achieve during the hurricane?” So somehow the pandemic – the most disruptive peacetime incident that has happened to many of us – gets a higher standards?

    Also, many people were sick during the pandemic. (Hence, pandemic.) “What did you achieve while you had cancer?”

    1. nep*

      Good point. It’s perverse…I think it does go along with the well-intentioned initiatives of helping people find ways cope with this period (and everyone is different on that score, of course). It gets all twisted into, ‘you have to build a tiny house, start a business, and do an MBA during the pandemic to prove yourself.’

    2. back*

      The weird thing about this question is there’s no norm for asking people what they did during other externally-imposed downtime. Interviewers don’t ask you “What did you achieve during xmas break?”

      Actually there is, and that may be the root of my OH HELL NO to this: it’s very common in elementary school to write an essay on the theme of “what I did over my break”.

      Plus you also had homework over your breaks. But you couldn’t answer “I did my homework”. You had to come up with something interesting to write.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I hated that in school. My usual answer was “I read a bunch of books.” Which was a cheat, because I always read a bunch of books in my spare time.

      2. Elbe*

        To be fair, in that case the kids are likely being graded on their effort and writing skills and not the content of what they did over break. I would think that a well-written essay about doing chores and going to daycare would score just as well as a well-written essay about a lavish overseas trip.

        What’s horrible about the Covid question is that people are actually being evaluated based on the content of the response.

  42. voluptuousfire*

    It’s really insensitive. What it someone spent their time taking care of a COVID-stricken family member or even got really sick with it themselves and ended up in the hospital for weeks? It’s such a loaded and shortsighted question to ask.

  43. Wendy Darling*

    I’m in basically the most privileged possible position pandemic-wise — my partner and I live together and have stable jobs we can do from home, neither of us has gotten the virus (yet — touch wood), we don’t have dependents, we’re not responsible for caring for anyone except an old lazy dog, we have enough money that we can still get everything we need.

    And yet what I’ve done during the pandemic so far is produce 3 meals a day for 2 people who no longer eat outside the home, keep our apartment from descending into chaos and filth now that neither of us basically ever leaves it, figure out how to safely keep us in human food, dog food, and toilet paper as panic-buying and supply chain issues mean random staples are on and off unavailable, and yell at my parents over text because they’re both high risk but also both totally suck at social distancing.

    Any spare energy I may have is dedicated to trying not to lose my mind, and being patient with my partner while he tries not to lose his mind. And brushing my dog because he’s decided that this is a good time to practice for the Shedding Olympics.

    When all this is over, if you ask me what I achieved I’m probably going to give you a weird look and tell you I kept my household alive and basically healthy and comfortable. That’s more than sufficient and I’m lucky I’m even able to do it!

    1. Anon for this one*

      I’m in a similarly privileged position but wouldn’t characterise cooking and basic housework and grocery shopping as skills that I could highlight to future employers here.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I was not characterizing those as skills I could highlight to future employers, and you apparently need to focus more on your reading comprehension and less on dunking on strangers in blog comments.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        PS, if you’re too gutless to sign your name to the dunk, don’t post the dunk.

  44. Jennifer Juniper*

    If someone asked me that, I’d glare at them and say, “I’ve been on lockdown. I’m staying at home because my wife is high risk. I cannot volunteer anywhere or work as a key worker.”

  45. Lovecraft Beauty*

    I want someone to answer this question with “Well, I was on a ventilator 24 hours a day for a couple weeks in there, so I’m really proud of the time I spent learning to breathe independently after that. What did you do?”

  46. Princess Zelda*

    I’m incredibly fortunate to actually have “extra” time, and I’m teaching myself a little Japanese for fun. I still wouldn’t want to answer this question. The reason I have “extra” time is because I lost one of my jobs, and 60% of my money with it! All my expenses except rent are coming out of savings right now, because I make juuuuust above the unemployment cap at my remaining job. I’m forcing myself to remain on a schedule because I’m anxious and depressed and living in existential dread and schedules help a little, and “learn Japanese” is a fun break activity to schedule in the middle of my day that has nothing to do with anything. It’s not productive time, by design! I have no plans to work in East Asia or do… anything, at all, with my new abilities, other than entertain myself.

    I’m definitely keeping a copy of Alison’s script; given my active job search, I think I’ll need it.

  47. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I’m single, live alone, no caregiving responsibilities, and have been unemployed since before the pandemic.
    I *still* haven’t found time to continue the online coding course I started. I spend my time on 3-4 shopping trips/week- including ~40 minutes after each trip to wipe everything down – job searching, volunteering, walking for exercise, preparing food, and sleeping. And scrolling Facebook to cope with the isolation.
    I know I should probably table the job search and prioritize the coding, but I both feel obligated, and am obligated to keep up with it because I’m on unemployment. One day I’ll figure out the time management.

  48. Going Viral*

    All of what’s been said, but also, I’m certain many of us who spent the pandemic HAVING Covid-19 don’t really want to discuss our medical conditions during a job interview.

    1. Observer*

      But, but, but! Why would anyone even THINK that you might actually have been seriously ill with Covid. I mean it was just a pandemic and only 90,000 people died. And only 198k people wound up in the hospital. No really knows anyone who was seriously sick.

  49. His Grace*

    Asking a question such as this tells me two things. The interviewer is clueless and the company may not be worth it. But I would still play along, and offer an anodyne response, move on with the interview and then ask the same question when it’s time to ask the questions.

  50. nnn*

    Ugh, I just clicked through to the tweet Alison linked to, and why on earth would they assume there’s *demand* for volunteers during a lockdown?? How detached from reality do you have to be to come up with that idea?

  51. LGC*

    I mean, I actually am learning new skills while I’m bored in the house and I’m in the house bored, but also I’m not happy about the situation! “Hundreds of thousands of Americans dying, millions being sickened, and tens of millions being impoverished” is not the price I want to pay to have time to learn new skills, and frankly no one should want that.

    And that’s the ghoulish (and fine, I’ll say it, typically American) part about that email. Everything gets treated as an opportunity for self-improvement, including avoidable mass death.

    1. mrs__peel*

      I highly recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bright Sided”, which delves into the peculiarly American obsession with putting a “positive” spin on everything (regardless of how inherently devastating it is). Especially in the healthcare arena.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      FYI – It seems to me that the school in question is Teeside University, which is in England.

      1. LGC*

        1) I’m surprised it’s not an American college doing this.
        2) …it surprises me less that it’s an English university doing this.

  52. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    “I honed my interview and general conversational skills in order to more quickly assess whether supposed red flags are are just minor inconveniences or actual deal breakers. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, but I don’t think this company would be a good fit for me.”

    And then you walk out the door and treat yourself to something nice.

    Nobody who is that tone-deaf and out of touch with the harsh realities of a potentially deadly situation deserves your time or energy.

  53. Misty*

    “What did you achieve during the shutdown, even if you weren’t working?”

    Tried not to die, dealt with living 24/7 with six roommates in a three and a half bedroom house, navigated classes going online even though only half of our place gets spotty wifi, talked to my elderly neighbor on the phone every day for a couple of hours because he’s lonely ever since his wife died earlier this year, cried a lot, ended up in the hospital for five days, worried about how we would pay rent, called food banks to try and find some still open, tried to tamp down the constant anxiety and be patient with everyone around me who is also extremely anxious, depressed, scared, and sad.

    If I was genuinely asked this in an interview before reading Allison’s response, I likely would have just said I spent time focusing on classes, but now after reading Allison’s response, I’m glad I have something I can say. I can see companies asking people this but they def should not.

    You really can never know someone’s situation from the outside. You can’t tell if they had a family member die, if they ended up in the hospital themselves, if they had housing instability, if they were worried about having enough to eat, if they were dealing with health or mental health issues. Everyone is trying the best they can right now. There’s just no way this is a humane question to ask imo.

    1. Kuvemach*

      “talked to my elderly neighbor on the phone every day for a couple of hours because he’s lonely ever since his wife died earlier this year…”

      That shows leadership. So, your interview goes something like this:

      “Question: what did you do during the quarantine?”
      “I organized a virtual support group for senior citizens in my community to support their mental health.”

      1. Observer*

        Misty did not “organize a support group.” I’ll point out that expecting people to MAKE STUFF UP or exaggerate and misrepresent what they did to sound impressive does not get you the best candidates. It DOES get you people whose self assessments are useless on a good day, and who are more about flash than substance.

        This particular piece of bluff also points to a an environment where fantastical “leadership” is more important than empathy, humanity and the willingness to extend oneself to help someone out. I don’t blame anyone who cannot / does not do this. But honestly? If someone is willing to spend that much time helping someone who is lonely, THAT is something important. Not the “leadership” displayed by picking up a ph one.

        1. Kuvemach*

          I disagree. I think that being able to describe facts in a *truthful* way that puts them in the best light is an important skill. Like it or not, in marketing, finding the right angle can be important. People who are shy about self-promotion don’t get promoted.

          And yes, I value leadership . I’d disagree with you that leadership is necessarily incompatible with empathy — a longer discussion, to be sure — but I absolutely value leadership, and I make no apologies for that. If you don’t, apply somewhere else to work.

          1. mrs__peel*

            There’s “self-promotion” and then there’s outright lying. Which is what you described above.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            In addition to what mrs_peel said: why the preoccupation with “leadership”? Why does everyone have to *lead*? A group where everyone is trying to be the leader simultaneously will just dissolve into chaos as they all try to pull it in different directions. Most people are going to spend a lot more time following than leading. You can’t have an orchestra where everyone is the conductor – and without the orchestra, the conductor would just be someone in tux and tails standing on a box waving a stick around.

            “Leadership” is one of those nonsense corporate buzzwords that bad managers love to shoehorn into everything but don’t actually think about.

        2. Misty*

          “If someone is willing to spend that much time helping someone who is lonely, THAT is something important.”

          If I’m being completely honest, I just really like talking to him. He has a long of advice, cool stories and good life stories due to being in his 90s. It’s actually super awesome.

          But if I got asked this question at a job interview, I wouldn’t lie about it or try to spin it. I don’t think that I would be able to spin the pandemic into a success story (for me personally) but if they absolutely pressed me, I could say I worked on college classes which is truthful as I finished the semester and am taking two online classes this summer.

        3. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. Valuing self-promotion and ~confidence~ over actual competence and character is how our culture ends up with people like the current occupant of the White House in charge.

      2. VintageLydia*

        That answer is a lie which any interviewer worth their salt will figure out the second they ask a follow-up question. They didn’t organize other people to do things. Not to discount what they are doing, which is awesome and noble and very good, but it’s organizing literally nothing. But it’s not a marketable skill anyone gives an iota about. For all your talk about everyone having all this free time and judging pretty harshly on it, I’m surprised you’d so easily suggest someone straight up **lie** about it.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh, I’m not surprised. People like Kuvemach who value “drive” and “hustle” and self-promotion over everything else will lie all the damn time about everything to get ahead.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What on earth? No. That’s a lie. If someone told me that in an interview, I’d ask follow up questions to learn more and when it came out what it really meant (and that they’d lied originally to sound more impressive), it would almost definitely be disqualifying. This is terrible advice; please stop.

  54. Samuel*

    I completely understand the impulse to push back and reply with a respectful, “Just trying to keep our heads above water during these tough times!”. But the reality is, we’re facing unprecedented unemployment levels, with graduate-level professionals and 10-year veterans competing for entry level jobs. It’s absolutely true that only a horribly invasive employer would ask the “what did you do during the pandemic?” question; nonetheless, many people right now absolutely cannot afford to say no to an offer from such a company. Norms and ethics aside, this question WILL be asked by a good number of god awful employers who think they’re selecting for go-getters. If you truly can’t say no to any offer, you’re best served by preparing a good-sounding answer to this awful question.

    If they’re asking the question, you can reasonably expect that the correct answer is, “I learned a programming language/took an Excel class/improved my design skills!” My advice is: say you learned a skill that’s tangential to the job. This way if you’re hired you won’t be tested on said skill, but you’ll still look driven and (perhaps more importantly) in a fairly privileged position where quarantine life isn’t affecting your productivity.

  55. Stephivist*

    So, I’m interviewing right now. I haven’t asked this question of course (nor do I care at all what they’ve been doing!), but every single candidate has asked me what my staff is doing right now. Which is great! Job hunters are using this opportunity to get a good look at our response to an emergency and how we rank staff safety.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Cool. That is actually the more important issue: How is your company protecting its employees?

  56. D3*

    I know someone who could – and probably would – answer with “Waiting minute by minute for updates on my mom from the hospital. Dealing with her death. Planning an online funeral. Being the executor of her estate.”
    Because she’s so over this whole line of thinking and would just serve up brutal honesty, and perhaps tears because if they came she wouldn’t stifle them – in response to that question.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I asked a coworker how she was doing this morning and she said “You want the honest answer?”

      I said “Yes, I can handle honesty right now” (because I knew she was going through a rough time and I really care about her). And she answered with something similar to what your friend would say. I was glad she could get it off her chest, but I wasn’t interviewing her for a job.

      I sincerely hope for the best for you and your friend.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      People who ask inappropriate or invasive questions deserve brutal honesty from anyone who feels like dishing it out.

  57. Lana Kane*

    I don’t think that we should discount the fact that in the online world, there is judge pressure to generate content. I can easily see a few content editors thinking this is an easy way to generate some.

  58. Total*

    I survived, you f***ing a***ole. What did you do?

    I recognize that this may not get me the job, but…

  59. Jedi Squirrel*

    “I learned how not to die.”

    Because that is a skill I actually had to learn.

  60. Allison*

    Someone on online dating just asked “what I had learned about myself during the quarantine” and that was bad enough, geez

  61. Marvel*

    Ugh. I would hate this question because the honest answer is, “I’m finally seeing a trauma therapist to treat my long-untreated complex PTSD. And also, my partner and I have started having sex again after a years-long dry spell.”

    In some ways, even though it’s driving me bonkers, this downtime has actually been really good for me. Trauma therapy is… really, really difficult. I did 8 years of “normal” talk therapy and I cried in front of my therapist all of once. In 8 years. I sometimes spend 45 minutes straight crying with this therapist, and I’m NOT typically a crier, it’s just a physical reaction to the stuff we’re working through. I can do this largely because I don’t need to be fully functional right now, which means I can go places in my head that would not be fully safe for me to go if I were then expected to go work a 16 hour shift at a theatre the next day. I’m rearranging the ways in which I understand myself and my life at a remarkable rate because of this, and I get to practice applying new ways of… existing, I guess, in a space that is somewhat removed from the rest of the world before I have to start applying it to the variety of situations one usually encounters in working life.

    Some things are personal, and for people like me who are childless and unable to work from home (my entire industry is shut down right now), this is an incredible opportunity to work on personal things that have been put off due to lack of time, sometimes for years. And that’s nobody’s business.

  62. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Oh, I like how Alison would turn that question around on the interviewer. Say it with the sweetest smile. Too bad you can’t throw “bless your heart” somewhere in there.

  63. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    During the recession of 2001-2002 I lost my “dream” job and got by with temp jobs and freelancing, with gaps between projects. I asked a friend who was an HR professional if hiring managers would recognize that that crappy period on my resume was due to a recession when companies were shedding lots of workers and not see me as unable to keep a job. She said they should, but that as time passed it might fall off their radar and for younger managers coming up later, it might not even be on their radar.

  64. Random IT person*

    I worked on. supported my colleagues and my company to the best of my ability.
    How about you? (if they ever would ask me this in an interview).

    Remember – an interview is both ways. If they ask, that tells you something.
    How they reply, tells you even more.

  65. AuroraLight37*

    In my case, I’ve started a new job in the last week, so I can see being asked how online only training went or something during a future interview. But for probably 95% of the population, it’s not a good question for all the reasons people have laid out.

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