In-person meetings in the time of COVID-19

Handshakes? Masks? Social distancing? What is proper etiquette? Experts agree: public health is more important than traditional U.S. cultural norms. And… you still want to know how to make your best first impression. Whether you are heading to a networking event or interviewing for a job or internship— the return to the possibility of in-person events brings new challenges on top of typical nerves. Here’s what you need to know:

Door sign that states "Handshake free zone".

Ask about COVID-19 etiquette in advance of interviews

Certain normal pleasantries like handshakes may be out and replaced with a friendly nod or wave. The interviewer might ask you to wash or sanitize your hands before the interview begins. Knowing this information beforehand will help you come across as prepared and professional. If you don’t know the expectations, decide on what feels comfortable to you: nodding, waving, and bowing are all ways to acknowledge meeting someone for the first time without touching them. If meeting in person feels awkward, it’s fine to call out that awkwardness. “It’s so nice to meet you— I’d shake your hand, but of course the pandemic makes that awkward.” Then, move on to more relevant conversation.

Be prepared to discuss the pandemic

The pandemic is not a topic that can or should be avoided in conversation. Be prepared for comments about it (and questions!) to come up. Think about how you might answer questions about how you’ve been handling the chaos. Note that people you meet likely have a wide variety of experiences and an even wider sense of how much they do or do not want to share (as do you!). Preparing in advance and practicing deflecting inquiries that feel uncomfortable will go a long way. How might you answer some of these newly common interview questions?

Keep your face covered

Face masks are the new normal in situations with new people or large gatherings (recommended by the CDC and may be required by the hosts). Despite our collective experience, they still make expressing enthusiasm more difficult. Body language has become more important, including nodding, making hand gestures, facing your body towards the person you’re talking to, and making eye contact. Practice enunciating and speak slower than normal to ensure that you don’t have to keep repeating yourself. And, when awkwardness surrounding masks inevitably comes up (“Sorry, what was that you said?”) remember that it is happening to everyone; don’t let it derail your confidence.

Keep your distance

Pre-pandemic, conversations between folks were often closer than 6-feet. Take note of where others are standing/sitting, and be mindful of your own comfort level with physical distance. Again, it may still feel awkward, but it is collectively awkward. You may need to speak a little louder than normal.


New problems need new solutions. Use the CCPD’s 24/7 Big Interview platform to set yourself up for success. Then meet with a career coach for a mock interview to feel most prepared.

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