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For context, this is the UK where masks are encouraged in public and mandated on public transport. At the time of asking, masks were not compulsory in stores and similar locations.

I have been invited to an in-person interview. Is there an established etiquette surrounding PPE yet, in the same way candidates are expected to look smart and wear suits? Will an interviewer see me badly if I wear a mask without being asked, or if I don't?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 3 '20 at 1:25

10 Answers 10

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The mask is an additional measure on top of social distancing. Presumably, the meeting will take place in a meeting room where the social distance can be maintained.

Having partaken in an interview recently myself, once all participants were seated (at an appropriate distance), I took off my mask since no one was going to come near me anyway. When the meeting ended, I put the mask back on, thanked them and left.

I suspect you'll encounter a similar situation. Should the meeting take place in a room where the recommended distance cannot be preserved, then you can mention that you prefer to keep the mask on and that you hope it's not an issue.

Will an interviewer see me badly if I wear a mask without being asked, or if I don't?

No one can write a one-size-fits-all answer that applies for every interviewer. As the news has shown us, there are those who strongly agree with wearing a mask as well as those who vehemently disagree.

Putting my opinion on these people's opinions aside, you can't know for a fact whether an interviewer lands in either one of these camps.

But wearing a mask is definitely not inappropriate when arriving for and leaving the interview. During the interview, I would personally remove the mask if all other precautions are being observed, but if you would prefer not to then you should communicate that.

In short, any reasonable interviewer shouldn't take offense at you wearing a mask - though if all other precautions are observed I don't quite see the necessity of wearing a mask in a seated meeting when no one comes close to you.

If you end up in a situation where you're forced out of a (currently very reasonable) safety/comfort zone, then I would count that as an indication that this company might not be the right match for you.

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    Don't forget that an interview is a 2 way street. You are interviewing them at the same time they are interviewing you. If you disagree with their handling of wearing masks, you have the right to not accept their offer, if it comes. And if the interviewer becomes rude about you wearing a mask, you may even consider leaving the interview early. In this case be professional, but firm that them being rude is not acceptable and the reason for you leaving early. If that burns a bridge, it might be a bridge that won't be missed. YMMV and only a suggestion. Jun 19 '20 at 20:42
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    "I don't quite see the necessiry of wearing a mask in a seated meeting when no one comes close to you" - Proximity increases the danger of contracting the disease, but lack thereof is not a guarantee of safety. That's why the recommendation is a mask in addition to social distancing. Even if the indication about the room is that it is probably safe, OP still should not feel compelled to remove their mask if they don't feel comfortable doing so.
    – Abion47
    Jun 19 '20 at 22:57
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    Wouldn't matter, common masks don't do jack to protect you. They protect others from you, when you're in that Typhoid Mary stage of the disease. If everyone else stays masked, then sure, you can take yours off (but if you are sick you will infect them). But if you are around unmasked people, you are vulnerable. So if they're not wearing masks... run... Jun 20 '20 at 7:04
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    @Abion47 - That's why the recommendation is a mask in addition to social distancing. - citation? The WHO guidelines Harper referred to elsewhere recommend non-medical mask when social-distancing can't be maintained but unless I'm missing something, not when it is.
    – Gwyn Evans
    Jun 21 '20 at 13:40
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    downvote, you need to wear a mask all the darn time when around strangers. talking spreads corona
    – bharal
    Aug 10 '20 at 7:10
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Will an interviewer see me badly if I wear a mask without being asked, or if I don't?

If you wear a mask for health reasons, then do not worry about what the interviewer thinks of you wearing a mask. Remember that part of the interview process is for you to interview the company. If you wear a mask for health reasons, would you really want to work for a company that does not appear to value its employees health?

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    The health reason is "there's a pandemic" rather than anything specific to me.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jun 19 '20 at 12:02
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    @Studoku-ReinstateMonica that sounds like a pretty good reason to me!
    – Seth R
    Jun 19 '20 at 13:23
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    Do you know about the pandemic? Do you know how the masks work? Do you think "Oh, the mask protects me"? No, only military NBC gear or hospital-grade mask/shield/gloves do that. The common masks stop virus you are exhaling. That is all they do. If everyone used them they would work. Jun 20 '20 at 7:02
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    @BrianC That looks like it should have been an answer rather than a comment.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jun 20 '20 at 11:53
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I would recommend to arrive with a mask and only take it off after you know if it's OK.

After your arrival, look out for any signs regarding the pandemic prevention rules which apply on the premise and follow them. When you can not find any, then observe and mimic the behaviour of the employees. If people on the corridors wear masks, keep yours on. If nobody wears a mask, take it off. If the behaviour is mixed, keep it on until the interview and ask the interviewers if they would prefer for you to conduct the interview with the mask or without it.

Remember, we are not wearing masks for our own protection, we are wearing them for the protection of others.

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  • Also look around, in some places there are information about PPE. For example my company have protective shield at reception and they inform about need to wear PPE and give out free ones. Jun 19 '20 at 12:00
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    "If nobody wears a mask, take it off" isn't particularly great advice. This isn't a company culture type of issue where you do as the Romans do, it's a health issue regardless of what the Romans are doing. Arguably, wearing your mask is more important when others aren't. OP can choose to take their mask off but shouldn't do so just because others aren't wearing theirs.
    – Flater
    Jun 19 '20 at 13:49
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    Better yet just keep it on unless you have a reason not to. It is a bit annoying, but randomly taking it off and on greatly redcues its effect. Jun 19 '20 at 14:10
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    If nobody wears a mask, FRICKIN' RUN. Your mask is weak tea if one of them is in the contagious/asymptomatic period... that person's mask would make all the difference in the world. That's why masks need everyone to do it. If they don't frickin' get it, they're not safe to be around. Jun 20 '20 at 8:15
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    -1 for "only take it off after you know if it's OK." You cannot know if it's OK, because you cannot know if anyone around you has the virus, or perhaps someone who left the room 15 minutes before you entered has the virus. "Remember, we are not wearing masks for our own protection, we are wearing them for the protection of others." is also wrong. If there are two people in a room and one has the virus, masking them lowers the risk the most. But masking both of them lowers it more than just masking one.
    – Dan C
    Jun 20 '20 at 14:13
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Wear a mask anywhere you think it makes you safer and wherever it is mandatory.

Until WHO or your government's health officials proclaim that the pandemic is over, no one can reasonably blame you for wearing a mask.

If the company or its management are encouraging unsafe behaviour, it is either not your company, or you are one of those risky types and the company is a private army. If they have a culture of neglecting people's safety and health (no matter if it is for money or just because), one can bet it is not limited to covid19.

p.s. Choosing a mask that doesn't interfere with your speech and/or combines better with your clothing style is not forbidden and may be an important part of the impression you make.

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    But masks don't make you safer unless you're using the hospital grade PPE. That's not how masks work. People who get COVID are contagious for a week or two before they feel sick. During that time, if you are masked, yours traps the virus cells you are aspirating, protecting others. Get it? It's not a personal risk choice. It's herd immunity. Jun 20 '20 at 6:45
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    Masks do lower the risk to a significant extent for both the wearer and others. Some types do more than others. They don't absolutely protect, but this is completely out of topic.
    – fraxinus
    Jun 20 '20 at 7:44
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    @Harper - Reinstate Monica you keep repeating a completely wrong thing and should stop doing that. You don't know what you are talking about wrt masks.
    – eps
    Jun 20 '20 at 15:57
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    @eps But I'm right. Read the medical literature. (here, first one that popped up): "...it is necessary to change this view, which could be achieved if the message conveyed by a facemask was ‘my facemask protects you, your facemask protects me’." which is literally what I am saying. Jun 20 '20 at 16:54
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    @eps Would you care to refute Harper’s point, preferably backed by evidence and/or research?
    – VGR
    Jun 20 '20 at 19:13
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Wear a mask.

The recommendation from public health officials is to wear a mask. This is to curb the spread of the disease during this pandemic and help people safe. Not wearing a mask anywhere is poor etiquette because it shows a disregard for health and safety.

It doesn't matter what others do. It doesn't matter if it an interview or a trip to the grocery store. Wear a mask because it's the right thing to do.

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Some people may think "it's all over" and you are a bit paranoid, yet given the current situation that shouldn't harm your application. Other people will consider imprudent from your part to enter their building not wearing a mask.

You should wear a mask to the interview, and wait for their instructions before taking it off. When you first meet the people there, acknowledge that we are in a strange situation and outside the normal customs.

For example: “Hello. It seems odd not to handshake you. And I would have never expected to attend to an interview masked. How are you handling interviews these covid times?”

I would expect that their reply to be something like: “Yes, we all need to get used to these. Don't worry, we will be heading to a large room, where will be able to take it off and talk comfortably while keeping the required separation. Right now a colleague is sanitizing it after the previous interview. Please use the hand sanitizer that is here beside the door.”

Some remarks:

  • I would expect there to be some chitchat about confinement / covid while waiting / making you at ease. You may want to think in advance what you want to share (or not) at this point.
  • You most likely will find that the interviewers will want you to remove your mask, in order evaluate your facial expressions during the interview.
  • At the same time, Human Resources should ensure that all helath protocols. It would be bad that employers infect each other. Even more so to infect a prospective applicant or that one of them carried the disease to the company. I would expect them to be more strict during interview than during normal work.
  • Remember that an interview is a two-way path:
    • Do not feel obliged to take off your mask if you don't feel safe doing so. You could e.g. reject by politely asking them to switch into a less crowded room so that you all remove the mask while keeping the social distance of (the good thing is that now such concept can be considered "normal").
    • You can leave / reject an offer if the measures they take do not seem appropriate.
    • The way they are handling / handled the pandemic is an interesting topic (and quite easy to bring up, currently) from which you may get an idea about how much they seem to care about their employees.
  • Also, do remember to inquiry how the pandemic affects your position. Would you need to be wearing a mask the whole day? Can they show you their cubicles (you probably want to see how much is people actually separated)? Do they offer some telecommuting option (covid19 is a great excuse to get this negotiated)?
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  • "Some people may think "it's all over" an(sic) you are a bit paranoid,"- As I said in my question, I'm in the UK. It's far from over here, especially as the government are working on a second wave.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jun 21 '20 at 20:49
  • @Studoku-ReinstateMonica: I tried to frame the answer in a neutral way, without actually opining if it's convenient or not to wear a mask. Note that if it's over or not doesn't matter as much as what the interviewers think. Of course, in an highly contagious region, if the company weren't taking appropriate measures, you should probably run away. I think I covered that in the last part. The whole issue is that there could be two opinions, otherwise there would be no question at all. I think this manages to answer the question, in a generic way suitable for multiple countries and times.
    – Ángel
    Jun 27 '20 at 0:06
  • PS: Sorry about the typo, I have fixed it.
    – Ángel
    Jun 27 '20 at 0:07
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Start with your law in that location

Someone will have put out emergency orders or other directives indicating exactly what must be done. For instance in the USA these are issued at the state level, and further instructions are ordered at the county or municipality level. Know them all. Some of them are amended quite frequently.

A few are mandatory with zero penalty. Still do those. That's a bit of legal chicanery to create civil liability for the scofflaw.

The reasons are: first, you need to comply with the law. The effect on the employer is that they will see that you are reasonably informed about the crisis, and are not a scofflaw or a sociopath, and do not recklessly put others into harm's way. We'll loop back on that.

This tells you about them, too.

And second, you need to be able to evaluate whether the company is complying with the law, so that you can evaluate them and determine whether this will be a workplace that is safe, comfortable, and conforms to your values and risk-taking levels.

Further, this allows you to evaluate whether the company "walks their talk" regarding social action, safety, whatever the case may be.

So you're looking for signs and reactions. Do you see masks on, do you see nods of approval, do you see people scoff or roll their eyes, do you see masks off until you roll up, then the masks snap on. It's not even really about legal compliance, and it's certainly not about politics... though it is about whether they let politics get in the way of safety.

Every company has a safety culture - we had one on here a few years ago who wanted sysadmins to move 2000-pound computer racks using dollies on a 10% grade... Then you have Kiewit, which overhauled half of one of the biggest dams in the country, 600 workers onsite working off cliffs, canyons and a 25% grade... no reportable injuries for over a year, and finished the project with 2. You're gonna want your mask for that interview.



The science behind the laws.

Editing for brevity: 2 common assumptions are wrong.

"I'm only contagious after I feel sick" -COVID-19 is so insidious because you become contagious for q long period before you feel sick. Some are contagious but never feel sick (beyond their normal for stress/allergies).

"My mask protects me, your mask protects you" - the science shows that any masks are highly effective at keeping a sick wearer from exhaling virus particles, and not very effective at protecting a healthy wearer. Even medical-grade masks require a full suite of PPE to reliably protect the wearer.

Together these add up to: masks work if everyone does them, since we can't know if they're contagious or not.

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If it were me (and really I can't answer this question for your interviewer, knowing nothing about them or even the company they work for), I wouldn't take issue with you wearing a mask during the interview. People wear masks for all kinds of reasons; perhaps you actually have a cold (or are coming down with one or are getting over one) and don't want to risk passing it on. Wearing a mask doesn't have to be because of COVID-19 or whatever, and I've certainly worn a mask in public before when I was ill (and I think I've even worn it to a few interviews myself in the past).

What you shouldn't do, imo, is just randomly take it off during the interview. That shows to the interviewer that whatever reason you were wearing the mask for, is not applicable in the room. If you are wearing a mask, and the assumption is you have a cold (which it might be), then you've just shown the interviewer that you don't care if they catch your cold. And that is not cool. Based on what we know (or think we know) about COVID-19, we believe that symptoms may not show for 2 weeks. If you've taken public transit in the last 2 weeks and you may have unknowingly caught COVID-19 from there, you've now passed it to your interviewer. So taking off the mask during the interview "because you feel like it" is not something I would do.

What you can do, is if the mask is making you uncomfortable and distracting you during the interview, politely ask the interviewer if they would mind if you removed the mask. Then they can say yes or no, and you'll have to live with that decision; I would certainly not suggest removing the mask if the interviewer asks you not to do so, even if it is distracting or uncomfortable for you to keep it.

What you can do to avoid this whole situation is, if you believe you don't have COVID-19 and also you believe the interviewer doesn't have it, is to simply not wear a mask. If you take public transit, then take precautions as normal on the commute, but when you're off the bus or whatever, take the mask off, put it away, and take the interview as normal, and then put it back on when you leave. If you are worried that it might make you underperform in the interview, that would be my recommendation; remember, the end goal of the interview is to land the job, not to virtue signal to the company as hard as you can but display a deficiency in your skills.

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  • People wear masks for all kinds of reasons in interviews (before covid)? Where in the world is that?
    – guest
    Jun 19 '20 at 19:50
  • @guest When I have a bad cold or otherwise communicable disease, I usually wear a mask if I'm going to a social event. It's common courtesy.
    – Ertai87
    Jun 19 '20 at 19:58
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    So where are you? And are you somehow famous in your profession? I would (in my region in Western Europe) not recommend anyone to wear a mask at an interview if they can anyhow avoid it if they want to get a job. For the non-famous superstar, first impressions are so important that I would rather recommend to postpone the interview.
    – guest
    Jun 19 '20 at 20:02
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    (Foe what it's worth, I think it's common courtesy not to go to social events when sick)
    – guest
    Jun 19 '20 at 20:03
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    " if you believe you don't have COVID-19 and also you believe the interviewer doesn't have it, is to simply not wear a mask" Are you privy to ways of knowing this that we aren't?
    – Unfair-Ban
    Jun 21 '20 at 20:46
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Do not think what the interviewers are thinking about you. Best tip ever to overcome social anxiety of which there is a 90% likelihood that you suffer from it. I myself suffer from social anxiety and I know it is extremely hard for you to put away "what are they thinking about me" from your brain but you gotta stop thinking about others for a while and listen to yourself!!!This fear is created by your brain and in reality no one cares as much as you think they do for wearing masks or not. I have discovered it myself innumerable times in my whole life. I might sound stupid but this is all I wanted to say to you.

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    An interview is a special situation. If you habe a tattoo and like to.show it around, that's great, but I wouldn't recommend to do it in the interview just to be yourself. It could be similar with a mask.
    – guest
    Jun 20 '20 at 14:37
  • Ok I get it...... Jun 20 '20 at 16:57
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For at least a few more weeks, "wearing masks" is probably going to continue to be symbolic. Simply keep one in your pants pocket and play along. "These things, too, shall pass."

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    Please don't spread loony conspiracy theories and fake news on this website. Thanks! Jun 19 '20 at 20:59
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    You misunderstand how masks work. The masks don't protect you, that's true. The masks are highly effective at protecting others from you. That is important because CoVID is contagious for a week or two before it causes symptoms, so people are running around like Typhoid Mary and don't even know it. Masks work if everyone does it. Masks work for you if everyone but you does it, but that makes you a jerk. Jun 20 '20 at 6:51
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    @scaaahu A very poor source, though. Fauci has a long history of being willing to mislead for the sake of the messaging... Jun 20 '20 at 7:49
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica I cited Fauci's words only because he is famous(notorious?) I live in Taiwan. We have 23 mi population, only under 500 cases(most them came from outside). One major reason we are doing good is because we make surgical masks here and we wear masks (99% people do).
    – Nobody
    Jun 20 '20 at 7:55
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    @scaaahu Yeah, that's why it works. I'll grant you if you're around infected non-masked people, a mask is better than nothing at all (but cannot be counted on). But if the infected people have the masks, that's a nearly guaranteed win. So you had everyone wear them, that's tremendous. We're heading into a 2nd wave because Americans are too independent and didn't experience SARS... Jun 20 '20 at 8:13

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