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I, the hiring manager, interviewed (just two of us) a candidate for a software engineer position for about 90 minutes. During the interview I told the candidate twice that he could take his mask off. First at the beginning then at about one hour later when I started to feel it was a bit weird to talk to the candidate for 1 hour and I still didn't know his face. So during that time I said specifically that can you take your mask off because I feel weird that we have talked for an hour when you still wear your mask. But he kept saying he preferred to wearing the mask.

I was satisfied with his technical skills. But I can't figure out why he refused to take his mask off. Should that raise a red flag?

For context, this is Beijing and we basically have a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 so we don't need to worry about covid at all. Wearing masks are mandated only on public transport.

BTW, the zero-tolerance approach means my government tries very hard to eliminate even 1 case at any place. Refer to this "China's 'zero tolerance' COVID-19 policy to safeguard the country" or if you really have interest in that you may further check The New York times's article https://cn.nytimes.com/china/20210824/signs-bubble-up-that-a-chinese-city-is-growing-weary-of-lockdown/dual/ I posted a dual version of that article because the English version only is not free.

--- update ---

I decided to give him the offer. I just called him and he said he would join us right from tomorrow.

As I said in one comment that one of reasons I asked the question and I like to ask questions here is I will get answers and comments I do not expect at all.

This time is no difference. It is an interesting experience but I can't resist the urge to add this, as you guys can judge from my name I am a Beijing native so when I saw comments like "Beijing's air is so polluted that people should be wearing masks all the time" or "China is very high on compliance mentality." or "If you want an employee who will accept anything at face value and not think or question anything" (I am hiring a software engineer, why would I want to do that ?!) I just feel amused.

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  • In Italy there is now (there's some debate as to how long this situation will continue) a mandate for all workers to be vaccinated. A zero intolerance approach means there should be no exception (unless for specific health reasons), which means any unvaccinated employee will be laid off if they are not vaccinated. You're saying that Chinese employees are not obliged to wear masks at the workplace but is it mandated? In other words, does the company demand that employees do NOT wear masks? OR are they tolerant for those who freely choose to wear a facemask?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 18 '21 at 9:47
  • I don't which part went wrong but that is definitely not what I mean zero intolerance. What I mean is the government tries so hard, sometime overprotection, so there is basically "zero" risk of getting covid inside China. Oct 18 '21 at 9:51
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    If I am uncomfortable in a room that is not ventilated, where the distance between me and the interviewer is not 6 feet (1.50m) apart, and I do not know if the person in front of me is vaccinated, then I either "risk" not wearing a mask or I don't. For my own personal safety I wear a mask, and I would hope that my decision is respected unless I am breaking protocol.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 18 '21 at 9:51
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People have different levels of willingness to take risks. This means he is very likely somebody who likes to minimize risks. This sometimes annoys sales people, but I consider it a good trait in engineers! I would guess he is more risk averse than the average engineer.

A single mistake can sink companies. Not every mistake is the end of a company, but some software mistakes just have the potential to do that! So yeah, being a little bit more cautious is good.

Also: How are his social skills? Telling somebody it's ok to take off your mask likely was interpreted as just that: It's ok, it's not mandatory. He may have missed the cue that you want him to take off the mask. So you should have phrased it as: Please take off your mask, I'd like to see who you are (or something like that).

Of course, he might have understood completely and opted to ignore it, because your request was so weakly phrased.

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  • Thanks for answering my question. Actually when I politely asked him to take his mask off I said can you take you mask off because I felt weird that we have talked for an hour and you still wore your mask. I need to add that to my question. Oct 18 '21 at 8:44
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    I have given him the offer. For all answers and comments I got your is the one made me think most. Thanks! Oct 19 '21 at 3:17
  • Hi I answered my question today. Take a look if you are still interested in this question. Dec 22 '21 at 9:27
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Yes I agree with you, it is completely a red flag...for the interviewee. If it was me, in that position, I would be rejecting you as an employer for this reason alone.

I appreciate there are differences in approached to the pandemic just now between each country, however what shines through to me is that you as a prospective employer are not sympathetic to concerns about the use of masks in an unknown environment, nor are you sympathetic to someone who would prefer to remain cautious in this approach.

He did not 'refuse' which implies that your way and perspective alone is correct. He made a choice to maintain his mask and comfort when he had the option of removing it as he was a guest in your organization.

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    That is one of reasons I asked this question (and like to ask) here, so I got the answers I was not expected at all. Oct 18 '21 at 8:49
  • @Qiulang邱朗 you've said "Candidate refused ..." meaning you demanded that from interviewee and find them at fault (at best). It is quite possible you meant to ask/write something different but people answer the question as written, not what you think you wanted to ask. Oct 19 '21 at 22:30
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Should that raise a red flag?

No, it doesn't say anything negative enough about the candidate to indicate any problems with their work. It was a purely personal and harmless preference which the candidate was within their rights to express.

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    Thanks for answering my question and I like your answer, simple and valid. BTW, I think I just asked a simple question too so I don't understand why so many down-votes and close votes. Oct 18 '21 at 13:08
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    @Qiulang邱朗 I can speculate that the close votes come from people in places where there is active transmission of the virus. In some places in the US, people have been physically attacked by strangers for either wearing a mask or not wearing a mask. That makes this question a politically sensitive and socially sensitive question for the US. If a US based manager had asked this question, I suspect the responses could have been far stronger.
    – David R
    Oct 18 '21 at 14:12
  • @DavidR thanks for letting me know that. BTW I decided to give him the offer. I updated my question and added that in my question. Oct 19 '21 at 2:33
  • @Qiulang邱朗 don't let the downvotes discourage you, they're normal if your question is counter to the sites mainstream ideology.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 19 '21 at 6:41
  • Thanks and I won't. I was a bit surprised to see so many downvotes but as I updated in my question, that was actually one of reasons I asked my question here. Check my update lol Oct 19 '21 at 6:53
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The candidate may have been going to several interviews that day. They don't want the be the person that is the cause of a super-spreader event.

My country was also adopting a zero-Covid approach. It didn't work. I'm not saying it can't work, just you can't be absolutely certain the person you're speaking with doesn't have it.

If you can't hire someone without knowing what their face looks like, then you really need to think about if you should part of the hiring process.

You "feeling weird" is not a good enough reason for asking them to remove their mask. That is a problem that you need to address, and it's not the candidates job to address it.

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  • Actually he was late for the the interview but he called HR to ask he would be late. And this is definitely his first interview in the morning. Oct 18 '21 at 8:55
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    Actually, so what? Oct 18 '21 at 9:37
  • If you were the hiring manger I really don't think you will response with "so what". Oct 18 '21 at 9:38
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    They may have been going to several interviews that day, with yours being the first one. How does your statement disprove mine. Oct 18 '21 at 9:46
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    @Qiulang邱朗 If you need to see candidates faces in order to judge them, you probably need to reevaluate if you should be involved. You don't seem like you have the capacity. Maybe speak with your manager and see if someone else can do the hiring on your behalf. Oct 18 '21 at 9:48
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People have very differencent experiences when it comes to COVID and risk assessment.

I have a colleague who has 2 kids in school. Since kids under a certain age cannot be vaccinated yet, that means he is and was around 2 unvaccinated people that every day visit a group meeting of another 20-30 unvaccinated people and use public transport to get there and back. His family is generally healthy.

To him, sitting in a meeting with another fully vaccinated adult who came there with private transport is probably the lowest risk he will face all day.

Compare that to me:

I have a sick family member, who even fully vaccinated has a serious risk of contracting and having major medical problems with COVID. I have changed my whole life, I work from home, I order everything I possibly can, I stopped meeting friends in person and I meet close family members for Easter, Christmas and Birthdays on one-on-one's. Preferably outdoors.

To me, having a personal, physical conversation with someone in a room is the highest risk I took in months if not years.

In your case, I don't even know you. I don't know if you are vaccinated, if you meet with other people a lot, I know nothing about you. You might be one of those nutjobs who have "alternative facts" about COVID and prefer to ingest bleach or horse dewormer, or maybe you are a perfectly reasonable, sane, caring person like my colleague above, who just happens to have a higher risk of infection and spreading without any wrongdoing on their part.

Both risk assessments, "lowest all day" and "highest in years" are valid. Even wanting to see a face is a valid wish in a conversation between humans. There is an easy solution: video. It's been around for a while and especially software engineers should be able to work from home and use video conferencing without any problems.

The fact that you did not think about it from other persons perspective and still interview people by having them physically and maskless sit at a table at your mercy makes me think your competitors, who might be more emphatic towards their prospective employees might be more successful. It's a point you can and should improve on. And you don't know the guy you are interviewing either. Maybe they are the "alternative facts" nutjob. Video works both ways, it protects you, too.

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  • But I thank you for taking and effort to provide such a long and detailed answer. Thank for your input. So I upvoted your answer. Oct 19 '21 at 7:04
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    I have never been to Beijing, but I still suspect you have people with sick family members that are at high risk and other people that are required to take risks every day for their kids or their jobs and if those two meet, their expectations to "safety" vary wildly. That seems to be exactly what happend.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 19 '21 at 7:07
  • Check the zero-tolerance policy if you have interest. Oct 19 '21 at 7:08
  • Well, there would be no need for a policy at all, if there were zero risk. So a non-zero risk still exists, policy or not, and different people with different risk factors weight that differently. No policy can ever guarantee me that you are not the one person that I will read about in the news tomorrow. Neither can it guarantee you that I'm not the one person the government will call you about tomorrow asking whether you had any contect with. Risk is risk. It might be high or low, but it's not gone.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 19 '21 at 7:15
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    I read it. It's exactly what I would have thought it is by the headline. Lets just assume this policy get you from 3% vs 1% risk of infection down to 0.3% vs 0.1% risk of infection or even 0.03% vs 0.01% (numbers freely estimated by pulling them out of thin air just to showcase what I mean) ... that is still a difference by the same factor. Two people with different risk factors. Lets assume there is only a single COVID case in all of China, some people are more likely to get in contact than others and those "others" might not want to get in contact with the first group.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 19 '21 at 8:46
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I was satisfied with his technical skills. But I can't figure out why he refused to take his mask off. Should that raise a red flag?

In the middle of a global pandemic, it should not be too hard to figure out why the candidate did not remove their mask. You go on to mention that in your country you don't need to worry about COVID yet your country does have mask mandates in place so clearly there is a concern.

Is this a red flag? That depends on the type of candidate that you are looking for. If you want an employee who will accept anything at face value and not think or question anything then this candidate is probably not a good fit for your company.

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