As a 100% remote team, we’ve had to become great at interviewing and hiring remote candidates. There are an enormous number of people who think "working from home" sounds like the dream, but unsurprisingly, very few of those people actually have the skills required to do so successfully. Interviewing properly will help you separate the qualified from the crowd.
Setting up Remote Interviews
Two things are critically important for remote candidates - self motivation and communication. You’ll want a good sense of how they communicate both in writing (since that’s mostly how you’ll interact). They also need to be committed to the interview process, and the company in the long run; much more so than the average commuter.
We’ve set up a standard process for interviewing remote candidates that helps us evaluate all of these requirements.
Application - we don’t ask for a resume. Instead we ask a series of filter questions that help us identify if we want to keep talking with the candidate. You can see these in this blog post.
Follow up questions - we communicate in writing almost exclusively. So being able to convey information (and personality) in writing is important to us. Rather than a screening phone call, we send back a list of questions for the candidate to answer.
Video call - it’s unlikely (and not necessary) that you’ll be able to meet a candidate in person. You’ll need to set up a video call for a final interview. We keep these quite casual and let the candidate direct the flow of the conversation. We want someone that we like working with, so having an easy conversation is important to us.
Josh also has a secret test to screen for candidate’s motivation and proactivity:
"One thing I did with scheduling the video chat was just tell them I’d like to have one soon. I didn’t try to tell them times I could do it. I wanted them to follow up and be proactive about making it happen."
If it’s difficult to connect with an employee for their interview - just imagine how difficult it will be on a day to day basis!
Questions for Remote Candidates
Outside of the usual interview questions about their past experience, why they want to work with you, and who they are as an employee, there’s a few great questions that can give you a sense of how someone will function as a remote employee.
Do you have any experience working remotely? What was it like?
I mean… just ask. Have they spent time working outside the office before? It’s a big change to move from working 9-5 in an office environment to working with a remote team across multiple timezones. If they have experience, they are one step ahead.
Do you have any side projects you’re working on?
Being remote can be lonely. The best remote employees need to have other things driving them besides work, otherwise they become burnt out and hermit-like. Learning about people’s side projects, hustles and hobbies can help establish if they have a support network to stay connected with in their local area.
What are some of the challenges of working remotely? How have/will you overcome them?
This question is especially great for candidates who don’t have experience working remotely. Asking them to envision where the problems might arise can help you decide if they’ve fully thought through the differences between working in an office and working from home. For example - having no one around to tap on the shoulder, communicating mostly in writing, staying productive in a home office, separately work from life. If they think it’s all going to be sunshine and roses, they probably aren’t prepared for the reality.
What kind of work environment do you most enjoy?
Start chatting about what has worked well for them before. Do they need constant supervision? Do they prefer a hands-on or a hands-off manager? Lots of noise, or a quiet space? Because they will be 100% responsible for making their space work for them, they should have a good idea of what they need to be productive.
Tell me of a time when you didn’t have the information necessary to make a decision, and what you did to resolve it?
Being on your own (often with the critical decision maker asleep!) means that you’ll need to make decisions without always knowing all the information. Sometimes you’ll be left out of discussions because they happen in person. How will a remote employee deal with a lack of information?
Tell me of a time when you [went above and beyond for a customer/ resolved a design problem/ choose a unique way to solve an engineering problem]. Talk me through your process.
Above all, we’re looking for self motivated problem solvers. This question needs to be adapted to the appropriate job. You’re looking for someone who took initiative, went above and beyond the minimal effort and solved a problem they didn’t necessarily have to.