Remote work may be the new normal. Covid-19 aside, now that we have viable teleconferencing tools and the internet connections to support them, companies increasingly look for talent outside their own cities. But committing code from 100 miles away is one thing—hiring the developer who can commit it presents different challenges than the traditional in-person process.
Why conduct a virtual interview process?
Tech startups cluster in a handful of cities for access to talent. Educated, highly skilled workers who command higher salaries move to the same cities because that’s where the employers who will pay those salaries are located, and because they typically have higher standards of living. It’s a chicken/egg situation for sure, and the paradigm contributes to problems like gentrification that prices lower-paid workers out of their own cities. That’s why, in 2017, Zapier offered employees $10,000 to move out of the Bay Area (although only four employees took the offer).
Aside from being a socioeconomically positive thing to do for local income inequality, looking outside your city for talent is a super pragmatic way to broaden the candidate pool. Even if you only look domestically, about 95% of the US population lives outside NYC and the Bay Area. Most of the country’s cost of living is significantly lower, too—so you may even find more affordable pros if you’re on a serious budget.
For a long time, remote work was commonly considered a risky proposition—to management, no supervision sounded like a recipe for rampant wage theft. But widespread adoption (and workers’ increased preference for flexible work) means that the stigma against “unsupervised” remote workers is evaporating—studies are finding that remote workers are as productive as in-office employees, or maybe even more productive.
Do increased productivity, untapped candidate pools, and economic benefits sound good to you? (They do to us—we always include great remote candidates in our hiring process and on our platform). If so, you’ll have to learn how to hire them over a video call.
Prioritize the candidate’s virtual interview experience
Let’s start with the most obvious difference: you’ll probably be conducting your process from start to finish on video chats. There is a wide variety of tools available, with Google Hangouts, Zoom.us, Skype, and Appear.in probably being the most popular.
You probably already conduct lots of meetings over this software, so you know the drill, but hiring requires some extra care to ensure that you’re putting your best efforts into selling the candidate on working for you.
First, consider the vibe you’re creating in the lead-up. The most often overlooked factor is time zone. If you’re coordinating the meeting over email, remember to figure out which time zone the candidate is in, and show some courtesy by scheduling in their local time rather than yours.
Once a time is confirmed, make sure the candidate is prepared to join. Even if the candidate is already familiar with the tool you choose, you can show that you care about their experience by sending basic usage instructions ahead of time, so they’ll be prepared to hop in on time and don’t start the interview waiting to download a desktop chat client or creating an account.
Before the interview, make sure to test your own connection, audio, and microphone. Everyone knows that approximately 3 in 4 meetings start with five minutes of “I can hear you. Can you hear me?,” but that’s a terrible first impression and it’s at least mostly preventable.
Finally, make sure you’re conducting the call from somewhere distraction-free and quiet. If it’s a video call (which it should be), treat it like an in-person interview—ensure the candidate has some privacy and that your interviewers are all as presentable as they would be for a normal meeting.
Use collaborative tools for tech and design whiteboard challenges
Tech companies almost always need to screen for skills. Even in-person processes typically involve a homework challenge, like writing some sample code, designing a UI for a fictional piece of software, or laying out a 60-day marketing plan. These take-home tests are just as valuable for showing a candidate’s skills in a remote interview process, so keep them in your toolkit.
But what about the live challenges? Especially for nonverbal skills like design and programming, tech companies also need to see how a candidate works in real-time. Usually that means a whiteboard interview. Unfortunately, most people don’t just keep a whiteboard in their living room, and pointing a camera at a whiteboard is unlikely to satisfactorily capture all the details. Actual whiteboards are probably out of the question.
Instead, you can rely on collaborative tools. For coders, there are integrated solutions like Coderpad, Codility, or Coderbyte, in addition to simple screenshare (which can be a nice way to let employees use their preferred IDE and local settings). For designers, there are fewer options. Some tools like Figma support “multiplayer,” and others like Miro, ExplainEverything, and Liveboard are built to replace whiteboards intentionally (and most work on tablets). Keep in mind that all of these platforms have non-zero learning curves, so make sure the candidate has a chance to get comfortable with the tool before the actual interview—you want to test their ability to solve problems in real-time, not their ability to learn someone else’s UI.
Don’t forget culture, workstyle, and perks
Just because you’re not meeting in person during the interview process doesn’t mean you won’t need to be compatible workers. Some people automatically go into “business mode” in a video call, but the human connection is just as important in a remote interview as it is in an in-person. Make sure to be real and friendly; you have to make a good impression, too.
Feel free to ask the candidate questions about where and how they intend to work. If they’re already working from home, they likely have a dedicated work area set up. It’s not all on them to ensure that they’ll be successful, though—you’re the one hiring remotely—so dig in a little to understand whether they’ll be comfortable with the arrangement and capable of delivering the productivity you need.
If they’re not currently a remote employee, they may not yet know how or where they’ll work, and that’s okay. You should let them know whether you’ll be flexible and supportive as they settle into a new work arrangement. While we recommend being very forgiving with this adjustment period at first, that decision is ultimately up to you, as long as you remember to communicate it to the candidate.
Remember also that your investment in your office environment won’t do anything for remote employees. If you’re just starting to hire remote workers, consider what you can do to make their work situation viable—it’s not uncommon for employers to offer a stipend for coworking spaces or equipment as a benefit to remote workers in lieu of 24/7 kegerator access, bean bag chairs, and unlimited free snacks in the office.
Lastly, map out the ways you’ll be expecting to communicate after the hire. If you expect the employee to be available at 9 am every morning, but it’s 6 am where they live, that might be a dealbreaker for them. Similarly, make sure you have a plan for including the remote in things like all-hands meetings and Friday afternoon week recaps in the office kitchen. Just because your employee isn’t in your city doesn’t mean they want to be left out of company culture.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your remote employees should be exactly as important to you as your in-office workers. Design your virtual interview process with the same care you extend to your standard in-person experience. Considering how to make a remote interview process human and warm ahead of time isn’t very hard, but it’s worth the time and effort: the reward is access to smart, capable job candidates who just happen to live somewhere else.