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How to Conduct a Remote Interview: Guide for Hiring Managers

February 20, 2021
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One of the most noticeable changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is the introduction of remote work into almost every business across the globe. Some only had the option of working from home before but became forced to displace entire buildings with very little notice. As entire businesses moved, so did all of the processes, and hiring was no exception. However, most companies weren’t entirely ready for this switch, and this had a serious impact on the quality of output. Hiring managers don’t have a lot of experience with hiring for remote positions, nor do the recruiters. It is difficult to even imagine how candidates must feel.

Moving to a digital work environment has decreased the level of contact, and in doing so the recruiting process, especially remote interviews, became less personal. Some of the biggest challenges include conveying the company culture, the warmth of the office space, the atmosphere in the offices, and more. However, speaking to someone while they are in their own home, often interrupted by children, pets or even loud neighbors has introduced a certain level of intimacy into the difficult challenge of remote work. Luckily, there are ways you can help close this gap and guide the candidates through the entire recruitment process without them ever feeling like they are missing out.

Remote work and remote interviews bring changes to the hiring process

In order to successfully transition into a remote setting, you need to start by adapting your entire interview process. What does that mean? Well, first of all you need to understand that the process can’t simply be replicated from the physical into an online world. Assessing people needs to be approached from an entirely different perspective. Since the global pandemic broke out, the abrupt switch to remote work caused a lot of disturbance, but only for the inflexible and unprepared. If you successfully adapt your hiring process and switch from face-to-face to a remote interview without lessening the quality of the process, or the dedication to the candidate, you won’t have any trouble getting the results you want.

Remote workers aren’t the only ones that are being hired by Skype these days. Coronavirus forced the hand of every recruiter out there and the change already needs to be implemented.

What is the best way to conduct a remote interview?

Start by outlining the most important aspects and key components of a successful in-person interview:

  • What kind of user experience do you want for your candidates?
  • What needs to be the end result?
  • How did you use to achieve that?

Have in mind that you are hiring someone that will most likely continue to work remotely for an extended period of time. Fortunately, remote work has a lot of benefits, so you can use that to your advantage. Once you have that, start figuring out how you can adapt to a remote setting. Of course, every company has a unique set of values and priorities, but below you can read some tips to get you started.  

Remote job interview requires a lot of preparation

That is if you want to do it successfully. Simply turning on your camera isn’t going to be enough, so make sure you are completely ready for this new normal in the pandemic world.

What do you need to prepare before any remote job interview?

First of all, you need to prepare yourself. Make sure you know everything that you need to know about your interviewee, just like with any in-person interview. Carefully review their CV, LinkedIn profile, as well as any unlocked social media page. Talk ahead with the hiring managers involved in the interview process, and prepare some interview questions ahead of time. Consult their future team members, and listen to their perspective when it comes to this particular job search. That way you will get a much better handle on the entire process.

Second of all, make sure you have informed the candidate about everything they need to know. Everybody is nervous before being interviewed for a new job, but somehow remote interviews seem to be even more stressful! Let them know what your expectations are, which platform you will be using, and what they need to do ahead of time. Make sure they know what will happen, who will be present, and how long it will last. Share with them some helpful interview tips in order to prepare them, and always double-check what you agreed on. Even some tiny issues like different timezones can cause a lot of confusion. Video conferencing isn’t easy, and they should know what to expect.

What many fail to understand is that the potential new employee is assessing the company as well. The entire experience of a new employee starts with the first contact they have with the company, which is usually the recruitment process. Online or offline, they need to get your undivided attention.

Remote interview tips & tricks

Once you have all of that covered, you can dedicate yourself to the particularities of the remote interview etiquette. Here are some tips to set you up for success:

  • Start by organizing the space around you. It shouldn’t be a distraction for the interviewee, nor for yourself, so choose a quiet place with minimal distractions.
  • Minimize the clutter on the desk, and place yourself in front of a neutral background.
  • Since you are probably experiencing remote work as well, let your roommates or family know that they shouldn’t distract you.
  • Mute notifications, pop-ups and clear your desktop if for some reason you want to share your screen. Test run your equipment beforehand, webcam, microphone, everything you will be using. Don’t let anything shift the focus from your remote interview and your candidate.  

Remote interviews don’t always go as planned, since technology can fail you. Make sure that you always have a backup plan, so a glitch like a bad internet connection won’t cause you to reschedule. Many remote interviews have failed because of a bad Wi-Fi connection, so it would be best to come prepared. However, if you continue to experience a lot of difficulties with the video call, consider switching to a phone interview, in order not to cause too much trouble for the candidate. Just ask them for their phone number, and go from there.

Another issue to consider is how will you be documenting the interview. If you choose to type, the sound might distract the candidate. Note-taking by hand is a better option, just make sure you don’t lose eye contact with the candidate. If you decide to record the interview, so you can do the evaluation later, ask the interviewee for permission beforehand.

The most peculiar thing about remote interviewing is the ability to maintain the human, personal touch while being physically separated from the candidate. The best way to achieve that is by allowing them to communicate freely, and inviting them to be open by being open yourself. Use a lot of body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. Create a safe space where they can relax and communicate their ideas. Although it is harder to achieve this when you are on a video call, it isn’t impossible. It all starts with the recruiter - they will mimic your own posture, behavior, and attitude, so welcome them with a friendly smile and keep the conversation going. Just like with a face-to-face interview, start with an ice breaker. Instead of asking about the weather, or how difficult it was to find the location of the office, ask them about something you see or hear in their background. Make them feel like the fact they are doing the remote interview like this is a benefit for them and not something that will make the process harder.

What is the best platform for a remote job interview?

It’s great that your equipment is working, your desk is cleared up and your children know not to make a sound. But which platform will you be using for the interview? This can have a big impact on the entire process, so don’t neglect this step. There are several platforms, so what you need to do is figure out which one suits your needs best.

For example, if a candidate is going to present their portfolio or a proposal, your video conferencing tool needs to support screen sharing. Think about the structure of the remote interview and choose the best platform to run a remote interview based on that.

Video platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and Hangouts (now called Meet) are all good choices to run a remote interview. Consult your superiors on how big your budget is, and test all of the software that that is within the budget. This will help you understand the technology better and choose the one that fits your needs.

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What interview questions should you ask?

Like we already mentioned, it is important that you consult with your hiring managers beforehand. It is much easier to coordinate when you aren’t doing a video interview, so just assume you won’t be able to do that at all.

One part of the interview should definitely stay the same, and you should ask the candidate the same questions as you would during a face-to-face interview. However, since you will probably be hiring them for a remote work position, a certain set of questions needs to be added.

Working from home through a global pandemic has proven to be quite a challenge for many employees around the world. This is why it is so important that your new employee is able to adapt to these newfound circumstances, work well under pressure, and is capable of self-motivation. Being apart from the rest of the company physically, especially during onboarding can be quite a challenge.

Start by compiling a list of skills and traits a new employee should have based on the remote position you're hiring for. Don't forget about the general traits of a remote worker, such as communication skills, tech knowledge, teamwork, etc.

During a virtual interview, make sure to include interview questions to learn more about them and the way they work:

  • Can you tell me about your typical day, how do you organize yourself?
  • What is the most important thing for you in order to achieve the best performance?
  • Can you tell me what motivates you to be productive in these new circumstances we are facing?

You can learn a lot about someone if you ask them an open question like that. Asking the right questions can help you figure out what kind of candidate you are interviewing, even when you are using a video chat platform. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that you can’t meet your potential employees in person. Just like many remote workers now, using Zoom or Hangouts gets the job done just as well.

End a remote job interview by outlining the next steps

This is one part of the process that is equally important for the remote interviews as well as the in-person ones. The last thing the candidate should hear is what happens next. Make sure you have given them a realistic time frame, and that you have informed them about what they can expect to happen next. Many employees are insecure since the switch to remote work caused them to fear how their contributions will be measured. Let them know about all of the remote work policies that your company is implementing. If there are more steps in the hiring process, take some time to explain them. Perhaps the interview is virtual, but their feelings and thoughts after the fact definitely won’t be. Even if they aren’t a good fit for the position they applied for, they should end the interview with a positive attitude towards your company.

Keep records and do a debriefing with the hiring managers

Having all the notes and records of each interviewee is essential for a successful recruitment process. You need to be able to convey the most important points so that you and the rest of the hiring managers can look at them and understand the remote interview outcome. It can be as simple as a Google Docs file that you will share in a group Slack message with the hiring team. This may seem like a small step but it will go a long way in streamlining the remote hiring process.