How to Conduct a Remote Interview: Guide for Hiring Managers

Interviewing remotely can be a challenge. With these remote interview tips, any hiring manager will become a pro. Take a look.

Anja Simic
Written by Anja Simic
August 16, 2021
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One of the most noticeable changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 is the introduction of remote work into almost every business across the globe. Most businesses were forced to displace entire buildings with very little notice, and to move all their processes online. Hiring was no exception - remote interviews weren't an option, but a necessity. However, most companies weren’t entirely ready for every job interview to become "a video call". This had a serious impact on the quality of output. Hiring managers don’t have a lot of experience with interviewing remotely, nor do the recruiters. It is difficult to even imagine how candidates must feel when they anxiously log on to a video interview.

Having a remote role has decreased the level of contact. 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 in-person contact. Many felt like a lot was lost when the seemingly entire world started working remotely.  However, there are always two sides to every story.

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 working remotely. Many felt closer than ever, as the distance became a norm for every remote employee. Adapting to the new normal is an ongoing process, and HR is always the first to help contribute to the cause.  On every remote interview, there are ways you can help close the gap and guide the candidates through the entire recruitment process without them ever feeling like they are missing out. In fact, interviewing virtually can be the best thing you've ever introduced into your hiring processes.

Remote work and remote interviews bring changes to the recruitment process

To successfully transition into a remote setting, you should start by adapting the interview process.

First, you need to understand that the process can’t simply be replicated from the physical into an online world. Any attempt to do so will undoubtedly fail. Assessing people needs to be approached from an entirely different perspective. Since the global pandemic broke out, the abrupt switch to working remotely 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 video 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.

Many have been conducting virtual interviews for years for many companies operating solely remotely around the world. However, Covid 19 forced the hand of many recruiters, and know these skills and knowledge need to be acquired with speed and efficiency. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about remote interviews, even if you've never done it before.

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 is the desired outcome?
  • How do you achieve that?

When you start changing your interview process, it is crucial that the level of quality your company used to offer remains the same. The same thought and dedication that was given to an in-person interview should simply be redirected to improve the remote interview process. Perhaps you won't be able to do it right off the bat- your first online interview surely won't be without hiccups. However, you can slowly improve your methodology and reach the desired level of quality and satisfaction for every virtual interview, thus benefiting both your current and future employees.

Have in mind that you are hiring someone that will most likely continue to work remotely for an extended period of time. Perhaps at some point, their role might change, but as of right now the conditions you offer probably won't. Fortunately, remote work has a lot of benefits, so you can use that to your advantage. Once you have that, start thinking about how you can adapt to a remote setting. The goal of the process is not only for the candidates to be satisfied but for your HR department to be happy with the process as well. Recruiting the very best talents, while maintaining your employer brand, should always be the goal of a hiring process. 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 for a video interview isn’t going to be enough. Make sure you are ready for this "new normal" in the pandemic world. Once you dedicate your resources to improving the process you can just reap the fruits of your labor, and only tweak a couple of things as you do more remote interviews.

Before every video interview

Be prepared

First of all, you need to prepare yourself. The interviewer has a vital role in any hiring process. Make sure you know everything about your interviewee, just like with any in-person interview. Carefully review their CV, LinkedIn profile, as well as any unlocked social media profiles. Pull up the cover letter or any type of test that is part of your interview process. Have a clear picture of the candidate before you start your remote job interview. Consult with the hiring manager involved in the interview process and prepare some material ahead of time. Include their future team members, and listen to their perspectives to gain a full picture.

Prepare the candidate

Make sure you have informed the candidate about everything they need to know. Everybody is nervous before applying 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. Give them all the details about what will happen, who will be present, and how long it will last. Share with them some helpful interview tips, and always double-check what you agreed on. Even the smallest issues like different time zones can cause a lot of confusion. Video conferencing isn’t easy, and they should know what to expect.

Present the company

What many fail to understand is that the potential new employee is assessing the company as well.  Making the best impression isn't only the candidate's goal, it's the company's 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. The first time they actually speak with a representative from the company will be during the video interview. Online or offline, they need to get your undivided attention. They might consider your opening a dream job. Make sure they end the call with a positive first impression.

Best practices of interviewing remotely

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

  • Start by organizing the space around you. It shouldn’t be a distraction for the other person during the interview, nor for yourself. Choose a quiet place with minimal distractions.
  • Minimize the clutter on the desk, personal items, coffee cups, take-out, children's toys, and place yourself in front of a neutral background and a well-lit environment.
  • If you are working from home, let your roommates or family members know that you need to be in a distraction-free zone, so that you can work in a quiet space.
  • Dress the part. Your interview might be on Google Hangouts, but you should maintain office etiquette nevertheless.
  • Mute notifications, turn off your cell phone and clear your desktop if you'll share your screen. Test run your equipment beforehand- webcam, microphone, everything you will be using. Pay attention to your candidate and stay focused solely on their needs.
  • Make sure you have a second power source on standby, in case you run out of battery or experience any difficulties.
  • Always show up at least a few minutes early, with everything already set up.
  • Discuss unique challenges that the new way of working represents and don't shy away from difficult questions.
  • Focus on listening and assessing hard and soft skills. Try not to over-communicate and overwhelm any of your potential colleagues.
  • Upon completing your video interview successfully, send a follow-up e-mail with a thank you note and a detailed outline of the next steps and expected deadlines.

Avoid technical issues with a backup plan

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. It isn't uncommon for a video interview to fail because of technical difficulties such as a bad Wi-Fi connection, so it would be best to come prepared and always do a test run.

However, if you continue to experience a lot of difficulties with the video call, consider switching to a phone interview, not to cause too much trouble for the candidate. Just ask them for their phone number, and go from there.

Take notes during the interview

Decide how you will be documenting the conversation during your video 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, ask the interviewee for permission beforehand. Do this even if you are conducting a phone interview.

Maintain the human touch

The most peculiar thing about remote interviewing is the ability to maintain the human, personal touch while being physically separated from the candidate. Remote job interviews shouldn't feel rigid, distant, uncomfortable, or cause the potential employee to feel uncomfortable in any way. 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. Spend a few minutes chit-chatting.

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. Minimize talking about uncomfortable topics, and subjects that might disturb them. Make them feel comfortable with doing virtual interviews. Maintain this attitude and behavior throughout the entire interview process, and you will see how it impacts the candidates.

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Best video 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 for a remote position? This can have a big impact on the entire process, so don’t neglect this step. There are several platforms, so you need to figure out which one suits your needs best.

For example, if a candidate is going to present their portfolio or a proposal during your online interview, your video conferencing tool needs to support screen sharing. Think about the structure of the virtual interview and choose the best platform to help you hire for your remote job opening.

Video platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and Google 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.

Remote interview questions to 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 while the candidate is present. You can also test run this as if it were a piece of equipment and practice coordination with your hiring manager. Even during a regular interview, it's difficult to work in harmony with someone you aren't used to working with. Working remotely only makes it a bigger challenge. Practice before you have to face a candidate through a laptop screen.

One part of the interview should definitely stay the same, the one about the essence of the position they are applying for. 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, although it has created much more job opportunities.  Having a remote job perhaps isn't something they ever planned to do. This is why it is so important that your new employee can 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. A remote role isn't for everyone. You can assess all this during a virtual interview, by asking them to share specific examples, as many as they can.

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. This should be a key portion of your remote interview process.

During a virtual interview, focus on learning 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 to achieve the best performance?
  • Can you tell me what motivates you to be productive in these new circumstances we are facing?

Let's say that you are recruiting for a job of a customer service representative. In most cases, this person spends the majority of their workday communicating with others, passing information back and forth, dealing with uncomfortable clients, and working under pressure. If you want to find the right person you need to test not only will they be able to do this, but also will they be able to do it all alone, at home, perhaps in a different time zone, and without any in-person contact with their coworkers or their clients.

During the interview, ask them about their thought process, what they will do step by step when they encountered a particularly difficult client. Will their personality shine through the conflict, or will they rely on their knowledge, experience, and good practice examples?

As an interviewer, your responsibility is to find the right candidate based on all the necessary criteria - what and how they will do a task.

You can learn a lot about someone if you ask them an open question like that. Asking the right questions during a job interview can help you figure out what kind of candidate you have in front of you, 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. Their remote role might not stay remote forever, but for now, they need to be able to do it and to do it well.

Ending a remote job interview: 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 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 for a remote opening 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.

Improve the hiring process by involving hiring managers

Having all the notes and records of each interviewee is essential for a successful recruitment process. As an interviewer, 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 small, but it will go a long way in streamlining the remote hiring process.

You can even do a trial run, and ask your colleagues for feedback after a couple of interviews. If they have some constructive feedback, you can improve your method. At least you will be sure you are heading in the right direction and that your video interview skills can only improve. The job you will recruit for might change, but you as an interviewer will be able to adapt more easily.

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