Part 4: Remote Interviewing
CEO, Know Your Team
While the benefits of hiring remote are huge in value, filtering out hundreds, if not thousands of applicants is the main challenge. On this scale, traditional processes for candidate filtering just doesn’t apply.
What are your biggest stumbling blocks when hiring remote?— We Work Remotely (@weworkremotely) September 19, 2019
Signing up for an ATS is a popular way to help with candidate filtering, but most are still geared towards traditional offices. That being said, an ATS is still a useful tool especially for vetting in a way that can support your diversity and inclusion initiatives, ensuring the process is fair and unbiased when evaluating potential candidates.
How to filter candidates without an ATS
If you’ve opted out of using an ATS, here are some suggestions to manage the filtering process.
We Work Remotely’s Candidate Filtering Feature
When posting a job on We Work Remotely, you have the option selecting our Candidate Filtering feature.
The feature takes a look at your job posting, sorts through all of the applicants and prioritizes them based on the requirements you've indicated, making sure you see the best candidates first. TLDR: we take the burden of sorting hundreds of applicants off of your backs.
Filter on your own
If you’re sorting candidates on your own, here are some tips:
- Create a separate email address for the applications - ie. email@example.com
- If you’re hiring multiple roles, set up folders in your email and assign those keywords (ie. Project Manager, Customer Support Specialist, etc.) so that the applications will automatically flow in.
- Create a canned response to go out to everyone who applies. Here’s ours:
"Thanks so much for applying for our Sales Associate position! Due to the large volume of applicants for this role, we will only be reaching out again to people who have made it to the interview stage of the process.
I just wanted to reach out to let you know that your application has been received, and thank you for showing interest in working with us!
From there, sifting through all of the applications can be quite overwhelming.
Create a simple skills-based test at the beginning as a means to filter right from the get-go.
"Toggl uses Hundred5 as a tool to assess candidate skills early on. Using skills-based tests, they have been able to save 22 hours per single opening, as well as decrease the number of interviewed candidates by 72%."
Other skills assessment tools:
Set standard criteria to help with the initial vetting, where unless applications meet your checklist, they won’t be looked at. Examples:
- Did they submit a cover letter?
- Did the candidate display their knowledge of your company in their cover letter?
- Did their email convey excitement and contain information that they’ve looked into your company, or are they just mass applying everywhere?
- Is their email well articulated and free of grammar and spelling mistakes? This is your first assessment of their communication abilities.
How to Interview For Remote Candidates
Now that you’ve chosen a group of people to interview, get ready for the juicy part of the hiring process! Typically, there’s an average of four or five consecutive steps (depending on how many interview rounds you have) that collectively provide the information you need to rate a person against the score you created:
- Screening Interview
- In-depth Interview
- Technical/skills task/project
- Reference check
Interview Format & Questions to Ask
Below are sample questions for each step to helping assess remote-specific skills and how they best fit into the role and company culture.
1. Video Interview with hiring manager and/or manager of that department
In the first interview, you’re looking to assess the candidate’s remote experience, communication skills (verbal), emotional intelligence, soft skills, and whether they’re truly excited to work for your company.
- If they have remote experience: what were your biggest challenges you’ve faced and what did you do to overcome them?
- If they don’t have previous remote experience: why do you want to work from home?
- How do you think you’ll be able to thrive in a distributed company?
- What distractions do you usually have? How do you ensure they don’t interfere with the quality of your work?
- What are your favourite productivity tools to use?
- When do you prefer to work during the day?
- What does work/life balance look like to you?
- What would you do if you had an urgent question and your team was offline?
- If you had to have a difficult conversation with a teammate or address a challenge, what would your process be? What medium would you use?
- How do you stay motivated during the day without supervision?
- What is something you'd change about our business? Anything you'd do differently?
- What’s a project you created or collaborated on that you’re most proud of?
This screening interview will allow you to narrow down your list to a small handful that you want to pursue further. On average only 10-20% of candidates pass the screening interview.
Founder, Operate Remote
2. Video interview with team member from the department, People Ops and/or HR manager
The step is to ensure how the candidate fits with the company.
- Why do you want to work for our company? Why are those attributes important to you?
- How would you describe the culture at previous companies you’ve worked at?
- How do your personal goals or values align with our company values?
- How do you like to be managed?
- What does your perfect work day look like?
- Describe your preferred relationship with coworkers.
- What are you passionate about, outside of work?
3. Technical exercise
Create a time constrained task or project that’s relevant to the work they would be doing in the position. This exercise should only be for candidates who have made it to the final round. Depending on the scale of the task, be sure to pay people for their time.
Director of Ops, Skillcrush
4. Video interview with CEO/executive leader
Usually a quick interview, the CEO provides high-level context of where they’re steering the company.
5. Reference check
While many companies believe reference checks are outdated, many still use them to help move the needle from the ‘considering’ category to ‘hired’. While holding a stronger filtering system initially is definitely still held in high regard, capping the interviewing process off with a reference check to be used as a final confirmation is still valuable. The goal is to gain clarity and ask focused questions that’ll provide additional insight on whether the candidate is the right fit for your company.
- In what context did you work with the person?
- What were the person's biggest strengths?
- What were the person's biggest areas for improvement back then?<
- How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a scale of 1-10? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
- The person mentioned that he/she struggled with _____ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?
Director of People, Buffer
- Remember that this is probably a very nervous time for the candidate. It's the interviewer’s responsibility to make candidates feel comfortable enough to present their real selves. Try not to let initial judgements influence your overall opinion – you know, the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing. To help warm the candidate up, kick off the interview by setting expectations. Break the ice by showing your vulnerability and keeping it light. Provide an outline of how the interview will go and lead with easy questions like, “Tell me a little bit out of yourself” and “Where are you based out of?”.
- When listening to their answers, pay attention to whether they ask clarifying questions or not - this speaks to their level of communication aptitude, that they’re not afraid of not getting the answer “right” but have the confidence to make sure they’re understanding it correctly.
- Be respectful of your candidate’s time and don’t take up more than an hour of their time. Be sure to leave time for the candidate to ask their questions as well.
Take inspiration from Dribbble’s interview process provided by their Director of Operations, Chloe Oddleifson:
"We use Lever as our ATS, and Zoom for all our interviews – it’s a nice way to put a face to a name, and encourages a more personal connection. It also helps save on long distance phone charges 😉
We reserve at least 10 minutes in every interview to address questions. The goal of our interviews is to ensure that both parties are able to make an informed decision. To that end, we expect that candidates will want to ask us some questions! Interviewing is a two-way street, and the best candidates are curious and prepared. We appreciate candidates who bring challenging questions and take an active interest in team Dribbble.
The first call in our process is with the hiring manager for the role–the person who leads the team the candidate would be on. For example, if you’re interviewing for an engineering role, you’ll speak to our Director of Engineering first. The key purpose of this interview is to provide candidates with more information about the role and the opportunity, explore your previous experience, and understand what they’re looking for in their next role – to determine if there is a mutual fit with Dribbble. They’ll be able to answer questions regarding the team, process, which tools we use, and we can share more about what the rest of the interview process looks like.
Next, candidates speak with me, and I’m our Director of Operations. The goal of this interview is to introduce Dribbble from a People Ops perspective, share more about our team culture, and the remote work process. This is a crucial part of the interview; not everyone can work remotely, and we feel chatting about our remote work culture is imperative with every candidate. I’m able to answer any questions you have on perks, benefits, growing your career here, and more.
If the role is a technical one (design or engineering) – there is a technical skills fit evaluation stage to the interview process as well. We ask candidates to complete a take-home exercise, so we get a chance to see how people solve problems and approach your work. This exercise will be followed up with a 30 minute review call with the technical team. They will ask exercise-related questions and walk through a debrief of what decisions were made, and how they came to those decisions. Candidates then have a chance to ask questions of the technical team, and dig into how we solve problems and work together.
Every potential new hire has a chance to get to know our leadership team. After the team interview, we aim to have our applicants chat with at least one member of our leadership team in addition to their hiring manager; that’s Michael, our VP Product, and Zack, our CEO. Our interview process always ends with Zack, who likes to spend 30 minutes with every candidate talking to them about our roadmap, and the future of Dribbble. It’s imperative that a prospective teammate understands our short and long-term company goals, and understands the role that we want them to play in getting us there!”
What are some red flags for candidates?
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Lack of knowledge about the company
- Lack of well-rounded answers - talented candidates know what they want to do and aren’t afraid to tell you about it.
- Lack of communication and slow response time
How to Evaluate Remote Candidates
This is where your trusty score card or decision-making matrix you developed will come in handy. After each interview, use whatever rating system you decided to go with to measure out all of the answers.
In Twist’s hiring guide, they provided some great questions to help you evaluate:
- Did they come prepared with knowledge about your company?
- Did they take the interview seriously and find a quiet location and dress professionally?
- Were they concise in their answers or did they ramble?
"Assess everyone with the same criteria and compare notes with other members of the hiring committee before making a decision. At Doist, we use a “Hell Yeah, or No” heuristic, borrowed from Derek Sivers, when determining if someone new joins our team. Additionally all 3 people on our hiring committee have to agree on a candidate. It can be helpful to create your own general rules around hiring to streamline the evaluation process."
How to Make an Offer
Once you’ve decided on your candidate (yay!), act swiftly; 69% of candidates would like to see employer response time improved. As well, great talent are likely interviewing elsewhere and could potentially be sitting on multiple offers.
Some great considerations from Twist’s hiring guide:
- Be fair in pay negotiation and compensate candidates in accordance to market rates and their previous experience.
- Work with your Human Resources/People Operations to draft and extend a written offer letter with the terms of their employment.
- Do not extend "exploding offers" that give candidates an unreasonable deadline (i.e. “48 hours”) to accept an offer before it goes away.
- Follow-up frequently if you don’t hear from them and note your enthusiasm about the prospect of them joining your team.
- Work with them to determine an appropriate start date that lets them wrap up their role at their current company.
How to Say ‘No’ to a Candidate
It takes a mixture of empathy, good communication skills, and strong boundaries to convey bad news. Most of us have been on the side of being rejected from a position. Even if it’s one that you didn’t really want, not getting a job can feel like a swift kick in the gut--I mean, our livelihood literally depends on having a gig of some sort. Being empathetic to an applicant is necessary for that very reason, but delivering the news with strong boundaries is just as important. It’s a balance of knowing that communicating bad news is part of the business and allowing for humanization to be present as well.
Give Acknowledgement and Closure
Applicants spend considerable time and energy updating their resumes, writing cover letters, and in most remote hiring experiences, working on test projects/tasks. They deserve the consideration of a (prompt) reply from you.
Reach out to whoever makes it to the last few rounds but didn’t make the final cut with a specific reason. With the amount of time and energy it takes to apply for jobs, the candidates deserve it. 94% of job seekers want to receive interview feedback but only 41% have received it before. Building goodwill with all applicants - no matter how far they get in the process - is crucial because these people still could be your future candidates; they’re 4x more likely to consider your company for a future opportunity when you offer constructive feedback.
Don’t Take It For Granted
It should be flattering that hundreds of people want to be a part of something you and your team created–don’t take that for granted! Taking the time to thank the people who want to be apart of what you’re doing is worthwhile, in our books.
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