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June 30, 2020
Hiring & Recruiting

How to Customize Your Interview Questions for Remote Workers

HERO - I started my new job during shelter in place

By Ty Collins

Some people thrive as remote employees. They’re independently motivated and can get the job done without anyone looking over their shoulders. They’re also great collaborators and they know how to stay in touch without over-communicating.

These are the candidates you want in remote positions. So how do you use your precious interview time to find them?  

Focus on Self-Motivation

When you're hiring a remote worker, you need to know whether they motivate themselves independently. No matter how connected your team is, remote workers still have to set themselves to task day in, day out, starting the moment they sit down at their desks in the morning.

Discipline isn’t enough. To thrive in a remote role, employees have to be self-motivated enough to seek out challenging tasks and pursue them. It's how they stay mentally focused and engaged, instead of just sitting in their home offices waiting for inspiration to strike.

What to Ask

  • “What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever set yourself and accomplished?”

  • “If you’re working on two projects, how do you decide which one to tackle first?”

Consider Their Initiative

Going the extra mile is a plus for any employee, but it’s a must-have for remote workers. You want someone who will finish a task and proactively seek out the next one, instead of waiting for someone else to give them direction. 

To learn about someone’s level of initiative, find out how thoroughly they prepare for an interview. Did they research the company? Are they up to date on industry trends? When a candidate seeks out this kind of information before an interview, it usually means they’ll be proactive as an employee.  

What to Ask

  • “What’s one thing that you noticed about our last-quarter reports/marketing materials/company values?”

  • “What are your top predictions for {field/industry} next year/quarter?” 

Evaluate Their Efficiency

When someone starts a new job in-office, they can use the people around them as resources. They can walk down the hall and ask how a particular task is normally done. They can ask for a quick clarification as soon as a question comes up.

Remote workers can’t do that. They need to look at a project, assess how to tackle it successfully and ask any clarifying questions necessary to forge ahead. Then, they need to know how to touch base efficiently, conveying important updates without a lot of excess noise.

What to Ask

  • “If tomorrow were your first day, how would you get started?”

  • “If I handed you a project that someone else had dropped, what would your game plan be?”

Gauge Their Independence

When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to check in with managers, executives and other higher-ups when you have to make a decision. It’s a lot harder when you’re remote. You need to know that your new remote employee can handle smaller decisions, and that they’ll make the right call when they do.

Find out how the candidate evaluates the information available and what they do if any information is missing. Make sure you get a sense of how they set priorities in decision-making and how they know what’s essential versus what they can compromise on if necessary.

What to Ask

  • “Tell me about the last time you had to make a decision with a key piece of information missing. What was your process?”

  • “What was the toughest decision you ever had to make on your own? What made it hard?”

Assess Their Leadership Capacity

When you’re hiring for the office, you don’t always need to gauge leadership skills. Every remote worker has to be a leader sometimes, though, especially when your company culture encourages a lot of initiative from individual contributors.

Find out how your candidate coordinates a project, especially in terms of communication. How would they build a project team from afar? How would they keep everyone connected?  

What to Ask

  • “If I put a new project in your lap tomorrow, how would you organize a team?”

  • “Tell me about a time when you coordinated a team’s communication. What were your priorities?”  

Check Their Adaptability

If COVID-19 has taught the working world anything, it’s that pivoting and adapting are two of a remote team’s most important skills. Whether the whole team is remote or you’re adding a remote member to an in-office group, you need to know that this new person will be flexible enough to try new things, change tactics if something doesn’t work and actively seek out feedback.

After all, no one will be dropping by the person’s desk to make a suggestion.

You want a remote worker who is:

  • Self-aware enough to know if they’re contributing well to the team

  • Confident enough to speak up if they think they’re floundering

  • Humble enough to ask what they should be doing differently

In short, you need someone who can respond constructively to failure and move forward without getting bogged down.

What to Ask

  • “What has been the most important failure in your career? Why?”

  • “Tell me about the last time a project went wrong. What did you learn?”

Gauge Their EQ

EQ, or emotional intelligence, is a person’s ability to understand and respond to people’s feelings, both their own and others.’ To have a high EQ, you need:

  • Emotional awareness

  • Self-regulation

  • Internal motivation

  • Empathy

  • People skills (leadership, cooperation, influence, etc.)

EQ is a major driver of success for all employees, but remote workers need even more of it. They have to communicate effectively without the help of body language or those brief interactions that in-office workers depend on to build relationships.

To figure out how a remote worker would handle this challenge, ask them questions that tell you:

  • How well they pay attention to other people’s words and actions

  • How much they consider the impact of their own words and actions on others

  • Whether they consider others when developing plans and solutions

What to Ask

  • “What do you do when you have to give someone difficult feedback?”

  • “Tell me about the last time you worked with someone who seemed nervous or ill at ease. How did you handle the situation?  

Evaluate their Communication Style

Communication skills may top the list of must-have qualities for remote workers. Your team depends on a new hire’s ability to stay in touch via preferred channels like email, video chat or Slack.

Every candidate will tell you that they have strong communication skills, but actions speak louder than words. Keep an eye on how the candidate stays in touch during the interview scheduling process. 

  • Are they flexible with time or do they make you struggle to settle on a slot?

  • Do they confirm once the time is set? 

  • Do they honor their commitment or ask you to reschedule?

You can also learn a lot by asking them about their experience with the interview scheduling process. Their responses tell you whether your company’s communication style will work for them.

What to Ask

  • “Do you have any feedback for us on the interview scheduling process?”

  • “How did our scheduling system work for you?”  

More Tips for Remote Interviewing

Pay attention to their videoconferencing habits. How they videoconference with you for the interview will tell you how they’ll connect remotely as an employee.

  • Do they keep their eyes up and look at the camera or are they looking down at their desk the entire time? 

  • Does their posture look professional or are they lounging? 

  • How are they dressed?

Don’t skip this step, especially if the position is client-facing or involves a lot of meeting time.

Evaluate their working space. Even if your remote employees don’t need fully-equipped home offices, they need spaces where they can be productive.

It’s not necessarily a red flag if they interview from their kitchen table — they might simply be prioritizing natural lighting for your call. If the setting they’re calling you from doesn’t seem like a good work space, simply ask where they’ll be setting up shop if you hire them.

Consider asking that question even if it looks like they’re calling from a dedicated home office. It’s a good way to segue into a conversation about how they handle distractions. 

Use Calendly to schedule interviews. Interview scheduling can involve a lot of back-and-forth emailing, even if the candidate is flexible. Calendly eliminates this frustration.

With Calendly, you just fill out a calendar with your — or your interviewer’s — available time slots. You send a personalized Calendly link to the candidate, they pick a time that works and it gets added to both calendars.

Calendly also supports team scheduling. On your end, it works just like the one-on-one scheduler in that every team member enters their availability. Calendly then aggregates those schedules and the candidate gets a single link from which they choose a slot.

If the candidate will be meeting with one person, Calendly auto-assigns them to an available team member. You can also schedule them to meet with multiple team members or host a group interview using Calendly’s group scheduling tool. 

No matter what type of meeting you choose, Calendly makes the scheduling process easier. That way, you can focus on crafting the perfect interview questions and finding the right candidate.

Ty head shot

Ty Collins

Ty is the head of digital acquisition and content at Calendly.

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