10 Essential Tips for Hiring Remote Employees

January 12, 2021

Considering recruiting for remote work? Make sure to know everything from remote hiring best practices, to examples of the best interview questions, to know what to look for on an ideal resume, and a whole lot more!

First off, let’s define what we’re talking about: what does remote position mean?

A remote position is one in which a worker spends the majority of their working hours outside of a traditional office environment. This might mean working from home, working from a coffee shop, working while traveling, etc. They usually need just two things: a laptop and an internet connection. 

When considering how to hire remote employees, the first images that come to mind are probably Zoom meeting rooms or Skype backgrounds. But we find that when hiring for remote work, to identify the best candidates, the vetting process should begin well before you click on that video call link. 

Because the fact is, hiring remote workers is often double the difficulty of hiring for an in-office position, because of the increased levels of trust necessary between employer and employee. And covid hiring challenges, of course, mean that you’ve never met this candidate in person (and you probably won’t for the next few months)! You haven’t picked up their “vibe,” and you haven’t seen how they interact one on one or in a group: it’s likely you just have their name and their qualifications on a piece of paper. 

So how to recruit the best employees this year?

We’ve broken down remote interview best practices, and what you need to know, before and after you’ve listed the position at your company! 

1. Ask lots of qualifying questions, before the online interview

Most hiring managers ask for only a resume and a cover letter from their applicants before they call them in for an interview. 

The trouble with this method when hiring remote employees, is that often a resume and a cover letter only give you an overview of an applicant. They definitely help you pick out the ‘definite no’ from the ‘maybe’ and the ‘yes’ piles, but they fail to offer a hiring manager any depth or insight into your applicant’s personality.

We suggest getting rid of cover letters - which tend to be vague - and instead asking targeted, important questions in a mini online-application. Remember - keep it short and sweet, and ask your applicants to give you their answers in 200 words of less per question. 

  • Have you ever worked remotely before? If so, what was that like and what challenges did you face? 
  • When working remotely, what would you say are the biggest roadblocks to collaboration with team members, and what have you done to get over these challenges?
  • What strengths do you have that make you best suited for this role, and what are you most excited about when reading our job description? 

This not only will give you a little more insight into applicant’s strengths and who they are as a person, but you’ll also see their short-form written communication skills - excessive typos, avoiding the question, or answering off topic will be red flags they don’t take instruction well or they have communication skills that may be subpar.

2. Look not just at the qualifications, but their behavior

We’ve noticed that startups hiring remote workers often have more experience with this - since they often hire 100% remote workers or exclusively operate from WeWork spaces - than older, bigger corporations. But the principle still stands: an applicant may be very qualified on paper, but if they lack the self-discipline to work from home, then this will hinder their success within your organization. 

During interviews, pay attention to things like:

  • Did they log in to the interview early or on time? 
  • Did they have trouble logging on? (They should be relatively technically savvy working from home)
  • Are they planning on working from a busy coffee shop or their home? Is their remote workplace going to be conducive to the work they’re doing? (E.g. a loud coffee shop is not going to be well received selling B2B products to high-value prospects)

Equally importantly, look for implicit examples of admirable behavior on their resume - for instance: 

  • Did they work while studying at college full time? (Most likely, someone who did this has excellent time management skills.) 
  • Alternatively, did they go above and beyond their requirements in their last job? This indicates the person is ambitious and will be a great asset to your organization. 

Pay particular attention to action over words here - most likely asking someone directly if they’re hard-working or self-disciplined will receive a “yes” response. Dig beneath the surface and look for what behaviors you can gauge from their actions over the most recent 2-3 years. 

3. Check out remote hiring best practices 

The classic enterprise work from home interview process consists of several organized steps and a checklist - that’s why we’re included the remote hiring best practices to include on your checklist! Here’s a rough outline you can take and customize to your company. 

List remote recruiting positions on job boards: request resume, list specific target questions for them to answer in online application, request any other examples of previous relevant work (e.g. portfolio, links to website, etc). 

  • Pay attention here to spelling, grammar, and communication style. 
  • Also look to see if they’ve answered all the questions you’ve asked and done all you asked for in the online application - consider it a red flag if they haven’t bothered with one or more of the steps you requested.

If a good fit, coordinate time to conduct video interview

  • Pay attention to email response times, and quality of communication from their emails 

Conduct video interview: 

  • Have a list of qualification/skills based questions to ask 
  • Have a list of questions relating to challenges of remote work, how they deal with these challenges, and behavioral questions (it’s especially useful if you can get them to tell stories of times they’ve faced certain issues and overcome them, or tangible examples to back up they’re answers)

Conduct a follow up video interview, if necessary 

  • This interview will probably be more skills-based, making sure they can complete the tasks; consider giving final candidates tasks to complete and compare their work 

Assign paid work for a trial period 

  • Give them one or two assignments - paid - which they are expected to complete and submit by a certain point in time
  • Compare quality of assignments and communication style with rest of your team, and any other relevant factors

Pick your best candidate 

  • Your interview process is complete!

4. Don’t shy away from hiring remote employees in other states

Usually when beginning the remote hiring process for the first time, companies prefer to hire within the same state as they operate in for time-zone purposes. However, don’t be afraid to expand your reach to other states - although we recommend sticking to no more than a 3 hour time difference - if you’re hiring the right person, it likely won’t matter if they’re a couple hours behind or in front of you. 

Remember that one of the challenges of virtual recruitment is a mismatch of expectations - so make sure that if your working hours are 8am to 4pm Pacific Time, that your applicant on Eastern Time is aware you’d like them to respond within the hours of 11am to 7pm their time. 

5. Be transparent

One of the top remote hiring best practices we can impart to you is that of prioritizing transparency. (On that note, we also recommend you emphasize the importance of authenticity on the part of your applicants).

For instance, if the hiring manager your new potential employee will be working with likes to check in several times a day with their team, then this should be explained to applicants at the job interview. This is of utmost importance in avoiding a mismatch between a remote worker who likes to be left to their own devices throughout the day, and an overly communicative hiring manager! 

Make sure to explain the personalities of team members they will be working with, expectations surrounding their behavior at work (if they will be expected to respond to emails outside of work hours, for instance, and within what time frame), the deliverables their hiring manager will assign, and other important information that will impact the day to day of their job.

6. Search for signs of self-discipline

When hiring remote workers, it’s essential that they demonstrate self discipline, as there will be no hiring manager looking over their shoulders, no coworkers to keep them accountable in the office, and the like. They themselves will need to make sure they deliver projects on time and adhere to company guidelines. 

So how do you know if the person you’re hiring really has self-discipline?

  • When looking at their resume, see if they had a lot of commitments in college (this could be ranging from a part time job on top of a full course load, to taking a leadership role in certain clubs). Someone who commits themselves to a myriad of activities at the same time often has great time management skills and is likely self-disciplined to be able to juggle all these activities at the same time.  
  • Ask to hear about their greatest commitments: a true sign of self-discipline is committing to something and sticking to it. Search for indications that they honor their responsibilities; this is always a good sign. 
  • Ask them about their goals for the next 5 to 10 years: often ambitious, self-disciplined individuals write down their goals and create a game plan for achieving them. 

7. Ask to hear their story

The people who most likely will stay with your company for a long time, and deliver on the work they promise, usually also truly enjoy their jobs. 

If you’re searching for an applicant who you want to bring on for at least several years, and who boosts morale in your team and contributes on multiple levels - try to find someone who has a passion for the role being advertised. How to find out if they will genuinely enjoy the job? Ask them about their story up until this point - how did they plan (or maybe even stumble) into this industry? What do they like best about it? Why do they think the work being done in this niche is impactful?

Genuinely get to know them: ask about their interests, family life (do they have kids?) and what they most enjoy doing on the weekends or on vacations. This will allow you to get a glimpse into what type of person they are. Do they enjoy adventuring in the outdoors or do they prefer drawing at home?

8. Outline expectations for the interview early on 

One of the challenges of virtual hiring is making sure that - in the small chunk of time you spend with an applicant - you get the most out of your time

Whereas with an in-person interaction, it’s easy to gauge someone’s personality, over the phone (or even video call) it’s simply a lot harder. That’s why it’s so important to create an interview outline and stick to it.

Explain at the beginning of the interview the structure of the next hour, what you want to learn, what your expectations are from a successful candidate, and assure them at the end of the call they will have a chance to pose any clarifying questions to HR or the hiring manager. 

9. Prepare unexpected interview questions for remote workers

Depending on the role you’re advertising for, you’ll want to make sure that the applicant is not only a good fit for your organization, but for the team they will be working with. 

For instance, if you’re hiring for a sales role, you want to make sure you pick quick-witted, confident candidates who can handle unexpected situations with prospects or current customers at the drop of a hat. You might also want to ensure that, if the whole team is sociable and light-hearted, that this candidate’s personality is either congruent with your current team, or that they can bring something extra to the table that your team lacks. 

Putting together a highly-efficient, communicative team is difficult even outside of a global pandemic - and a good way to see if someone’s a good fit is to ask unexpected questions that give insight to their personality and how they respond to expected situations. 

Unexpected, fun interview questions we like are: 

  • What is the hardest thing you've taught yourself in the last year?
  • What was the last book you read, and why did you like/dislike it? 
  • If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Why? 

10. Check applicants' references

Finally, a common remote hiring challenge is feeling good about how your favorite candidate will perform in the context of a remote role. And that’s why it’s so important to speak to their references directly - preferably over the phone!

Ask the usual questions about their work performance and their contributions to the previous company, but also ask their previous manager if, in their opinion, the applicant’s strengths are conducive to a remote role with your company. 

Of course, to make sure you get the most from this call, make sure to explain: 

  • The responsibilities of their new role 
  • Any reservations you may have about their capabilities 

And then ask for their take on things. You’ll probably find these phone calls extremely clarifying! 

We hope this article helps! And don’t forget - when welcoming your new remote employees to your team, a great way to create a feeling of camaraderie and boost morale is to send new hire kits! These can include anything and everything from useful (and reusable) S’Well water bottles, to Patagonia jackets, to company backpacks, and coffee-making sets. The possibilities are endless!

Check out our collection of unique corporate gifts here

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