Interviewing for Remote Employees

Assessing Candidates For Remote Jobs Requires A Non-Traditional Approach.

By Steve Schumacher

Most of today’s workforce was probably interviewed by a hiring manager who would be face-to-face with the new employee on a regular basis, perhaps daily. Hiring managers were able to assess body language and get a sense of a candidate’s eye contact, along with other elements of non-verbal communication. Those elements were important because most employees, when hired, would be interacting with other employees in-person day after day.

A good portion of traditional interviewing questions focused on aspects of teamwork and getting along well with others. Interpersonal skills, especially active listening, were important to evaluate in candidates when a high proportion of each worker’s day involved listening to others in the workplace. As many workplaces have shifted from a specific company location to remote locations, the nature of interviewing has changed also.

As a leader, it is vital that you keep the new normal in context when interviewing candidates. Your evaluation should be based responses to questions that reflect the remote nature of the new employees and their environments.

The job itself that you are interviewing candidates for is probably pretty similar to what it has always entailed, with the same metrics. The “how” of the job is going to be different because of the remote nature of the position.

As the hiring manager, you will need to let go of any need you have to watch employees closely. That will need to be replaced with a strong confidence that remote employees will do what they are asked to do, with quality and integrity. Some things to consider when forming interview questions for filling a remote position:

Experience is preferred, especially now. Training and developing new remote employees will be more limited than before the pandemic. The opportunity to put employees in classrooms is not going to happen again anytime soon. To counteract this, try to hire candidates that have a great deal of experience in the job you are trying to fill. Of course, those candidates will be more expensive than someone with no experience. Since the employee will not be near you frequently, in-person coaching and directing will be limited.

Self-confidence and ability to work alone. Remote employees spend most of their working hours by themselves. Not having anyone around on a regular basis can wear on people so ask the candidate to give you examples of how they have maintained a positive attitude working alone remotely. The remote employee will have to make a lot of decisions on their own, without immediate guidance from you. Have the candidate tell you how they have made quality decisions in a timely manner on their own with good results. Look for examples of how the candidate has been accountable for results without having a boss nearby to check on them regularly. Even in a remote world of work, teamwork is important. Ask how the candidate has fostered teamwork when colleagues are virtual.

Body language on a webcam. As humans, when speaking with others we notice body language first, above vocal tone, and the words being spoken. In person, things like eye contact and nervous movements are easy to assess. It is much tougher on a webcam. First impressions are made regardless of being in-person or on the computer. Those impressions will be difficult to overcome, if they are negative. In an interview, ask candidates how they can build trust with only a small box on a computer screen. Keep in mind that the person you hire after interviewing them on a computer will come across the same with others as they have with you.

Always ask for examples from the past. All the questions you ask a candidate should start with “give me an example of a time when…”. If you ask questions that start with “what would you do…” the candidate can tell you what they think you want to hear. Future behavior is primarily a result of past behavior, so ask what the candidate has done in the past. Envision the candidate’s work environment as a remote employee. Form your questions about that environment, not about an environment where the candidate may have worked in person.

Just like many other aspects of our new working world, interviewing candidates has shifted. As a hiring manager, work with HR to formulate questioning strategies that reflect the new normal.


Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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