How to Interview & Hire a Remote Employee


“Adapt. React. Readapt. Apt.” - Michael Scott


While we definitely don’t want to make a habit of taking business advice from Michael Scott, there is some truth in this advice, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proved it to us all. We’ve all had to adapt to new situations and new realities of our day-to-day lives, and that includes the way we run our companies.


Hopefully, your company is in a place where you’re able to hire to bring some relief to your stressed and overworked team, but even that presents its own challenges. You’re not interviewing someone to sit beside you in an office for eight hours a day (at least). You’re hiring someone to work independently, probably in their own home, possibly hundreds of miles away. What’s the difference between hiring an effective in-office employee and an effective remote employee? What does that interview process look like?


Don’t put too much emphasis on personality.


Remember, this is technology, a lot of the roles you hire for may be head-down types, and personality shouldn’t be confused with culture fit. You still want someone who holds the same values as your company and your team, but what does it matter if they’re not great at small talk or aren’t into socializing? Especially in technology, not everyone has the stunning personality of a salesperson or a front office worker. That being said, now that we’re remote, maybe you’ll be more likely than you would’ve been before to hire someone whose tech skills outshine their personality. The only time you’ll all be spending time together is on a few Zoom meetings a day, and the truth is that culture fit just doesn’t hold the same weight when that’s the case. In fact, they might even keep their camera off on meetings and just choose to listen.


In the past, we wouldn’t have hired this person based on their personality, but now could be a great opportunity to make it work and bring a lot of value to your team. People that were passed on because they’re so good at their job but have no personality can bring a ton of value to a team and a project, so take advantage of that if you can. Focus more on technical skill and innovation for exclusively remote employees, especially if they’ll be remote long after you all return to the office.


Pay close attention to skills like time management and independent work.


These are two important skills that remote employees need to have under their belt. Working remote means that you aren’t going to be there to give a nudge in the right direction or keep them on track. Remote employees should have the responsibility and drive to keep themselves working efficiently and on schedule. They should understand how to see a need and fill it without being specifically told to do so; it’s a lot harder to split yourself amongst employees without everyone in the same room together.


Here are some good questions to help you gauge these things:

  • “When you have a lot of different projects, how do you keep track of them all?”

  • “How do you know when a project is over?”

  • “When working on a group project, what role do you typically play?”

  • “Explain the last time you worked independently or in a group, and what were your biggest contributions?”


Make sure you identify people who are hands-on.


Keep in mind, when people are interviewing, they’re giving you the best version of themselves, so try to focus on questions that allow the interviewee to explain details that they’ve accomplished during projects they’ve worked on. Pay close attention to how they use words like “I’ve done this” versus “the team did this.” Ask to see growth percentages or the end results of big team projects. Ask for references when you otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s important to see that the people you hire can do good work, because if you hire someone who can’t keep up, it’ll be a lot harder to see that until things have already begun to fall through the cracks.


Here are some good questions to help you gauge these things:

  • “Tell me about a time when you were responsible for a large success within your company.”

  • “Give me an example of a recent project that you feel the most passionate about.”

  • “Tell me one of the most recent mistakes that you made. Why did it happen and how did you fix it?”

Choose your interview topics with a purpose.


Get away from asking generic questions - make sure you’re asking specific things that reference your projects, your company, and your industry. The worst thing you can do is ONLY ask from a predetermined list of questions to ask all candidates. Keep in mind that every role you’re hiring for is different and depending on the role, you could be interviewing many different people. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs.


Here are some good questions to help you gauge these things:

  • “Tell me about the last time you worked on a big group project. What was your role to play, and what was the outcome?”

  • “Do you prefer to work independently or in a large team, and why?”

Communicate clearly about remote work expectations.


While we are remote now, we might not be remote forever, which is on everyone’s minds, so make sure you address this in the interview. If you don’t know the answer, ask, and if it’s your decision, make a plan. You need to be prepared to communicate about this.


It’s been a big learning curve with adapting to remote work, but many companies have gotten into the swing of things perhaps much better than they originally expected. If you can find the best way to interview your remote employees, there will be nothing but success ahead for you with an incredibly strong team by your side.


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