Insights from 11 Leaders on Recruiting and Hiring Remote Workers

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May 9, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Whether hiring remote workers or in-office workers, the goal is typically the same: find the best person for the job and the company. But when it comes to recruiting and hiring remote workers, the methods employed by many remote companies offer unique insights into how remote companies function, and why the process of recruiting remote workers needs to be different.

We’ve interviewed remote company leaders from over 100 organizations to find out how they make it all work — the details and differences in recruiting, hiring, and managing remote workforces.  To some extent, the process is similar to hiring in-office workers.

But there are a number of ways remote recruiting and hiring is different from in-office hiring. As discussed at the first annual TRaD* Works Forum, which is being held again in September 2017, some of the biggest goals in hiring remote workers are to optimize for productivity, retention, and cultural fit.

Here are insights from 11 remote company leaders on recruiting and hiring remote workers.

Focus on the essentials: culture and communication.

Among remote team leaders, there is almost-unanimous agreement that the keys of a successful remote team are culture and communication.

Culture is foundational in remote teams and companies. Our founder Sara Sutton Fell wrote in Entrepreneur, “We don’t have bricks and mortar. Instead, our company culture is the brick and mortar; it’s our infrastructure. As a remote company, our culture is the space in which we exist.”

And if culture is a remote company’s brick and mortar, then communication among workers and teams, throughout the company, is the electricity and the lighting — when it’s done well, it makes everything possible. And when it’s not, things stop functioning and people are left in the dark.

Modern Tribe’s Partner and CEO Shane Pearlman starts with culture. “The first interview with Modern Tribe is a ‘cultural interview,’” says Pearlman. “Since we are a remote company, each interaction with the applicants needs to strongly represent our culture!”

To tackle communication up front, both GitHub and Authentic Form & Function start with questionnaires. Coby Chapple, product designer with Github, says the company’s written questions and exercises help to “get a feel for a candidate’s communication skills and the depth of their abilities in the area we’re looking to hire.”

And Chris Arnold, partner at Authentic Form & Function, says their pre-interview questionnaire asked candidates for their “thoughts on remote working, business hours, work/life balance, and expectations. Right away this clears the deck of many people that aren’t at a place where we feel they can best contribute.”

Use the best interview method for YOUR company … which might be text messages!

Unlike the near-unanimous agreement on culture and communication, it seems remote teams and companies have dozens of differing methods for conducting remote job interviews. But in a remote environment, when communication is key, and each company communicates differently, this makes sense.

DevriX and Automattic conduct applicant interviews via text chat or IM (instant messaging). DevriX’s founder and WordPress architect Mario Peshev, says, “We do text interviews via IM almost exclusively since 99 percent of our work does not involve calls or meetings.”

Automattic’s Sara Rosso, marketing manager and Lori McLeese, head of human resources, agree about text interviews: “We conduct them largely via text chat. It’s a good introduction for the person interviewing about how we communicate (very heavily text-based).”

But there’s a potential downside to IM interviews: Lots (LOTS) of scam companies use IM interviews for their bogus remote jobs, so job seekers are, understandably, very wary about interviews conducted in this format. Therefore, make sure your company has other interview options.

Most remote companies say they use some combination of phone calls, video calls, and in-person interviews. But the key is that each interview method matches the company’s way of doing business.

For LiquidSpace, that means video interviews. “We go through multiple rounds of video interviews,” says content manager Richard Heby. “Because we work remotely and all of our meetings are video calls, this process accurately represents our day-to-day work style.

Tell people why they DON’T want to work for your company.

At Fire Engine RED, says communications director Chuck Vadun, “Final-round candidates have the ‘Why You Don’t Want to Work Here’ call.”

How, exactly, does this tricky subject come up? “On the call are three or four team members, usually from outside the department the candidate would be joining, and excluding the hiring manager,” explains Vadun. “It’s not a ‘cheerleader’ session; team members are honest and upfront about the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

What’s the benefit of having such candid conversations with remote team candidates? “It helps the candidate better understand our virtual environment,” says Vadun, “and provides him/her with full disclosure of what it’s like to work at Fire Engine RED.”

When you get to the end of the process, make a decision you’re excited about.

I’ve definitely found times where we just haven’t landed on the right person. And it can be tempting, after all that work communicating back and forth, interviewing, testing, and debating each candidate’s merits, to just make the best decision possible with the candidates at hand.

But most of the time, I tend to agree with Leif Singer, head of product at iDoneThis, who has this to say about reaching the end of a round of hiring:

“One of the most important insights in hiring for us so far has been, if it’s not a ‘Hell, yes!’, it’s a ‘no’.”

If communication and company culture are essential to remote teams, then it only makes sense to bring people on board who make teams and leaders think, “hell, yes” this person is right for the role!

And if people aren’t excited or enthusiastic about any of the candidates being considered, it’s probably time to find a new group of candidates and to start the process again. In the long run, the company’s culture and communication (aka. its bricks and mortar) are reinforced by hard hiring decisions like these.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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