Remote work is not the same as in-office. What you’d look for in a person to work next to physically day in and day out differs, despite what people think.
It’s not a time to cling to the classic assessments of “do they play well with others”? It’s time to focus on what truly makes a great remote employee and how you can find them with specific and strategic interview questions.
But the questions alone won’t help you. You also have to know which answers mean your candidate would make a good fit.
What to Look for in a Remote Work Interview vs. In-Person
Reggie had been a recruiter for years. He was able to hire the perfect fit for his team time and time again. Coworkers loved his hires and everyone got along really well in the office, with a few of his recruits moving up to leadership and top-performing positions. But when the pandemic came around and his office went fully remote, suddenly his hires were missing the mark.
They seemed great in interviews.
They passed the second and sometimes third round of questioning with multiple managers.
They had the experience. It all seemed great—right on target as usual.
But when it was time for onboarding and getting to work…well, something was off. Sure, they showed up to the meetings and were super enthusiastic. They even contributed to ideas in the project management software. When it came to their individual work though…
Well, let’s just say it didn’t work out.
Reggie’s mistake wasn’t that he somehow “lost his touch”. It was that he didn’t change anything about the way he hired staff for their now fully-remote company from the way he hired in-person staff.
And in this world, that makes all the difference.
You do have to look for some of the same culture fit pieces when hiring someone remotely, but that’s not nearly as important as if the person can do the job. In most in-person offices, employees are hired by how well they interview, get along with the interviewees, and often how personable they are.
These things matter for an in-person job where that employee will have to mingle with other people regularly. But these are much less important in a remote setting and you can actually make the mistake of hiring someone who isn’t a fit at all for how you work.
To simplify, here’s what to look for when hiring remote vs in-person:
- Remote work: take an assignment-based focus for hiring and choose the person who was able to best perform what their future job will be
- In-person work: the focus here is mainly for team cohesion, collaboration, as well as experience in the role
There’s always more to it than that, including seeking question responses that indicate a true self-starter, someone who knows themselves well enough to deal with the challenges of remote work, and figuring out who can communicate well in a digital setting.
If you’re just making the switch or need to brush up on being interviewed for a remote job, we’ll help you with the questions you’ll get and responses that indicate a green light.
7 Common Remote Work Interview Questions and What to Ask Instead
You could ask all the basic questions—the direct ones that are logical, the ones they’ll be prepared to answer. But there are better ways to find the information you’re looking for that will produce far more in-depth and honest answers.
That’s what you want at the end of the day, right? Honest and deep answers so you can find the best fit for the role and your culture.
Common question: Have you worked remotely before?
Instead ask: How is remote work compatible with your lifestyle?
It’s obviously going to be easier to hire a remote employee who has done this before but you don’t have to be so straightforward. The truth is that anyone applying for a remote position might just tell you they have because they know it’s what you want to hear.
Asking instead about how remote work is compatible with their lifestyle does a lot more and requires a more in-depth answer that paints a broader picture of this candidate’s life as a whole. Plus, they may not have worked remotely before, but the lifestyle could be a perfect fit. Do you really want to overlook a candidate because they answer “no” to this?
Response you want: Look for answers that have uniqueness to them. Focus on what they’re saying about the lifestyle they desire. Do they want to travel more? Do they want to have more flexibility to pursue a hobby that isn’t available during typical in-office hours? When the upsides of working remotely means their life is more enriched, they’re more likely to stick around because the fact that you’re a remote company is a benefit. Plus, their answer here also gives you more insight into who they are and what their goals are.
Common question: What’s a challenge you think you’ll have in this setting?
Instead ask: What’s your process for working through challenges or obstacles in your role?
We can all agree by now that despite the many benefits of remote work, there are challenges. There will always be challenges. Just like for in-office work. You don’t really need to know what challenge they’ll face.
What you want to know is how they’re going to solve their challenges, no matter what they are because in a remote setting, their first line of defense is themselves. Plus, this question will inevitably tell you more about the kinds of challenges they’ve had to solve in the past just by their answer.
Response you want: There isn’t a specific answer here. What you’re looking for is how well this person knows themselves. Nobody has zero challenges in a remote setting. Even the most disciplined of people may struggle with something as simple as “being stationary all day”, to which you can ask what their solution would be. Let them prove that they have self-awareness and problem solving skills. If they say “none,” challenge them until they bring up something.
Common question: What environment do you tend to work best in?
Instead ask: When do you get your most in-depth work done?
Most managers will ask about the environment specifically because the role is remote. What they want to hear? Something that indicates they can work digitally or they have a home office for remote work to focus in.
It’s a borderline useless question.
The environment has less to do with a candidate’s work habits than being self-aware enough to know when the quality work gets done. Someone can work in a new setting and environment every single day, but if they know they do their best work between 9am and 1pm, that’s all they need.
Just remember that everyone is different. It’s not normal for a person to function at top-level from 9-5. That’s just what society has forced people into thinking. Those with enough self awareness or experience with remote work will know the real answer.
Response you want: Look for the awareness. It doesn’t matter what time or in which situation they work best. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if their prime hours are during yours. What matters is that someone knows themselves well enough to say, “I’m most engaged after 2pm.” Keep an eye on candidates who need too many specifics to work well. The “After about two cups of coffee, in my good chair, with a bowl of almonds lightly salted, and my diffuser with orange essential oil is the only time I do great work.” Many of these people can end up using these conditions as excuses.
Common question: How do you manage work-life balance when working remotely?
Instead ask: What do you like doing for fun?
Nobody should be all work and no play. That kind of mindset only ends up contributing to unhealthy burnout in remote cultures. But asking someone how they find a balance isn’t the way to find the real answer.
The truth is that a balance comes from having a healthy lifestyle outside of work, one in which work isn’t their entire job. That’s when things become out of balance. To find the answer to that, though, you have to ask about what they do for enjoyment, and decipher their answer for yourself.
Response you want: Here, look for an answer that really indicates anything that takes them outside of their home or away from a computer. They don’t have to be hikers or outdoorsmen, so long as an activity separates their life from home in some way. These hobbies can also give you insight into how they work best as well. Team or group activities indicate someone who is likely to be better at working closely with others while solitary hobbies may mean you have someone for a more independent role.
Common question: Do you collaborate well with others?
Instead ask: What were your previous work environments and teams like?
Look at their resume and ask this about a long-standing job. Nobody stays on with a company for a long time without needing to collaborate in some way. Even freelancers have to take client feedback, iterate, and respond.
Hearing about their previous teams will paint a picture of the space they’d do well in. Just remember to ask about what they did and did not enjoy about those things so you know whether or not that collaboration was good for them.
Response you want: Get some clarity on the flow of work here. How did projects come together? What were the steps to bring an idea to reality and what role did they play in that? Focus on areas where they talked about meetings, projects, client work, and other clues they would have had to work with other people. If their answers are primarily solitary-based and this is a highly collaborative role, call that out and see how they respond.
Common question: How would you contribute to a remote company’s culture?
Instead ask: What was your favorite part about your last place of employment’s culture?
There are very few people who can accurately point out how they could contribute to a remote company’s culture. What are they doing to say?
“I would post a dad joke in a thread daily.”
“I’m the gif-master and can pinpoint the perfect one for any scenario.”
“My emoji game is sick!”
That’s not going to get you the answer you’re really looking for (nor are these things culture), which is if this person would mesh well with your team’s culture.
Response you want: What people respond with to this question are what they value in a culture. If they talk about the humor and inside jokes, they’ll be likely to contribute to them. If they most enjoyed their work’s fantasy football league, they’ll probably be someone to suggest or rally people around those activities. Whatever they answer with is what they will interact with. Are these in line with your team’s culture? Are they completely different from what your whole company is about? And even better: would they bring something great to the team that you don’t have yet, and desperately need?
Basic interview questions for a remote job will result in basic hires. Better questions will help you go deeper with candidates to know who they really are, not just who they present to you during the interview (and we all know it often is a presentation).
Skip the fluff and replace the basic questions with these quality ones.