While resumes and portfolios can tell you a lot about someone’s background and capabilities, interviews are essential for assessing if someone will be a good fit with your work culture and team. Today, interviews are increasingly going remote—just like the jobs you may be hiring for.
The core principles of remote interviews are the same as in-person meetings, but the format requires some adjustments. Even the most experienced interviewers may find that conducting interviews over a video call feels strange at first. These tips can help to make the process smooth for everyone involved—and before you know it, you'll be a remote interview pro.
1. Assemble an interview panel
It's helpful to have more than one person interview each candidate. Don’t limit yourself just to people managers who may oversee the candidate if hired, either. Getting the input of potential co-workers and cross-functional team members is valuable, as everyone can bring a different viewpoint to the process.
Let’s say an engineer, a marketing specialist, a project manager, and a people manager all interview the same person. The engineer might pick up on the candidate’s ability to do technical work, the project manager could get a feel for communication skills, and the people manager may be able to assess how well the candidate will fit with their potential colleagues. Having all three insights gives you a much clearer picture of how well an interviewee may be able to do the job.
There are a few ways you can structure your panel of remote interviewers:
- Do a group call with all of the interviewers and the candidate.
- Schedule a series of sequential one-on-one interviews that take place during the same day.
- Start with one or two interviewers on the first day and then make a decision about inviting a candidate back for more rounds with additional people.
Line up your interview panel and decide on the format in advance. Be sure to share the candidate’s resume and an up-to-date job description with every interviewer.
2. Prep the location and lighting
When choosing the location, you want a quiet and well-lit space. You can use natural or artificial lighting. If the sun is shining through any windows during your interview, position the window in front of you so that your face is well lit. Too much backlighting can keep your face in shadow during the interview.
Try to conduct the interview in a room with a door in order to muffle noise from colleagues, family members, or roommates. If you are not able to locate a private space, use headphones and ask those around you to keep noise to a minimum during the interview. Arrange for any pets to be in another room if possible.
If you're in an office space and will be using a conference room, now's the time to reserve it.
3. Conduct a test interview run
Select the video conferencing program that you’d like to use for the interview.
The day before the scheduled interview, do a test run to ensure your software of choice works well. Zoom lets its users conduct a test meeting, and most platforms include controls to check audio and video performance.
During your test run:
- Download the software or any updates
- Ensure it works with your computer operating system
- Turn on your video camera and adjust it to the right angle
- Try out your speakers and microphone
- Check the stability of your internet connection
Ideally, you’ll conduct this test in the same location where you’ll conduct the interview. If you can't access your interview space in advance, it's still a good idea to check your camera, audio, and computer compatibility.
4. Develop a backup plan
Even the best-laid plans can go awry. You can never rule out an unexpected issue, like a power outage or loss of internet connectivity. Come up with a backup plan in case problems arise. Depending on the situation, you may decide to:
- Reschedule the interview for another day
- Turn a video call into a phone interview
- Swap two interviewers' time slots
- Use your mobile phone as an internet hotspot
Communicate your backup plan to all interviewers and to the candidate. This way, everyone will be on the same page if an issue arises.
5. Designate a tech troubleshooter
When establishing your backup plan, it’s also a good idea to designate one person as a tech coordinator and troubleshooter. You can also ask IT for the name of a contact to whom you can direct tech questions the day of the interview.
If more than one interviewer is on the same video call, designate a host who will initiate the meeting. Decide if this person will also be responsible for troubleshooting technical issues or making the decision to enact a backup plan.
6. Send detailed instructions to the interviewee
Once you’ve conducted a test run and selected a place for your interview, share conferencing details with the interviewee. Send a calendar invite with:
- The date and time of your meeting(s)
- Interviewers’ names and roles
- An estimate of how long each conversation will take
- A link to download the video conferencing software
- Instructions on how to run a test
- Another link to access the meeting room
- Your backup plan in the event of a power outage or connectivity issue
- How the candidate should contact you if they run into any issues on their end
Remember to be mindful of time zone differences when scheduling. If you’d like the interviewee to pick from multiple predefined times, you can use a cross-platform scheduling program like Calendly or ScheduleOnce.
7. Prepare your interview questions
Once you have the interview scheduled, your panel assembled, and technical details worked out, it's time to develop your interview questions. Try to think of unique yet relevant questions that will help you assess the interviewee's suitability for the role.
Make your list as specific to the job as possible. Sticking to professional, not personal, topics can help you avoid asking an inappropriate interview question.
If you aren't sure whether or not it's okay to ask a particular interview question, check with your human resources team. They can provide advice for hiring managers that is specific to your industry or company.
8. Remember to ask different types of questions
Asking a mix of questions keeps the conversation interesting for all parties and helps interviewers better assess the interviewee's competencies. During the course of an interview, you could ask a mix of:
- Technical questions to assess hard skills and overall knowledge for the job
- Behavioral interview questions that provide insight about soft skills (for example, how the interviewee handled an unhappy customer)
- Hypothetical questions, where you ask the interviewee how they would react in a given situation
- "Off the wall" interview questions that necessitate a creative response or logical reasoning to seemingly absurd problems, such as "how many golf balls fit in a Boeing 747?"
Some of the questions you ask will require a simple yes-or-no answer. These are called close-ended questions and may include:
- Confirmation of the dates around an interviewee's last job or recent project
- Asking if they are available to work during specific hours
- Inquiring about their experience with a list of software programs
Once you start asking about the candidate's interest in and experience with the job, though, you’ll want to ask open-ended questions that require a longer response. Examples of open-ended questions include:
- What is a particular challenge that you experienced during a recent project?
- How do you stay informed about industry trends and changes?
- What are your professional strengths and weaknesses?
Hypothetical questions can serve as good follow-ups. If an interviewee doesn't have a real-life example to use when answering an open-ended question, ask them what they would do in a given situation.
When interviewing candidates for a remote position, it is also beneficial to include questions that are specific to the unique nature of remote work. Interview questions for remote positions may include:
- How an interviewee manages their time
- What they do to get to know colleagues on a distributed team
- Which project management programs they're familiar with
- What they feel is necessary to be successful when working remotely
Once you have developed a list of questions, organize them in a way that flows well and will keep the interview process going smoothly.
9. Have an interview checklist for questions
Checklists are a great way to organize your job interview questions. You may wish to create a list of core questions that you ask during every interview, as well as additional checklists that are specific to particular roles. Make sure your questions cover each topic area that you'd like to discuss.
For example, if interviewing for a remote graphic design position, your checklist may include questions about:
- Experiences while working on specific projects
- Familiarity with different design programs
- Level of experience with designing for different formats
- Professional skills development
- Remote work experience
- Ability to perform specific job duties
If the interviewee manages to answer two of your questions at once, you can easily cross them both off the list to keep track.
Remember to let the interviewee ask questions about the position duties and hiring process, too! The interview is just as much of a time for them to decide if they'd like to work with your team as it is for you to assess if they'll be a good fit.
10. Review the candidate's resume a day before the interview
Aim to review the candidate's resume and cover letter one day before your scheduled interview takes place. This will allow you to:
- Refresh your memory about a specific job candidate's skill sets
- Look over their work history, potential red flags, or discussion points of interest—just in case you missed something the first time.
- Compare their listed experience to the job description and take note of any potential strengths or weaknesses.
Once you feel familiar with the candidate's information and have your question checklist prepared, it's time to make the final pre-interview preparations.
11. Prepare your space for a successful interview
It's a good idea to have a copy of your checklist, a pen, a notepad, and a glass of water all within easy reach during the interview. Take a look at the space where you plan to conduct the interview. Do you have room for these items?
Next, consider your background. You don’t need to have a sterile background—office or home decor is fine—but it can be a good idea to straighten up any piles of paperwork or other workday clutter that might be visually distracting to your interviewee.
If you prefer, you can also use a virtual background. This feature, available in major video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype, blurs or replaces your background with a still image.
12. Prepare your screen for the interview
Once your physical space is in order, take a look at your computer screen. If you plan to share your screen with interviewees, be sure to:
- Set your desktop background to a neutral image, not a personal photo
- Remove any desktop files that could create clutter or reveal sensitive information
- Close any browser tabs that are not related to the interview
- Turn off your browser bookmarks bar if it contains personal links
Familiarize yourself with your video conferencing app's screen sharing controls. You may have the option to share one monitor, multiple monitors, or just a window. Finally, make sure that you can easily access the interview link to start the call at your scheduled time.
13. Start with a casual introduction
Turn on your computer and camera several minutes before the scheduled start of the interview. If you're the host, open the meeting room and wait for your fellow interviewers or the interviewee to arrive. Depending on the meeting settings, you may need to admit them to the room one by one.
Once the interviewee is present, begin with a casual yet short introduction. Have every member of the interviewing panel introduce themselves, their role, and give a short summary of their history with the company. This is helpful for the interviewee, and also gives you a chance to do a last-minute check for any potential technical difficulties.
The use of an icebreaker question can help smooth the transition from an introduction to the main interview questions. While you'll want to stay away from overly personal small talk, you can ask some job-related questions like these suggestions from the Society for Human Resource Management:
- What's motivating you in your current search for a new position?
- What's most important to you at this point in your career?
- What are you looking for in your next role?
- What other companies are you interested in working with?
At this point, you can segue smoothly into your interview checklist.
14. Communicate next steps clearly
When wrapping up the interview, be sure to communicate all next steps clearly. This may include:
- An approximate time frame for when the interviewee can expect to hear back about another interview or a final decision
- Any requests for work samples, presentation documents, or paperwork
- Whether or not you will be contacting the interviewee's references
- To whom the interviewee can direct any follow-up questions
In addition to reviewing this information on your call, it is nice to send it to the candidate in a post-interview email as well. This helps to make a great, organized first impression on the interviewee and build their interest in working with your company.
15. Review the interviewee's body language
Directly after the interview is over, take some time to look over your notes and evaluate the conversation. This can include a review of what the interviewee said, as well as their body language:
- Did they address the camera directly, or did they seem to have a hard time staying engaged and focused?
- Did they nod or give other signals to indicate they were listening to the conversation when not being directly questioned?
- Did they speak loud enough for you to hear them through their computer microphone (barring any technical issues, such as a bad internet connection)?
Keep in mind that an interviewee's body language isn't definitive, especially as conducting remote interviews can be a new or unusual experience for all parties involved, and body language over a remote interview is different from in-person. However, it's another point to consider when looking at how well the interview went as a whole.
16. Aggregate interview feedback
It's important that interview panel members refrain from sharing their feedback until everyone has had a chance to speak with the interviewee. If the first interviewer immediately shares their opinions with others on the panel, it may create bias during subsequent interviews.
Once all interviews are complete, then each interviewer can share their feedback. Because every interviewer may have their own note-taking style, it's useful to have a standardized feedback form for comparing everyone's input. This form might include a space for a summary, a numerical ranking of the interviewee's strengths, and an overall recommendation. You can then aggregate the general feedback for a given interviewee and compare them to other candidates.
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