Formstack Blog

How to Hire the Best Remote Employees

Luis Magalhães, content manager and editor-in-chief at remote placement agency DistantJob, knows a thing or two about remote working. Here are some of Luis’s tips for successfully hiring remote employees.

By now, it should be no secret that the future of work is remote. More and more companies are remote-first (Formstack included), and that’s no fluke. Remote work is a healthier, more productive, less wasteful way of doing business. It gets the best work out of people without also sucking the life out of them.

If you still need convincing, Formstack made an excellent case for remote working. If you’re sold on the idea of hiring remote workers, you might be asking, “How do I choose the best remote employee for my company?” Lucky for you, you just ran into an article authored by someone who works for a company that is all about finding the best remote employees. Serendipity!

Here’s the nitty-gritty of how to weed through remote candidates to find strong remote employees:

Step 1: Look for thoroughness in the pre-interview materials.

Not every person is suited to remote work. It requires a specific mindset and approach to work that takes time to cultivate. Look for attention to detail in candidate portfolios and pre-interview communications. Were the candidates clear in their messaging? Did they go into detail when answering the job application? And did they display some personality?

Short answers (under five words) are usually a bad sign. Most communication in remote projects happens through text. People who are thorough with their language are a must. And you don’t want to work with an emotionless android. People who don’t develop an emotional bond with the rest of your team are not likely to be a good fit in the long run.

A great way to measure all this is to put some extra attention into writing your job post. Make it conversational, make it showcase your company culture, and include small tests. For example, ask applicants to include ONE portfolio sample, and stress that it’s only one. If they send two, they’re out—unless they address the fact they broke the rules and have a good justification for it.

Then, in the end, include a postscript with a personal question. Ask about their favorite book, restaurant, or movie, and prompt them to discuss why it’s their favorite. This helps check their level of enthusiastim when talking about something they love. It’s a good barometer for how involved they will be with the team.

Step 2: Go beyond typical interview questions.

Everyone has their preferred interview questions, and I’m not about to mess with yours. Every company has its philosophy and expects something different from their employees. Interview questions should reflect that and are, thus, unique to you and your business.

That said, some questions are especially relevant to hiring remote employees. You should always ask candidates how they would go about doing their jobs. Their answers will give you an idea of how well they understand remote work. Satisfied with the answer? Drill even deeper: Ask them to describe what a typical work day would look like for them.

Video is, of course, a must. When working with remote people, it’s critical to get a lot of eyes-on time, and this should start in the interview. Communication skills are crucial to remote work. Do any candidates seem to have trouble communicating? Do they look unduly nervous? Or worse, are they mulittasking and typing away at something on the keyboard? Those are all red flags! More than the answer to your questions, check their ability to communicate and focus.

Another thing to keep in mind is that two heads think better than one. Never interview alone. Always have a partner, and share notes after the interview. It’s even better to conduct many interviews with different partners. You can, for example, gauge your candidate’s reaction to being evaluated by a senior colleague versus their response to being interviewed by someone who could work under them. Out-of-the-box tactics like this are key when you’re looking to conduct a great interview.

Step 3: Understand there’s a reason test drives sell cars.

It gets tough when you come down to a strict selection of outstanding people. So your final candidates are a match for culture fit, have equally impressive portfolios, and are excellent communicators. What happens now? You might have to go with your intuition. Don’t underestimate the power of the gut feeling when breaking a stalemate. Of course, intuition comes with experience. It could be worth your time to look for a boutique recruitment agency with lots of experience on all the above (wink wink, nudge nudge).

No matter which candidate you pick, you should continue vetting them for a specified period of time. Assign them a trial project to make sure they work well with the team, or get them right in the trenches while making it clear that the first couple months are a trial run. You can interview a person for weeks and gather tons of data, but you only get to know them and their work when they are rubbing (virtual) shoulders with your (virtual) team.

Want more info about any of the above? Have questions about recruiting remote employees? Ping my team on Twitter @distantjob, and we’ll be happy to answer.

About the Author

Luis Magalhães is content manager and editor-in-chief at the DistantJob Blog. He writes about how to build and manage remote teams, and the benefits of hiring remote workers. He’s been managing editorial teams remotely for the past 15 years, and training teammates to do so for nearly as long.

Get in touch with him via Luis[at]distantjob.com or by tweeting @distantjob.