How to fast track your way through the remote work interview process

Fri Apr 03, 2020 · 5 min read

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Even before most companies found it necessary to transition to remote work, the no-office-needed movement has been catching on. Now, with the world doing its best to prevent other things from catching on, it’s highly likely that your next position will be a remote one.

Working remotely can take some adaptation, and requires some different ways of thinking. The first place you’ll run into these new paradigms is in the job interview process. Interviewing exclusively over phone and video call is very different than shaking hands in person - both for better or worse. Laggy network connections and some lost social cues can make it somewhat difficult to put your best foot forward. Fortunately, there are some ways to take advantage of a necessary reliance on technology to fast-track your way through the interview process.

I’ve been working exclusively remotely for several years, as a contract software developer, freelancer, and full-time employee. Here are a few things I’ve learned that you can do to make the most of your remote work interview process.

Pre-empt questions as much as possible

Unlike a face-to-face conversation, asynchronous emailing can stretch a basic introduction out over several days. The more time that you and a potential employer spend getting to know one another, the longer it takes for you to get hired and the greater the chances are that someone else will, instead. Avoid drawn-out email threads by anticipating, as much as possible, what the person you’re talking to needs to know.

Spend the time to come up with some bullet points about yourself - what you’re looking for in your next position, your main skills and interests, the people skills you bring to a team. Pretend you’re writing a movie star biography for yourself - what do all your adoring fans want to know? What would help them best understand your abilities and personality?

Consider yourself from the point of view of an employer. Is there anything you can guess they might ask you that you can preemptively answer instead? Is there a gap in your employment history? A few years of unrelated work? A possible conflict of interest? Anticipating these questions and offering answers to them upfront can help to put potential employers at ease. Being upfront with many relevant details in initial emails can help your recipient understand very quickly if you might be an excellent fit, and saves you both some time and effort. Unlike an in-person conversation, a little over-sharing may actually be helpful.

Don’t undervalue anything

It’s important to understand that the written word is much more powerful than colloquial speech. While in a conversation you might throw around phrases such as “kind of,” “something like,” or “a little,” writing down these dampeners can really undervalue your skills and experiences. You may be tempted to mention your “little weekend side project that you sometimes fiddle around with,” instead of writing a more factual and accurate description of your experiments, the technologies you use, and the outcome of combining both. Be factual and objective in your writing. Even if you’re afraid someone will tell you that your accomplishments are no big deal, make them tell you, instead of saying so yourself. It’s highly likely they won’t.

Hobbies that seem inconsequential to you may indicate a much-needed skill set to a potential employer. You never know, so don’t assume.

Demonstrate domain knowledge

You’d be stunned to know what it never occurs to folks to ask during interviews, especially technical ones. Remember that your interviewer is just another person too - there will be things that don’t occur to them, questions they forget to ask, and topics they wouldn’t have guessed would be helpful to bring up. You can help them out by bringing up areas in which you’re knowledgeable.

Don’t be afraid to steer the conversation into familiar territory - especially if that territory is relevant to the industry, company, or the folks you might work with! Maybe you’re applying for a developer position for a travel app - if you’ve travelled, tell your story! How did you arrange the trip? What services did you use? What did you learn from the experience that might be useful information for building a travel app? Show you’re both familiar with the topic, and that you’ve given it some thought. As much as you can, relate your personal experiences to the possible goals that the company might have.

Have a thirty-minute technical talk prepared

Well ahead of being asked to make a presentation to some folks from the team, have one ready. If a presentation is part of the interview process, most companies will ask you to demonstrate knowledge on a topic of your choice. No need to wait until the last minute - you have every opportunity to ensure that you’re well prepared.

Consider creating a presentation on a project you’ve previously completed and are familiar with. Questions will typically be asked after you present, so ensure that you’ll be able to answer them confidently. Have some visuals prepared that you can screen-share, and don’t forget to include links to your work or portfolio site. Practice your talk - out loud, either to another person or to yourself on video - at least three times over three days before the day of your presentation. It’s important to space out your practice sessions over a few sleeps. Sleep helps the brain learn and consolidate information, and this will make a world of difference to your confidence levels when it’s showtime. Practicing once a day, over three days, is infinitely more effective than practicing three times on the day before, so don’t wait!

Invest in your remote work future

Invest in your next position, both figuratively and literally. I hope the tips above inspire you to prepare well and ace your next remote work interview process. As for literal investment, get a good pair of headphones and decent microphone. For two birds with one stone, here’s what I use. Trust me, you’ll be putting them to use pretty soon!