Nailing the Remote Interview

It has become commonplace for companies to run their interview process remotely. From the initial screening call to the offer presentation, you never step into the offices of the company looking for talent, even if they have one.

Looking for a job is challenging in any circumstances. Interviewing remotely can add to the pressure and, in extreme cases, cause you to needlessly tank the interview.

This post outlines a few practices to deploy for better performance in remote interviews and land a great job. The techniques are divided into ones that apply before, during, and after the individual interviews.

For cases where the hiring process consists of multiple interviews, consider preparing for each individually, even though the brunt of work will happen before the first one.

Before the interview

Before the first interview takes place, take time to understand where you'll be applying. Creating a small document you can return to before each interview is a worthwhile time investment.

Regardless of the role, there are two oft-overlooked areas to research.

  • Company values
  • Team-specific context

Whatever you do, always prepare a list of specific questions for the interview. Few things make as bad of an impression as answering naw, I'm good! when the interviewer inevitably provides you with space to ask questions.

Company Values

Many companies publicly document their core values, making them available for you to read.

Take advantage!

Go through them, and think about how your potential employer's core values relate to you, your behaviors, and experiences.

Think of examples you could tactically employ to prove your alignment with the company's values throughout the interview. You won't always have a chance to showcase them, but when a window of opportunity opens, seize it, and the day with it. 🕺

The higher the interviewer is on the company ladder, the more they tend to care about core values and emphasize alignment over specific skills due to the widespread managerial belief that Culture is King.

Team-Specific Context

Hiring managers value interest in joining their specific team.

Demonstrating interest in and knowledge of the company is a great start, but don't stop there. Try to understand the scope of the team you'd be joining and be prepared to discuss it with curiosity.

Surprisingly few people manage to show interest in the specific work they'd be doing within the hiring manager's team. This creates doubt.

Is the person interested in working on our team's scope, or are they just in it for the perks our company offers?

How long will a person like this last?

Don't leave them in suspense. Look for information about the team's scope beforehand. Invest the time to understand it and prepare a few questions specific to the team's scope and challenges.

If there is no publicly available information about the team's work, leverage your recruiter to learn more about your future role and the squad where it will live.

During the interview

Put on a good show.

Many companies swear by the objectivity of their process. Highly structured interviews, consistent test task conditions, and intricate scoring matrices are ways that companies try to provide a level playing field.

But, we are humans, and humans are never truly impartial.

Have exciting answers to questions in a structured interview, and you will get follow-up questions, giving you an extra opportunity to shine.

Genuinely have fun during a live coding session, and you will get more help from the interviewer when you become stuck.

The interviewer is looking for reasons to like you and help you. They are interviewing because they need more firepower, usually right now. Conducting dozens of interviews where they ask the same questions over and over again is mentally taxing; they want to be done already.

The hiring manager's first thought before joining each call is I hope this will be 〜 the one 〜. If you don't extinguish their flame of hope, they will be looking for ways to help you!

If you give the interviewers the tools to help you, they will.

Some of the tools available at your disposal are:

  • Think about what you want to say, say it, and stop.
  • Share concrete examples.
  • Deploy storytelling.

Think About What You Want to Say, Say It, and Stop.

This is the most helpful piece of advice I've gotten from a recruiter, ever.

Many people tend to keep going well beyond the point of usefulness when asked a question. They hope to give the interviewer extra context or hit all the keywords desirable within the role.

Don't do it.

The interviewer will walk away with the impression that you can't communicate succinctly and are trying to play them.

When asked a question, following the below structure religiously yields great results.

  1. Take a beat to organize your thoughts. Decide what you want to say.
  2. Say what you decided to say.
  3. Don't say anything else.
  4. If your answer felt incomplete, end by saying What would you like me to dig deeper into?

By following this structure, you are showcasing a multitude of behaviors most interviews search for.

  • You communicate effectively, a highly valued trait in remote organizations.
  • By pausing to think, you signal that you tend to give problems proper thought instead of saying the first thing that pops into mind.
  • By asking for follow-ups, you show you don't think you have all the answers, are capable of a dialog, and are not afraid of feedback.

Being explicit about the structure of your answer also illustrates a broader point.

Interviewing is always part substance, part performance.

Interviewers don't only look at the content of your answers but also how you present them. It's called "seeing how candidates think."

If you hear a question prefaced with "there are no right answers," it's doubly important to focus on the structure of your response, not just the contents.

Welcome to the metagame of interviewing. 😅

Share Concrete Examples.

Another point is to be as concrete as possible when responding to questions. Specific examples help you stand out. If you catch yourself uttering the phrase "various responsibilities," don't let the interviewer hanging. Pick the most interesting one and talk about it.

Do not assume that your interviewer read your CV carefully or remembers it.

There is a good chance they skimmed your CV a few weeks ago, forgot it, and are coming into the interview not knowing the first thing about you. If you worked for a well-known company, make sure to work it into one of your answers; pique your interviewer's interest.

If you're uncomfortable discussing specific projects from your prior work life, find other examples to talk about. Side projects or community work can be a good backup source of experiences in your toolbelt. Talking in general statements makes it hard for the interviewer to probe deeper and get the information they need to move you forward.

Deploy Storytelling.

Finally, deploy storytelling techniques to be memorable.

Interviewers go through many interviews. Over time, candidates blend together. It becomes hard to recall the person you talked to yesterday. Crafting a personal story that becomes the red thread connecting all your answers makes your interview more memorable and builds curiosity with the interviewer.

Not everyone is a natural storyteller, tho', and it's a tricky skill to build.

The easiest thing you can do is to try to pick answers to the interviewer's questions so that your answer refers back to ones you've given previously.

This trick helps the interviewer grasp your experience more quickly and nudge you to share in areas where you have not yet demonstrated the attributes they seek.

The next step is to think about your unique value add before the interview and generate tactical examples you could use to express it.

Are you excellent at facilitating collaboration between teams?

What stories could you tell that demonstrate this?

The priority is always to answer the interviewer's question, not to talk about things that make you look good.

Building a story is a great bonus, but don't fall into the trap of focusing on self-presentation over giving the interviewer the information they need to collect about you.

After the Interview

After the interview ends, the recruiter is your best friend.

Like the interviewer, the recruiter wants you to get hired. They are most definitely willing to go the extra mile to make that happen; getting you hired is their #1 priority, after all!

In remote, the recruiter can help you fill in for some of the informal conversations you would have before/after in-person interviews while getting escorted from the elevator or being shown the best coffee machine in the office after the interview.

Here are a few questions you can ask that most recruiters will be happy to probe for on your behalf:

  • How did I do in that specific interview? Can you share perceived strengths and weaknesses?
  • What will the following interview be? If it's a test task, how can I prepare?
  • What would you recommend I read before the next interview?

You will be surprised how much information the recruiter is willing to share to help you.

Finish Strong

As a finisher, there is a killer question you can ask at the end of most interviews.

What is your biggest reservation about me as a candidate?

Asking this question requires confidence but gives you a stellar chance to address any reservations your interviewer has heads-on.

One or two top concerns usually bounce around in the interviewer's head by the end of the interview. If you can dispel them on the spot, you can change the interview's outcome within the last couple of minutes.

Good luck out there! 🍀


Cover photo by Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash.

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