You built a solid resume and wrote a meaningful cover letter. Now it’s paid off. You’ve got an interview for a remote position. Remote job interviews aren’t too different from in-person ones. The company wants to figure out if you’re the right candidate for them. And, of course, you want to figure out if the company is right for you.
But, they aren’t exactly the same, either. Because it’s an interview for a remote position, your interview is going to be remote, too.
This means you’re going to face a few challenges that you wouldn’t face in an in-person interview.
While there are some things common to all interview preparation—like knowing your strengths and weaknesses—preparing for a remote job interview requires you take a few unique steps to ensure you make the best impression possible.
Before the Interview
Just like an on-site interview, you need to prepare for your remote interview in advance. Unlike an on-site interview, you don’t need to figure out the best route to drive there and where you’re going to park. But, you do need to prepare your interview space.
Choose your spot wisely.
Whether it’s a phone interview or a video interview, make sure you have the interview someplace that’s distraction-free. The last thing you want is the sounds of children fighting or a neighbor’s lawnmower in the background.
If you’re positive your interview won’t include video, all you need is a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. But, if it will be a video interview, there are a few more steps you should take to prepare your space. And, even if you know there won’t be video, doing these things will help create a more professional atmosphere that can help get you in the proper mindset.
Set up your office.
If you don’t already have one, create a home office. It’s important to present yourself as the true professional that you are. Having an area in your home dedicated to work will create the impression that you’ll be serious about your job, and that you’re someone who won’t be easily distracted by random temptations like watching TV.
Your home office doesn’t have to be a separate room with doors. Your home office can be a quiet corner of your living room or a spot on the dining room table. Anyplace that lets you work distraction-free can double as your home office.
Give it a once over.
Look over your office with the most critical eye you can. Are you a clutter bug? Hide it under the desk or in another room if you have to. Even if “randomly stacked pile of paper” is your preferred filing method, don’t show it off during the interview. It looks sloppy and unprofessional.
Then, check out your background. Sit in your chair and turn around. Is it neat and clean? The dust probably won’t show up, but the empty soda cans and dirty dishes will. Pet pictures are fine, and kid pictures are OK, too. But, is there anything that someone might find objectionable? If you aren’t sure, take it down just in case.
And, while you’re checking out your background, check out your faraway background. For example, if your office opens up behind you to the living room, check out anything might be in the interviewer’s sight. Is it a mess, with piles of laundry or toys everywhere? That may be your reality, but hide them during the interview.
One last thing that a lot of video interviewees don’t think about: the light! Do a test run with your webcam and make sure you’re well-lit. The advantage of a video interview over a phone interview is that you and the interviewer can see each other. That makes it a little easier to interpret body language. However, if you’re poorly lit, or it’s too bright, you might lose that advantage.
Use a high-quality webcam and microphone.
This might have little to do with how qualified you are for the job, but having a low-quality mic or webcam during a remote job interview could hurt your chances for the job. Just imagine how it would feel if you interviewed a candidate you could barely hear for the entire duration of the interview.
Similarly, a lousy webcam gives the impression that you’re just not on the top of your game. Interviewers want to see and hear you clearly and easily. If you have shoddy equipment, employers may worry that they’ll have to deal with these poor conditions on an ongoing basis if they hire you.
Test your equipment.
If possible, before the interview, find out what program the company uses and test it out. Make sure it works with your equipment. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary changes or adjustments.
Conduct a test run with your webcam or phone. You never know how “loud” a shirt might sound to a microphone—ditto with that squeaky chair you love. While not a huge deal during an in-person interview or even a phone interview, noise on your end can create problems during a video interview. If your chair squeaks every time you move, there’s a chance the interviewer’s mic will cut out, and you’ll never hear what the other person is saying.
Look at the right place.
While you’re testing your equipment, test yourself out. If you have an external webcam, experiment with placement to get the best angle. Usually, that’s at the top center of your screen. If you’re using a laptop and built-in webcam, you don’t have a choice where the webcam is. However, that means if you keep your laptop on your desk, you’re probably looking down, which isn’t the best look. You may need to prop your laptop up on some books to get the webcam at eye level or higher.
Dress the part.
The right attire can put you in the correct frame of mind and encourage a positive first impression. So, even if you know it’s a phone interview, and the other person will never see you, dress up anyway. You never know when someone might want to switch to video. And, if nothing else, dressing up will put you in the “interview” mindset.
Take care of the little things.
Things can go wrong in an interview. Do your best to anticipate those potential problems and eliminate them before they occur. For a remote interview, this includes closing all unnecessary software on the computer, turning off notifications, ensuring your machine is fully charged, and making sure pets and children are not going to interrupt your conversation.
If you’re using something battery-powered, make sure your device is charged. Or, conduct the interview while it’s plugged into a power source. If that’s not an option, make sure you have backup batteries on hand in case the interview goes long.
When It’s “Go Time”
It’s normal to be nervous before any interview, and a remote job interview is no exception. Just because you’re at home where it’s safe and familiar, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get butterflies. Take a few minutes in the time leading up to your interview to prepare.
At least 10 minutes before the scheduled interview, ensure everything is in place—including you! Being out of breath because you ran to get the phone doesn’t exactly show the person on the other end that their call is the most important thing going on during your morning.
If you’re interviewing over the Internet, enter the meeting a few minutes early. This gives you a chance to check your equipment one last time and shows you’re prompt and ready to go. It also gives you a few minutes to do some deep breathing or other relaxation techniques if you need it.
Look into their eyes.
A remote job interview with video is a bit tricky, but you can blame human nature. It’s natural to want to look at everything that’s happening on screen. It’s just what we humans do. But, it’s not a great look in an interview. You might come across as distracted or flighty.
To stay focused, take a sticky note and place it just underneath your webcam. This gives you a visual reminder that you need to look at the webcam. Write a note or draw a pair of eyes if that helps. What’s great about this is that the interviewer will never see the sticky note.
If having a sticky note by the webcam doesn’t work for you, consider using the sticky notes to cover the small screen that shows you. At least this way, you won’t be tempted to look at yourself and not the interviewer.
Have your resume handy.
Just because you’ve got your computer handy doesn’t mean you should skip the hard copy of your resume. Having your eyes dart back and forth between multiple screens could make it look like your attention isn’t totally on the interviewer. Sure, you can explain that your resume is on the other screen, but who’s to say that you don’t have a cat video running?
On a single screen setup, you’ll be clicking back and forth between tabs, and that’s not a good look. And what happens if there are technical difficulties? Or your resume is in the cloud, and the cloud is down that day? A paper backup will come in very handy.
The same thing goes for old fashioned paper and pens for note-taking. Not only will you not have to worry about technical glitches, but you also won’t be making clicking sounds as you type. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it could be a bit annoying to the interviewer.
What If There Are Technical Difficulties?
Hopefully, you won’t encounter any technical glitches during your remote job interview. But, you never know when the power will go out, or the Internet will cut out.
Because it’s going to happen if you work remotely, demonstrating to a company how you deal with an unexpected power outage or Internet interruption during an interview can be a great way to show that you’re a proactive problem solver that’s great under pressure.
While you may not go into the interview with a backup plan, it doesn’t hurt to have an alternate ready to go (like a cell phone). Make sure you’re proactive and communicate efficiently and clearly with the company, and you can still ace the interview.
How to Stand Out During a Remote Job Interview
You’ve exchanged pleasantries, and maybe you’ve even gotten past, “Tell me about yourself.” But, proving you’re the right person for a remote job requires specialized prep work.
Show that you understand the company and position.
The relationship between an employer and a remote employee is one that’s founded on trust and understanding. Employers want to know that you’re someone who really gets their company, from what the firm’s overarching goals are to the reasons why they’re remote—and how it works.
By learning as much as you can beforehand, you can present yourself as someone who truly understands what the position entails, as well as what’s expected of you. This builds trust and shows that you will be an independent and reliable employee who can be counted on in a remote role.
Market yourself as the most accessible and responsive candidate.
As a candidate, the key is to market yourself as someone who understands, better than anyone else, that dependability and reliability are must-have characteristics. During business hours, show that you’re someone who’s available via collaboration tools or by phone.
Highlight instances when you made yourself accessible and responsive to coworkers, bosses, and clients. Give concrete examples of what you did, what technology you used, and how you solved the problem.
Show that you’re self-motivated.
If you aren’t motivated and inspired by what you do, it will be human nature to slack off. With that in mind, it’s crucial that you show employers that you know how to stay engaged with your job. Give examples of some of the things you’ve accomplished that didn’t require anyone else’s support or supervision, and be sure to emphasize them on your resume as well.
Remote Job Interview Questions
While you can expect certain questions from any interview, there are specific questions you should prepare for when it’s a remote position.
Do you have previous experience working from home?
A successful track record speaks volumes. Someone who has already shown adeptness at handling the challenges of remote employment is a good bet to continue performing well. Hiring becomes less of a gamble.
Outline details of your past remote work experience, such as what you did for which employers and the hours you worked. If you and your coworkers were located in vastly different time zones, explain how you tackled the challenges and what systems you put in place to keep everything on track.
However, if this is your first remote job, you’ll need a different approach. Toni Frana, career coach at FlexJobs, advises candidates to “highlight your key skills that are directly related to the position. (Talk about) your excellent verbal and written communication skills, technology skills, as well as your organization and time management skills. Each of these is desirable skills for remote employers.”
Mention what technology you’re skilled with that will help you in a remote position. Maybe you’re well-versed at Google Docs for sharing and editing documents, Trello for project management, and Slack for collaboration. Or, maybe you worked in the office, but you worked with remote clients. Explain how you used your skills to tackle those challenges.
Why do you want to work remotely?
It’s easy for hiring managers to assume the worst when they don’t understand what draws you to a remote job. If you’ve primarily worked in an office during your career, the hiring manager may wonder why you’re trying to go remote. Instead of avoiding the elephant in the room, tackle it head-on.
Maybe you’re more productive at home, where there are fewer distractions. Perhaps you live in a rural area where there aren’t many opportunities in your field, or you have to commute a long distance to get to them. Or, maybe it’s not the idea of working remotely that appeals to you, it’s the idea of working for that particular company that excites you.
Can you describe your home office setup?
The employer wants to know whether or not you’ve seriously thought about the logistics of working from home. Explain how you work and why that works for you. Emphasize how your setup makes you a productive, efficient, and reliable employee.
How will you coordinate and communicate with your coworkers to ensure the work gets done efficiently?
Communication is essential for all teams, but it plays a particularly important role when workers are based in different locations. Promising candidates are aware of the various ways colleagues can get in touch with one another and aren’t afraid to learn new methods if it means better results.
Also, point out the value of regular check-ins by phone or video chat to gain feedback and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. And, really, communicating remotely is similar to communicating in the office, so talk about that, too. Give examples of times you faced communication challenges in the office and explain how you dealt with them.
What do you anticipate your biggest challenge will be as a remote worker, and how do you plan to deal with it?
Employers consider this one the equivalent of the standard “greatest weakness” question, just with a little twist. Candidates who cannot think of any obstacles home-based workers typically encounter have either never worked remotely, view telecommuting through rose-colored glasses, or are failing to tell the truth.
Show that you’re a realistic, honest applicant by bringing up a common remote work pitfalls such as motivation, distractions, engagement, or technical problems. Then, build confidence that you will address such issues in a mature, professional manner. Showing that you’re the kind of person who is prepared to head to a nearby coworking space for the day when public works performs its seasonal tree cutting on your block demonstrates commitment!
How do you schedule/prioritize/stay motivated?
Since there won’t be a boss looking over your shoulder, the employer is asking you how you will be your own boss and accomplish your tasks.
Think about how you like to organize work and explain to the interviewer how that helps you get your work done. Do you like old fashion to-do lists and make one up every day just to cross off your accomplishments? Are you really into calendars and scheduling tasks and blocks of time to work? Maybe you like to put up the “do not disturb” sign and get really deep into your work, turning off all push notifications until the task is complete.
Don’t forget to mention how you prioritize tasks and what you do when there are 17 fires that all need your attention at once. Make sure you explain what steps you take, how you triage things, and maybe even that you aren’t afraid to ask for help when you’re in over your head.
Questions to Ask of Your Remote Interviewer
A remote job interview follows the same format as any other interview. Which means, inevitably, you get to ask the questions. While you probably have a standard set of questions you ask at every interview, make sure you ask a few remote-specific ones.
What are the remote work policies for this position?
Whether the company is fully remote, or you’re the first remote employee, you’ll want to be clear on the expectations and policies of working remotely in this particular position. Determine whether you will be working 100% remotely, or if you need to come into the office occasionally. Can you work in public places like a coffee shop or coworking space? Do you need to work a standard 9-to-5 schedule, or will you have flexibility?
Not all remote jobs are created equally, so you’ll want to understand the particular rules of the company. For example, if you need the ability to stop work to pick up the kids from school, does the company also allow flexible scheduling?
What does communication look like at your company?
Communication is a huge part of successful remote work. Gaining insight into how the company communicates and what sorts of remote communications tools it uses will help you assess how connected you’ll be. Perhaps employees are big into video meetings, or maybe you’ll primarily use Slack.
It’s a red flag if your interviewer lacks a good answer to this question. You’ll want to be sure the company values keeping remote workers in the know and connected to other remote workers or in-office counterparts.
Where is everyone located, and what are the response expectations?
Some remote companies have a “work from anywhere” policy. Which means when you’re sleeping, someone could be working and vice versa. How does the company handle asynchronous communication? What are the expected response times? What if it’s an emergency? And, how are meetings scheduled across multiple time zones?
Any company that lets its employees work anywhere needs to have a clear policy in place for dealing with geographical and time differences. If they don’t, it may indicate that they aren’t organized or don’t care, and that could create problems later on.
How will I be evaluated?
Sometimes remote employees can feel left behind when it comes to advancement opportunities and getting work performance feedback. See if the company has an annual or biannual review process and determine how you’ll get feedback from your boss. Are there performance goals you have to meet? How does the company measure and determine success for remote employees?
If your interviewer gives you a lackluster answer, you’ll want to determine your ability to work in a job that may lack structure, praise, and constructive criticism. If there are no clear advancement options, consider your future career goals and if this remote position will be a positive step in your career direction.
What does a successful remote worker look like to you?
In your remote job interview, ask what it takes to be a successful virtual worker. Perhaps the company values proactive communication, a certain level of output, or someone who works at their desk 9-to-5 each day.
Gauge the interviewer’s response to this question with what you’re looking for in a remote job. Are you able to perform at a level that is acceptable and considered successful in this particular company? If so, you’ll be heading into the job knowing just what they’re looking for.
What’s the onboarding/orientation process?
Find out if the company has a clear and concise plan for starting all new employees. Is there a plan already in place for new employees? Or, will they at least create one for you?
When you work remotely, it’s easy to overlook things like new staff orientation. But, like any job, a thorough orientation for new staff is important to help them feel welcome and to teach them how the company does things.
It’s even more important for remote employees since you can’t just pop into HR and ask your questions. If there’s a lack of a training plan, or willingness to create one, you might want to skip this job.
A Remote Job Interview Is Like Any Interview
The only difference is you’re doing it from home. And that’s good practice for when you get the job. Like any interview, you need to prepare before the big day. Whether it’s your first remote interview or not, it never hurts to review these steps to make sure you get everything in place.
And to take it a step further, consider meeting with a FlexJobs career coach. They can give you one-on-one advice and help you practice your interviewing skills.
Schedule a Personalized Career Coaching Session >>>
Beth Braccio Hering, Rachel Jay, Greg Katz, and Peter Yang contributed to this article.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
This is a version of an article that was originally published on October 28, 2018.
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Greg Kratz, Contributing Writer
Greg Kratz is a contributing writer for FlexJobs blog and a former reporter, editor, and work-life balance columnist for the Deseret News and deseretnews.com in Salt Lake City. A father of four active children, he appreciates the flexibility to leave…Read More >
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