How to give a good remote interview

Running a good on-site interview process is hard. Running that same process remotely isn’t any easier. In this article we talk about the benefits of remote interviewing, the challenges faced with a remote interview process, and the steps we can take as hirers to overcome them.

The good

Remote interviewing is certainly not without its challenges, but it’d be remiss not to talk about its benefits:

  1. Greater scheduling flexibility for candidates
    When interviewing remotely there is no need to bring candidates on-site for a large block of time. You can pass this on to the candidate as a benefit by way of greater scheduling flexibility and the option to spread interviews over multiple time slots or days.
  2. Reduced costs
    Without the logistical cost of co-locating interviewers and a candidate, and the business impact of the disruption, remote-interviewing offers an opportunity to save on cost-per-hire.
  3. Broader market access
    Being able to conduct all or part of your process remotely means you can incorporate candidates far and wide in your search. If you’re hiring a remote team this is business as usual, but if you’re hiring for an on-site role this means you can start your search with a wide scope before making commitments to travel, visa-sponsorship or relocation.
  4. New opportunities to introduce beneficial technology
    A digital interview process opens the door to new technology; whether it be better tooling for interviewers and candidates, or the availability of new data for making decisions, coaching interviewers or training candidates, digitising the process opens the door for innovation.

With these benefits in mind, and the knowledge that the remainder of the challenges discussed are surmountable, there’s likely an opportunity for your business to benefit from remote interviewing in both the short and long term.

Remote vs. on-site interviewing

The best way to understand how to give a better remote interview is to first understand the challenges faced by candidates. These fall broadly into three categories: technical, environmental and communication.

Volume slider shown on MacBook touch bar.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Technical challenges

Everyone has experienced some kind of technical problem during a video call and if this happens to a candidate during a remote interview (be it a phone call or video conference) this will immediately add pressure to an already stressful situation that they wouldn’t encounter in a face-to-face interview.

How you can help: Keep technical friction low

Technical challenges are thankfully some of the easiest to overcome with remote interviewing. Video-conferencing software is built with the average user in mind and the barriers of entry to its use have never been lower.

From your side, there’s a couple of small things you can do to keep things simple for the candidate:

  • Opt for solutions which don’t require the candidate to install additional software. It’s an easy way to remove an extra setup step, and one less barrier to entry for users. Most solutions offer some form of web-browser solution which works across the majority of devices.
  • Encourage candidates to test their setup before the call. Taking a few moments to select the right camera, microphone and test their audio gives them a no-pressure opportunity to check their setup and means you can start your interview without any hiccups.
Child playing with adult working on a laptop in the background.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

Environment

Although this will vary on a person-by-person basis, there are likely to be many candidates who would much rather be in an office for their interview. Whether it’s the concern of being disrupted by a doorbell, noise from outside or their child asking for some biscuits, there’s a lot working against the candidate.

How you can help: Understand the candidate’s situation

As an interviewer you have the potential to destress the candidate if anything goes wrong. As an example, let’s imagine a few different things that could crop up, and what you could say to best address it with the candidate:

  • The candidate expresses concern that they may be disturbed due to a delayed house-call:
    You: “No problem — these things happen. Let me know if you are disturbed and we can pause briefly”
  • The candidate is disturbed by a background noise, or an intrusion from somebody they live with.
    You: “It’s okay, take a minute to sort it out or find a new spot to rejoin the call”.
  • The candidate returns from an interruption:
    You: “No problem, we’ve all been there. Are you happy to jump back in? We were just discussing {last thing in your notes}”

These comments seem trivial but will go a long way to keeping the candidate on top-form and will assist you in getting the best out of them.

Interviewer looking directly into the camera and making a hand gesture.

Communication

We take many of our communication cues from body language, much of which is lost with digital audio and a limited view of the interviewer. A slight nod, small smile or affirmative noise can easily be missed in a remote interview.

According to Dr Aaron Balick, up to 90% of non-verbal cues are lost due to the inherent constraints of video calls. This is both distracting and mentally-taxing in a way that will prevent candidates from being at their best. Interviewers who are already occupied by the task of running an interview and aren’t actively trying to compensate for the loss of valuable non-verbal cues will inevitably struggle to notice that a candidate is misunderstanding something or in need of guidance.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that when you run a remote interview process you unintentionally reduce contact and touch-points with the candidate. There’s no collecting the candidate from reception, walking them through the office or taking them to make a coffee. Whilst this is great in the midst of a pandemic, it doesn’t come without a cost.

  1. Candidates get fewer opportunities to build a relationship with you as an interviewer and don’t get to experience the working environment of a physical space or interactions between colleagues that might help inform them of the kind of company they’re potentially joining.
  2. Candidates lose sight of the process they’re moving through.

Although these seem like disjointed problems, they can be solved together: build communication into your process.

How you can help: Over-communicate

Take some time at the beginning of the interview to replicate some of the benefits of meeting face-to-face that can help relax a candidate, like asking about their weekend or where they got the painting hanging on the wall in the background. These conversations give a better opportunity to build a relationship between the candidate and the interviewer, create a more comfortable setting in which the candidate can ask their questions, and give them a clear picture of what to expect next.

At the interview level, don’t be afraid of exaggerating some of your gestures, whether it’s a nod, a big smile or just more plainly stating things that won’t be visible to the candidate. The cues will help to compensate for some of the signal loss you’re facing within a remote interview.

Wrapping-up

Although remote interviewing has its challenges, acknowledging them and building a process deliberately designed to address them will allow you and your candidates to get the most from their interviews. Most of the adjustments needed are small and soon become second nature if your interviewers are guided by a well-defined process. With that in place we can not only better-assess candidates but also give them a great experience of your company and its values and make the job of interviewing easier for interviewers and hiring managers.

Sign up for free
evidenced | Icon