Remote Interviews: For Candidates

I’ve been actively recruiting again recently and noticed interviews are becoming easier to attend yet more difficult to navigate and judge. Not meeting face-to-face physically can mean you don’t get a good grasp of a person or company, and this can lead to mistakes being made on both sides, including a company hiring the wrong person due to not qualifying their skills correctly or communicating the responsibilities effectively or a candidate taking on a role, then joining and realising the culture is toxic or doesn’t align with their values. Sometimes the hiring manager is behaving too lackadaisical on the call, putting off the candidate… other times the candidate hasn’t paid attention to their surroundings and they’re not presenting themselves best on camera.

To help all involved, I’ve put together some tips to help both candidates and hiring managers better interview remotely.

This week, we kick off with advice for candidates.

Candidates should think about interviews as a collaborative exercise. Use the interview as an opportunity to show how you work and understand how the hiring manager, team and company you’re interviewing with works. Interviews are always a two-way street. You are owed just as much information as you’re being asked… perhaps even more.

The homework you’ll need to do for an onsite or remote interview is relatively the same, so even if you won’t be interviewing remotely, this article is still worth a read.

Office — Hybrid — Remote

Pay attention to whether this company is office-based, has a hybrid model or is completely remote. Ensure you pick what will enable you to work your best. If you’re a graduate in a commercial role, overhearing calls on a sales floor may be best for you, you cannot replicate that at home. If you’re an experienced individual contributor, you may be able to work from anywhere. If you have family commitments, being able to drop the kids at school and pick them up after school may be important to you, which model enables you to do that?

The combination of life commitments and where you are in your professional journey will contribute to what works best for you. If you are a graduate, and a role is completely remote, and you absolutely love the company and everyone you’ve spoken to, ask how training is managed. If they don’t have a solid training programme which includes a mixture of methods, it’s probably not going to work out if you don’t have any other way to learn what you need to know to do the job.

If a company has an office-based culture and you have other commitments that require flexibility, ask how flexible they are, let them know the flexibility you need and see what they say. Don’t just go with what they plop on the job ad, ask questions to understand what the reality will be, and where possible, get this important answer in writing.

Visit the Office

As a side note, I know this isn’t so much a virtual interview tip, but I do feel it’s worth addressing as part of the interview process overall. If the role is completely office-based or hybrid, if this isn’t already part of the process, ask to visit the office. You get to meet someone face-to-face, which allows for a better connection and you also get a realistic view of the office and work environment.

Make sure you go during the work day, you can gain so much knowledge from how you see people interact with you as a visitor and how colleagues interact with each other. This is where you truly see culture, not in silly (though cool) amenities like pool tables and water taps that produce sparkling water.

Consider all that is important to you when working in an office and check how much is inline with your expectations. This doesn’t mean you don’t join because only 5/10 of your expectations were met. Put everything into context before making a final decision.

Culture

Do what you can to understand the culture. Do your research, search everywhere you can, LinkedIn, the company website, glassdoor… heck, just Google. Everything you find is a piece of the puzzle.

Ask everyone you interact with what the culture is like, pay attention to their answers. The devil is in the detail. Do they hesitate? Do they answer confidently and immediately?

What does the website look like? Is it people-focussed or product-focussed? Has an area been dedicated to the people in the organisation or just leadership? How diverse is the leadership? How diverse is the leadership? Whatever matters to you about the type of company you work for, look out for that, but don’t rule the company out if you don’t see everything you expect. If it’s important to you, raise it in an interview, see how they respond then go from there. Nowhere is perfect.

Job description

A job description is always ideal, but this also really depends on the stage of the company. An established company may have fleshed out, detailed formats they use to build out job descriptions. A start up may just have a few bullet points.

At the very least whoever is hiring for the role should be able to tell you what success looks like in the role you’re interviewing for. What solid outcomes will indicate you have achieved what is expected, and over what period of time is this expected to be achieved? Are you able to have input when agreeing the goals? This tends to be important for more senior hires where expertise is needed. The blend of the organisation’s expectations and your experience should mean you are carving out mutually agreed and realistic goals.

Interview process

A company should be able to tell you their interview process from the very beginning, or at the very least after a screening call. Even if there are changes in process, this needs to be communicated in a timely manner with an explanation.

The interview process should be communicated by the company, if it’s not this should be your first red flag but you then need to take the onus of asking. I can hear you thinking, “Why is this important?”

Well, you need to be mentally prepared for the interview process in order to perform effectively. Whether 3 stages or 13, you don’t want to be bumbling along finding out what happens next after each interview or when you’re contacted regarding next steps some days later. It’s not a nice experience and it will become frustrating for you as a candidate.

The way a company manages an interview process is a good indication of how processes work within the company and of how people are valued — even those who are not yet part of the company.

Technology

Where possible use your laptop. There is just something a little unpolished (and irritating) about interviewing someone who is jauntily holding their phone in a selfie position. If this can’t be helped, give the heads up as soon as possible and address this again very quickly at the beginning of the interview.

When the interview details are shared with you, download the software that will be used the same day. Don’t wait until the day of the interview or 5 minutes before. You will be late and if something goes wrong, you’ll have no buffer time to fix it.

Test all links, and aim to be sitting on the call 5 minutes before start time. You can turn off your camera and mic while you’re waiting, at least you know you’re ready and won’t be stressing and faffing moments before starting. Being ready early naturally means you’ll be calm and more comfortable during the interview.

The set up

Consider where you are taking the call from. Test the video shot by using the medium for the call, i.e. Zoom, Teams, or use a camera application on your laptop. What will people see? Does it represent you well? Ideally, look for a space with a plain wall, or a space that gives the appearance of a tidy background. If this is difficult, for whatever reason, use a virtual background. My favourites are the ones that mimic a living room or office space set up. I personally prefer to blur my background, as it tends to be less distracting.

Consider the lighting. Your face must be visible and illuminated. Try not to have your back to a window, this often darkens the camera for the whole call or whenever you move your head in a certain position. If there is no better place to take the interview, draw down the blinds or close the curtain.

Consider the angle of the camera. The video should be eye level… we shouldn’t be looking up or looking down at the camera or feel that way from the position of your machine. Ensure your laptop or wherever the camera is is propped up at the right level, so the conversation feels face-to-face… and obviously, that means, your camera must be on!

Dress code

In order to approach this correctly, this is where understanding the culture comes in. To be safe, double check with whoever arranged the interview — you lose nothing by asking. Bear in mind, recruitment agencies will often encourage you to overdress, so as a safe measure, follow the well-known fashion rule of removing one item! 😄

Regardless, even though you are home, you still need to represent yourself well. You can never go wrong simply wearing a shirt or blouse.

Memorise

When researching the company and job you are interviewing for, try to actually retain some key elements of information you’re looking up and reading. Learn 2 or 3 points about:

  • what the company does and how
  • the company’s history
  • the role

I personally like to write notes, then moving the notes out of sight, asking myself what I remember writing then check how many I got right, what I forgot, etc. It’s a great method for building up knowledge.

I am shocked by the number of people I am interviewing these days who know nothing about the company they are interviewing with. People simply aren’t researching anymore, thinking they can read straight from the website or job description during what is supposed to be a discussion.

Most companies are not simply looking for seat fillers. They are looking for people who give a sh*t enough to understand the role and know a bit about the company they are interviewing with.

I must add though, some early stage start-ups may not have a website, or the website may be … errr… let’s say, in it’s “early days” and still lack a lot of information. In this case, research the industry and perhaps some of the terminology used to help build your own understanding of what they do. You won’t get it completely right, but the effort really stands out and will be appreciated.

People buy into people

Don’t forget to show who you are, don’t be robotic or present who you think they want you to be.

Being able to be yourself in the interview will also cause the interviewer to do the same. If they don’t, why would you want to work with someone who wasn’t being their genuine self. If they do, that interaction will give a peek into what working with them will be like. Is that a personality you can do good work with? Or is there something there that tells you something is off? Don’t ignore or dismiss your gut here.

Treat the interview as you would a physical meeting. Small talk, laugh, try to connect, open up a little, show who you are. At the end of the day, surely, you want the company to hire you for being you. Considering we spend most of our time working, do you want to spend that time going through the gamut of being who you believe they want you to be? This is a job on top of a job and it will impact your health.

I’ll stop right here. These are some of the things I can think of for now. I’m sure there are plenty more but these are the ones that stand out to me at this point in time. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. We’ll meet again in the next when we have tips for Hiring Managers.

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Lola Oguntokun

I help build, shape and champion innovative companies and culture.