Interviewing for a Remote Job? Here's What You Need to Know

A computer set up on a work desk.

Telecommuting, remote jobs, work-from-home positions...whatever term you use, chances are you may have considered applying for them during your job search. While the perks of a remote job may be obvious---no commute, flexible schedule, fewer coworker distractions---what you may not have thought about are the ways interviewing for a telecommuting job differ from a “traditional” job. Before you work remotely, you have to land the job! Here are some distinctions to help you prepare:

Remote work interviews are usually conducted remotely as well

Job seekers may think that even though they are interviewing for a telecommuting position, the interview will take place in-person at the organization’s office. This is usually not the case according to Brie Reynolds, Director of Online Content at FlexJobs, a resource devoted to pre-screened flexible work (some of which is in the nonprofit sector). “Don’t assume there will be a video interview or that you will meet in person,” she states.

Remember the same challenges that present themselves for any phone interview will apply here as well. The difference is that for jobs where you will work at the organization’s location, you will at some point meet your supervisor face-to-face.

Some have the misconception that it is easier to be interviewed over the phone, but there are barriers you will need to overcome in order to present yourself well, such as the absence of body language and facial expression, and the risk of “checking out” during the conversation because an actual human is not sitting in front of you. Don’t let these issues hold you back-make sure you present yourself just as effectively as you would in person.

Caryn Fliegler, a Talent Acquisition Manager at TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project), a national education nonprofit that addresses challenges in public schools to ensure great teaching and student learning, points out, “One of the differences between in-person and phone interviews is that without visual cues, audio can take on a magnified importance. Speak clearly and with energy. You need to convey your enthusiasm without the body language and facial expressions you typically rely on.”

The interview questions will mainly be the same, except you can expect to also be faced with these:

Have you worked remotely before?

Both Reynolds and Diane Weltzer, an Art Director at Brainfuse, an online tutoring platform, have stated that they look specifically for evidence of the candidate’s ability to work independently and their prior history of working remotely.

Weltzer shared that when hiring for remote intern positions, she looks at previous work experience for clues. “Different things in their work history will show if they can work independently or not. For example, if they have cashier experience, they may be used to being around people. If they did photo editing though, they may have more experience with time management and working alone,” she clarifies.

Reynolds urges interviewees to outline any experience they have with remote work, “Even if it’s just a few days for snow emergencies. Tell the story.” Your interviewer will want to know how you adapted, what your experience was like, how you managed your time and maintained contact with your supervisor and coworkers.

Do you have a home office?

Your interviewer might want to know you have a home office or designated work space in which to do your work. Reynolds explains the importance of describing that space clearly: “Show them a picture of you being able to work productively. Paint a picture of you in your workspace.”

Also keep in mind that organizations might expect you to have equipment that meets particular guidelines, such as monitor size, internet speed, software programs, perhaps even a specific kind of computer. It is usually the job seeker’s responsibility to acquire the correct equipment, but, according to Reynolds, “Some organizations will provide reimbursements for internet connections or other perks such as ergonomic chairs.” She also adds that a checklist of necessary equipment is usually part of the application process. It is important to make sure you will have the necessary items and technology early on.

What are your communication preferences?

A defining characteristic of working with remote employees is the importance of open, regular communication. As Weltzer notes, “Knowing the employee’s communication preferences helps.” While managing a remote staff can be a challenge, being available on a messaging service and openly sharing schedules and times of availability can help fill in the gaps.

Fliegler stresses that at TNTP, “We look for people who understand their own communication style and can be reflective and intentional about how to convey information effectively in different situations.” In addition, she notes, “When virtual, it’s even more important to check in with your manager regularly to share your priorities, and adjust as needed.”

Ask your interviewer questions about remote work

While it is always advisable to ask your interviewer questions on any type of interview, when you are hankering for a remote opportunity, be sure to ask a few that are specifically geared towards off-site jobs. Reynolds suggests the following questions:

  • Why is remote work offered at this organization?
  • How many employees work remotely?
  • How do coworkers communicate with each other?

Fliegler is also a fan of asking remote-specific question. She advises showing you are interested and engaged, and states you can do so by, “Asking questions related to culture, climate, and training that may be unique to working remotely.”

Know how to demonstrate certain skills during your interview

In addition to good communication skills, consider the logistics of working virtually. Fliegler notes, “We’re on the phone, writing emails, screen-sharing, and attending virtual meetings a lot.” Be sure you can articulate to your interviewer your familiarity with the technology and logistics that will allow you to communicate smoothly in the remote environment. Demonstrate that you can quickly and easily set yourself in the virtual space with the tools the organization uses.

Fliegler also mentions, “We look for people who know how to get results. Goal-and-outcome orientation is part of the fabric of our organization and of being successful virtually. We look for high levels of intrinsic motivation.” Identify your intrinsic motivators and craft your interview response with examples of them.

You’ve got the job. Now what?

As a remote employee, “It’s easy to fade into the background,” Reynolds warns. “Get a regular communication schedule with your manager, whether that’s a phone meeting once a week or an end-of-day email recap.” Be sure to identify proactive ways to share and communicate effectively. She also suggests that just like in a physical office, “Ask your coworkers about their hobbies and family. You’re not around a water cooler, but schedule a coffee chat that’s held remotely.”

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By Victoria Crispo

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