Remote hiring: 3 key interview questions to ask candidates

Remote work brings new challenges to the hiring process. These interview questions can help you gain insight into a candidate’s communication skills, initiative, and more
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Communication has changed during the pandemic, and so should your interview questions.

Though the hiring market still feels the impact of COVID-19, tech recruiters and hiring managers were able to quickly embrace remote hiring tools in the second half of 2020. In fact, though there remains a talent shortage for certain professions, such as developers, a recent HackerEarth survey found that more than 30 percent of recruiters have seen their talent pool increase due to remote hiring.

[ Trying to land a new job? Read also: IT careers: How to job hunt during a pandemic. ]

With remote hiring likely here to stay, here are three questions you should add to enhance your candidate interviews this year:

1. How have you struggled to communicate with your colleagues remotely, and what steps have you taken to improve your communication since the pandemic began?

By the time a candidate makes it to the interview stage, you probably have a good understanding of their skills and experience. Things such as real-time programming tests during developer interviews can not only validate a candidate’s stated skills, but also evaluate how they communicate in the real world. More than 44 percent of hiring managers say communication is the top soft skill they look for when interviewing tech candidates, according to that same HackerEarth survey.

[ What roles are you adding in 2021? Read also: Digital transformation teams in 2021: 9 key roles. ]

But in the current remote environment, only a percentage (and often a small one) of your communication with new hires will be via synchronous video calls. Though you may be able to get a good sense of a candidate’s verbal communication skills from the interview, I’ve found over the past year that it’s even more important to understand how a candidate will communicate asynchronously or via messaging apps. These will form the bulk of your communications, after all, and they can easily be misinterpreted.

The beauty of this question is that it not only helps you understand how a candidate will fit and collaborate with the team using remote communication tools, but it also gives you great insight into how you can moderate your own communication style if they end up getting the job.

2. Have you ever spent your own time upskilling, and why?

Passion is what drives people to acquire new skills and accelerate their progression. Not all skilled people are passionate, but passionate people are almost always skilled. Even if they aren’t, they’ll take the time to learn new skills of their own volition.

Not all skilled people are passionate, but passionate people are almost always skilled.

This is an invaluable trait to have in an employee, and I love to ask this question because it gives me a sense of their dedication to their craft and their desire to grow. You’re not pressuring them to work after hours, but you are evaluating whether they have ambition, a competitive nature, and a desire for mastery.

Furthermore, not all upskilling shows up on a resume. Upskilling isn’t purely accumulating certificates; even things as simple as following relevant influencers shows initiative and can build a knowledge base. Just make sure the candidate is really engaging with the influencer’s ideas rather than following for the sake of following. This question ensures that candidates don’t omit a potentially relevant detail during the interview.

3. How have you taken advantage of learning and development (L&D) initiatives in the past, and in what ways would you like to grow with our organization?

This question is similar to the previous one, but it should give you a better sense of the future. 2021 is going to be the year of L&D. Without in-person mentorship and close communication, less-experienced employees will need to find new ways to upskill and learn.

Thankfully, the pandemic has fostered an entire ecosystem of L&D digital courses, tools, and assessments. More importantly, according to a 6-month research project by McKinsey, “a well-designed virtual program can meet or exceed the efficacy of in-person offerings,” and they’re often cheaper and more convenient. As organizations see these benefits, remote L&D initiatives will become increasingly common.

This question highlights a candidate’s natural inclinations and proclivities. Of course, you want to hire a candidate who fits the role at hand, but when you find the right person, you’ll want to adapt the role to them and expand it into areas that interest them over time. This question helps you imagine such a progression from the very beginning and organize your resources accordingly.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Sachin Gupta is the CEO and Co-Founder of HackerEarth. Sachin is a former software developer at Google and Microsoft, and now heads sales/marketing/operations at HackerEarth. A developer by trade, he is passionate about the developer community and ensuring every developer is connected with the right opportunity.