Interviewing for a remote job? Here’s what you need to know

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.”

Have you ever interviewed for a remote job opportunity? What differences did you notice about the questions asked or the way the interview was conducted? Chime in with your tips and ideas below.

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I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.
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    • Matt
    • March 3, 2015

    Thanks for the great info. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I have worked remotely for about a year, and will be using your ideas in future interviews for sure!

    • nowymps
    • March 3, 2015

    I have worked remotely for some component of almost every job I’ve had, including jobs that predate the internet (using PC Anywhere). I recently interviewed for a remote position where that past was definitely appreciated. Additionally, I was prepared with alternate solutions when the primary form of communication (the audio on our video chat) didn’t work. I suggested we keep the video but conduct the audio portion of the interview on our cell phones. While I ultimately turned down the job offer that came from that interview, they told me I got the edge because of my creative problem solving and my understanding of remote challenges.

  1. My last two positions have been remote and I love it! There is quite a bit of phone time for weekly meetings and such though, so it is good to have an excellent headset. I love the independence of it but it definitely can be isolating at times.
    For interviews it is very important to establish rapport over the phone. This is pretty easy though if you are excited about the position and passionate about the field you are in!

    • Darcy
    • March 26, 2015

    Thank you for the information. Any tips on finding remote jobs, specifically in education or publishing?

    1. Hey Darcy,

      You can search for remote positions!

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