Hiring and Growth

Here’s How to Conduct a Great Remote Interview, Step by Step

Jeff Haden Inc. columnist and small business management expert 
How to Conduct a Great Remote Interview - Gusto

Working largely through phones and screens isn’t likely to be temporary. Even after things return to “normal,” teleconferencing will remain a bigger part of the average person’s daily workflow—if it wasn’t already.

That could include the process of interviewing and even hiring new employees—which means the interview process you once followed will have to change.

Possibly even for the better.

Here are six steps to help you conduct a great, 100% remote interview process. Let’s get started.

1. Rewrite your job posting.

A job posting that includes a generic list of responsibilities, duties, and qualifications tends to attract generic candidates. 

Instead, take a step back and make sure your job posting answers four key questions:

  • What is the real business need the perfect person will solve? 
  • How will we objectively measure performance (and success) to recognize a top performer in the role?
  • What are the common attributes of our top employees? 
  •  What would make the perfect candidate want this job?

Answer those questions in the job posting and you’re much more likely to attract great candidates—especially if the job will involve a transition from remote-only to a combination of onsite and work-from-home. Most candidates are, now more than ever, likely to consider not only the role, tasks, and responsibilities involved, but also where and how their work will be accomplished.

2. Conduct a virtual pre-screen.

We’ve all gotten halfway through an interview and realized the candidate was never going to be a good fit. Maybe they aren’t available during the days or hours you need them, or they aren’t interested in performing certain required functions. (I once interviewed a candidate who said, “Wait. I know the job posting said shift work was required, but I didn’t think you were serious.”)

Once you’ve created an initial short list, consider sending a standard survey to those candidates. Just make sure you send the same survey to every candidate for a particular job, and that you send the survey to all candidates, in order to avoid the appearance of bias or discrimination.

Simply list things you consider to be go or no go: availability, certifications, skills, qualifications, etc. 

You’ll weed out candidates who were never going to be a fit. You’ll impress upon those who remain that certain aspects of the job are non-negotiable. 

And you’ll save yourself—and potential candidates—time that otherwise would have been wasted.

3. Consider skills tests.

In a recent study, 36% of respondents admit to having lied on their resumes, and 93% say they know at least one person who has lied on their resume.

While you may not be able to verify, say, the extent of a candidate’s stated project leadership experience, you can verify certain skills—like accounting, sales, programming, office administration, specific software expertise, etc.

Again, make sure every candidate you consider for a particular job takes the same test or tests. And keep in mind that testing early in the process can be more efficient, helping you screen out unsuitable candidates before you go to the time and expense of conducting interviews.

Attitude is often more important than skill— but if the right candidate must possess certain skills, it’s often better to trust and verify. 

4. Conduct a brief phone screen (but by video). 

At this point, your short list is likely to be shorter, but it may not be short enough. That’s why many business owners have traditionally used phone screens to quickly assess the candidate’s overall fit. 

“Video screens” are even better: You can assess body language, communication skills, personality—all the nonverbal cues you can’t glean from a phone call.

Start by quickly reviewing the go and no go items on your survey. Then ask a few questions to better assess general fit, and keep an eye out for the following positive and negative indicators:

QuestionPositive indicatorNegative indicator
Tell me a little about yourself.The candidate has ambitious professional and personal goals.

The reasons why they took (and left) certain jobs align with your values.
The candidate provides personal details that offer no insight into their background, motivations, goals, etc. 
What makes you interested in this job?Shares how the position is a perfect fit for what the candidate hopes to accomplish, both short- and long-term.Offers no insight into how the role’s tasks and responsibilities will meet the candidate’s professional or personal goals.
Why are you interested in leaving your current job?Shares what the candidate wants to learn and achieve, and describes how landing this job will be great not only for the candidate but also your company. Provides an extensive list of interpersonal issues with co-workers, boss, business owner, etc. 
Describe your ideal work environment, one that not only makes you productive but also happier and more fulfilled.Shares insights that indicate awareness (and thought) regarding the importance of productivity and personal fulfillment: direct supervision or self-management, team-based work or solo projects, concurrent or consecutive project focus, etc. Describes a work environment different from how you, and your company, function best.
Are there things about you that aren’t listed on your resume (or application) that you want me to know?Shares insights that show the candidate has researched your company, understands both its goals and its culture, and is able to highlight a few intangibles that show they are the right fit.In short, provides no information that helps answer the question, “Why should we hire you?”

Keep in mind the goal of the initial phone or video screen isn’t to go in-depth. The goal is to decide which candidates should move on to more in-depth interviews.

5. Check references.

Most people check candidate references at the end of their interview process (if ever). 

Daniel Sillman, the CEO of Relevent Sports Group, sifts through resumes, creates a short list of candidates, conducts a brief phone or video screening, then checks references before he does full-scale interviews.

For Sillman, references serve as an additional filter—and provide a better understanding of the candidate’s background, experiences, motivations, and culture fit. Reference checks also help him be better prepared for actual interviews. Not only is he able to ask better, more specific questions, it also helps him discover skills and attributes that weren’t apparent on paper. 

If you’re hiring for an entry-level position, or if the candidate doesn’t have significant work experience yet, ask for references from mentors, teachers, or coaches. 

As Sillman says, “There are always ways to find people to vouch for you as a person. If you can’t, there’s probably something wrong.”

6. Set the stage for the in-depth video interview.

At this point your short list should be really short—which gives you plenty of time to conduct comprehensive interviews with the remaining candidates.

Instead of focusing on the actual interview (since there are numerous interview question guides, including the five interview questions to ask when you’re hiring your first employee), let’s look at some simple ways you can be a more effective interviewer via video.

  • Take care of logistics. Consider the background. Make sure you’re well lit and that you aren’t backlit by a window, which can obscure your face. Dress appropriately. Make sure your mic picks up your voice. Consider using an external mic rather than your computer’s built-in microphone. While that all sounds simple, think about how often the people in teleconferences you’ve joined fail those simple tests.
  • Apologize in advance. Hopefully you have a quiet place where you can talk without interruption. But that’s not always possible. So if, for example, you know an employee may need to interrupt the interview, let the candidate know up front. Then, if it does happen, the candidate won’t get flustered—or, worse, offended.
  • Focus on the camera. It’s natural to look at the other person and not the camera, but that can be disconcerting for the other person. Move their video window to the top of your screen so it is as close to the camera as possible. And when you’re talking, try to look at the camera and show them you’re present.
  • Think “nonverbal.” Interviews are stressful for candidates, and even more so by video as nonverbal cues are harder to pick up. Since the best interviews feel like conversations, not interrogations, that’s a real problem. What can you do? Smile more. Nod your head. Prove you’re listening. Show you’re engaged. If it helps, place a sticky note beside your camera that says “nonverbal.” As an interviewer, your job is to get the best from each candidate—which means making each candidate feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible.  

Most importantly, don’t forget that a new employee’s first day isn’t their first impression of your business—that happens on the first day you engage them in the hiring process. 

Make the experience, from actual day one, as great as it can be.

Be focused and to the point. Be enthusiastic. You run a great business that you’re proud of. 

Make sure you’re proud of the interviews you conduct—because the only way to have great employees is to hire great people.

Jeff Haden
Jeff Haden Jeff Haden is a writer, speaker, small business management expert, and Inc.’s most popular columnist. He's the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
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