Calm remote interviews

If your purpose during an interview as a hiring manager is to stress out your candidate, you are doing it wrong.

As I am writing this, I have remote interviews in my mind. Interviews over Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, and whatnot. Most of the advice applies to any type of interview though.

The interview should reflect the real conditions of your company. The right conditions are calm conditions of course.

Don’t surprise your candidate. Send the structure of the interview along with the invitation. The write up should include how many folks will be interviewing (preferably one at a time), and generally anything they need to know so that the candidate is not surprised.

When the interview starts, ask them if it is still a good time to have it. Be prepared to reschedule if something happened to your candidate that has changed their stress levels. Maybe they need to leave earlier. Maybe they are not in the location they initially planned to be, and the conditions are no longer ideal. Whatever the reason, allow them to reschedule without making them feel bad about it.

Pigeon on the Empire State Building
Pigeon on the Empire State Building by Jennifer Morrow

If it is a technical interview, do not do tests in a way that does not match what they would do in the real job. Don’t give them problems they would never have to deal with in the real job. If you are trying to get a sense of their estimation skills, for example, don’t ask them to estimate how many pigeons fly over the Empire State Building in New York every June. That’s a stupid exercise. Ask them to describe a real situation where they had to estimate something, and talk about that.

If their job is to write Ruby code, it’s okay to ask them to open IRB and do something in there. But they should be allowed to search Google, and read the documentation, and ask you questions, because that’s how developers code.

If their job is to respond to customer support requests, it’s okay for them to ask you questions, read your product’s documentation, or even find the correct reply in StackOverflow to answer a test customer request. Because, you guessed it, that’s how support professionals do their job.

When you start the interview, thank them for their time. Then describe its structure. Continue with introducing yourself, and give a brief history of your professional experience. Not to intimidate your candidate, but to justify why you are qualified to write feedback about them when the interview ends. You should let them talk about their own professional experience as well. That will give them the opportunity to talk about the things they are proud of.

Throughout the interview, help them if they get stuck. Maybe you need to rephrase a specific question, or maybe you need to stop them if they run in circles with their answer. Don’t let them struggle too much. You can’t avoid all stress. It is an interview after all. But you should strive to reduce it.

Smile, and be as human as possible. That helps the candidate feel better, and reduces stress. It’s also how you should generally behave as a person when you are trying to build a professional relationship with someone else. So, why wouldn’t you do it in an interview setting as well? You can’t smile because you don’t smile generally? Pretend. A fake smile is better than no smile at all.

I always, try to leave time in the end for the candidate to ask any questions they may want to ask. If I don’t know something I will tell them that. I will not try to look like I know everything. I want them to know I am not infallible.

If they ask for feedback, don’t hold back. You may feel you are giving away secrets or you are helping them for their next interview. On the contrary, if you give them a hint, and they don’t take advantage of it that tells you something. If they do, that tells you something as well.

In the end, make sure you describe the next steps. If there are more interviews, let them know. If there are no more interviews, describe the process you follow to assess the candidate.

Set the expectations about when you’ll be able to get back to them. Make sure you get back to them whether you want to make an offer or not.

Remote interviews should be extra calm, because the parties are not in the same room. That makes things more difficult.

The calmer the interview, the more you get to know about the person you are interviewing. Some believe you have to push your candidate to see how they react under stress. I don’t believe in that. There’s plenty of stress already, even if you follow my advice. You always have a chance of assessing how your candidate behaves under difficult situations. You don’t have to take the extra step to make everything more difficult.

Happy interviewing!

HeavyMelon is building Supportress. A simple and fast customer support tool at an unbeatable price. It helps you stay calm and productive. Subscribe to this blog, subscribe to our monthly HeavyMelon Newsletter, or ask us to add you to the private beta.

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Petros Amiridis View All →

Petros is a software writer since 1998, when he graduated from CITY College with a degree in Computer Science. He took a small break to work at GitHub Support for 9 years as a support engineer and a people manager. He quit GitHub to found HeavyMelon, a calm fully remote company. You can check what he is doing and where you can find him online now.

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