How to Hire Remote Workers From Start to Finish

Many startup founders enter the recruitment and interview process without an HR background. It’s difficult territory, compounded by the fact that many aspects of an in-person interview—the initial handshake and eye contact, body language, an appearance of nerves—are completely absent when talking with a remote candidate.

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Additionally, when your star employee could be anywhere in the world, the challenge evolves from finding a needle in a haystack to first identifying the right haystack to search.

As with the traditional interview, hiring the right remote candidate is possible with planning, thoughtful execution and a few steps unique to this type of arrangement. Let’s begin with what to do before you announce the open position.

Before Interviews

Create a platform for recruitment

It might seem old fashioned, but blogging is a simple and effective tool for managers looking to hire remote talent. If you’re already running one on your website, that’s great. Use it to share aspects of your vision and work culture.

If you don’t have a blog, Medium is a great platform for one-off articles and publications around certain aspects. Use their keywords wisely to be seen by wider audiences, or hunt for a Medium publication that might publish your work. LinkedIn is also a great resource for this.

Regardless of platform, recruitment articles should focus on the culture your startup is building. Describe the startup and how you see it working. Highlight habits of the people you have on board now. Is it a rewarding place to work? Do you currently employ remote workers, even freelancers? Anyone who’s excited to read this article will be a candidate for joining the team.

Plan how you’ll manage a remote worker

As the manager, you must set clear expectations and identify how communication will take place right from the start. Write out a formal check-in schedule by setting weekly, monthly and quarterly meeting times. Doing this ahead of time will allow you to find a rhythm that works for your small team and sets you up to share this arrangement during your initial interviews.

Also, make it clear that you’re applying the same schedule of accountability to the rest of the team, so that remote workers do not feel that they’re being treated differently.

Define how communication will work

Communication is critical when you have remote employees, and a big part of effective communication is using the right tools. Many companies use Slack. Again, identifying the tool you’ll use ahead of time will allow you to go to your potential employee and say, “We use [x] for communication. Are you familiar with it?”

Also, decide on things like how quickly a remote worker should respond to email, what being “in the office” looks like (for example, logging into Slack), and how and when check-in calls should occur.

Write an attractive listing

When writing a job posting meant to attract a remote worker, keep language in mind.

This should be obvious but avoid words like “ninja,” “pirate” or “rock star.” Unless you’re after someone who owns a collection of shuriken, wears a shoulder-mounted parrot or is named Eddie Van Halen, skip the silly titles. They make people back away, not apply for a job.

Instead, write a very detailed, specific job description. What’s the best way to do that? Work the job yourself, said Basecamp’s Jason Fried in a Reddit AMA:

“When it comes to an all-new position at the company, we like to try to do it first with the people we have so we really understand the work. If you don’t understand the work, it’s really hard to evaluate someone’s abilities. Before we hired our first customer service person, I did just about all the customer service for two years. Before we hired an office manager, David and I mostly split the duties. That really helped us know who would be good when we started talking to people about the job.”

Two years is excessive. Typically a few days will do it. And yes, do the job itself, noting the required tasks and expectations. Here’s the kicker: do it remotely.

Take a Saturday and spend an afternoon performing the identified duties from home or the local Starbucks. Communicate with teammates via the tools identified earlier. Note what the experience is, as this will inform not only the role but the language you use in the description.

Also, be aware that you may attract people who are seduced by a romanticized vision of working from home. Write your listing in a way that dissuades their application in the first place. Instead of “Work from the comfort of your own home,” try phrases like, “We’re eager to add to our distributed team.”

Put their skills to the test

Lastly, have remote candidates apply in a way that demonstrates their ability to use remote communication tools. Perhaps they can join a Slack channel meant for potential hires, or record a quick video and deliver it to a shared Dropbox folder. Maybe you’ll have them post something to a Trello board. That right person will be happy to complete these brief and atypical tasks.

The Interview Process

Congratulations, you’ve got a list of candidates with a follow-up. Now the real work begins. Conduct a successful remote interview process by following these steps:

Conduct a video call interview

Once you’ve found some potential candidates, invite them to participate in a video interview. Google Hangouts is fine, but you can also use FaceTime, Screenhero or whatever else.

A video interview is important for several reasons. First, notice how the candidate reacts to the invitation. Do they offer several options, taking time zones into account? Do they offer multiple ways to connect, like Hangouts or Skype? Communication is so very important with a remote worker that these little things can go a long way to help identify the right fit.

A video interview also allows you to notice things like body language, dress, appearance and confidence. During this initial chat, work the following questions into your interview:

  1. How will you balance your home/work life?
  2. Is your timezone compatible with our team?
  3. Do/will you use collaboration tools?
  4. How will you remain accountable? At this point, describe the accountability schedule you defined earlier.
  5. How often will you move around (if the candidate likes to travel)?

Watch out for any candidate who lacks a solid answer for number one. Additionally, be wary of snarky answers like “What balance?” The gung-ho worker how brags about consistently putting in 16-hour days will burn out or experience home trouble that affects work.

Interview with the rest of the team

As I said in the first article in this series, a startup consists of driven people who work long hours closely together. The ability to get along is just as important as skills and experience. Let your potential hire have a video chat with the whole team so that you can identify any potential personality conflicts before he or she is hired.

After the group interview, send a quick message to your whole team asking for their thoughts.

Test the candidate with a small, relevant project

After your video interviews, a few candidates will emerge as top choices. Give this group a small project to complete that’s relevant to what you do. It should take no more than a few hours, and you should be prepared to pay them a set hourly rate to complete the task. Make sure that it requires interaction with members of your team so you can test their communication skills.

If all goes well at this point, you can make an offer. A little pre-interview planning, skill assessment and input from the whole team will go a long way towards finding exactly who you need.

Hiring Remote Sets You Up For Success

Hiring remote workers can be great for your startup, provided you’re thoughtful and intentional during the hiring process. Your chances of success will increase when you follow the steps outlined here.

With a little effort and luck, you’ll find exactly the person you’re looking for.

Ready to find the perfect remote hire? Try Authentic Jobs.