What is good remote interviewing?

It’s not simply in-person interviewing done over video chat.

Earlier this year, I left my previous job at Dropbox to do a month-long silent meditation retreat. When I came back a month later, ready to start the job search, the world had turned upside down. I found myself interviewing for a new job during a global pandemic, reading racial injustice books and infectious disease articles, alongside job postings and recruiter emails.

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I. Remote interviewing philosophy

“Let chaos reign…”

  • What does success look like for us when it comes to remote interviewing?
  • What does success look like for our candidates in remote interviews?
  • Where does our current interview process fall short for remote interviewing? Why is it falling short?
  • What are they key areas to fix in our remote interview process?

II. Remote interviewing process

“… then rein in chaos.”

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1. Train interviewers

… and everyone else involved in the interview loop

  • At the beginning of the conversation, each interviewer giving the candidate 3–5 minutes to stretch and drink water. This helps people move their bodies and keep hydrated.
  • All interviewers knowing how to handle spotty internet connections. Each interviewer has the candidate’s phone number, in case VC no longer works.

2. Modify interviews

No matter how well people are trained, some interviews simply don’t work on VC. When the candidate has to draw on a piece of paper, point to things on their phone, or write on a whiteboard, the interview is likely to break. It’s almost unbelievable how much time my interviewers and I wasted, thinking of creative ways to make whiteboard interviews work on VC. We tried it all, from drawing in Zoom, to attempting in vain to find the right position for my laptop to show both my face and my paper drawings.

  • If that doesn’t work, is there a way to get the signal you’re looking for through a conversational interview?
  • Could app critique interviews be limited to desktop apps where the candidate could share their screen?

3. Train candidates

Once interviewers are trained, and your interview format works for remote conversations, there’s one more thing you need to do: train your candidates.

  • Share what interviewers are looking to get signal on.
  • Explain in practical terms what the interview will look like.
  • Should the candidate prepare in any way? Should they have paper and pen nearby? Do you expect them to have their phone on hand?
  • Do you expect folks to give you specific examples from their past work experience? Or rather to speak more to abstract principles that they use to guide how they work?

III. Remote candidate experience

Remember that the people you’re interviewing are job hunting during a global pandemic, social upheavals, and economic uncertainty.

1. Be transparent with candidates

Given the current economic uncertainty, it’s understandable that companies shift their hiring strategy, or freeze hiring. Even if it’s expected that might happen, it can be demoralizing for a candidate to have their interviews canceled mid-way through.

2. Give signal on culture

Speaking of company culture — having finished my job search, it dawned on me that remote interviewing made it much harder to get a good sense of different companies’ culture, to see their values in action.

  • How can candidates get a sense of our culture when they’re interviewing remotely?

3. Be kind

When I was finally ready to make the decision as to what company to join next, I looked back on my interviewing experiences, and something dawned on me.

  • Bring joy and humor in interviews. Some of my most productive conversations started with me and the interviewer talking about the most awkward VC hiccups we’ve had at work in the past.
  • Bring delight in the interview process. Surprise the candidate with a nice gesture. For example, you can send them lunch on the day of the interview, or a give them card signed by folks on the team.

Design Manager @plaid. Previously manager @Dropbox, founder @memoaiHQ (acquired by @Coinbase).

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