Knowing what to ask during a job interview is difficult. It gets much harder when you're interviewing candidates you will never meet when hiring for a virtual job. Should you ask the same questions you'd ask in a face-to-face interview?
Not exactly says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, an employment site for telecommuting jobs. The seven-year-old company is completely virtual, Sutton Fell says, with its 43 employees spread from New Hampshire to Oregon to Florida. She herself is in Southern Colorado. To this day, she says, "I haven't met all my employees. There's one I've been working with for five years and still haven't met."
Not everyone is cut out for working in this kind of structure, she adds. After seven years of interviewing candidates for virtual jobs, Sutton Fell has found that some questions are particularly helpful for identifying candidates who will or won't be successful at a virtual job:
1. Are you good at managing yourself?
The phrase "self-starter" has been overused in employment ads, but that's what a remote employee needs to be. This question may help you find out if your candidate has this essential skill.
2. Are you proactive about communicating?
A successful remote employee has to be someone quick to get in touch in most situations. "This is a really important trait because I can't look and see if someone's in the office pacing in frustration," Sutton Fell says. I have to depend on employees to let me know when something's wrong--and also when good things happen.
3. How do you feel about our product?
Enthusiasm for the company and its products is an attractive quality in any potential hire. But it takes on greater importance in a virtual work situation. "Your job is right in front of you every single day," Sutton Fell explains. "You don't have the commute or other distractions. You have to really like it to keep at it, so we look for people who will enjoy their jobs and our mission."
4. What is your ideal work environment?
You're usually best off hiring a candidate who specifically wants to work remotely, rather than someone who just wants the job. "Some people are game for anything," Sutton Fell says. That might sound good, but in practice she finds the best people for remote positions are those who have a real interest in working remotely. "Most of our hires really value working from home."
5. Do you have a quiet space where you can work uninterrupted?
A job candidate is unlikely to succeed if he or she is trying to work at the dining room table while children or other family members wander in and out.
6. How's your relationship with your computer?
Keep in mind that someone working remotely won't have access to your company's tech support person or team. That means winning candidates should have their own tech support system in place. In general, Sutton Fell adds, you want people who are at ease with their computers and any other technology they'll need on the job, since they'll mostly have to trouble-shoot any issues for themselves.
7. How much of your social life comes from work?
"You won't have that forced interaction, someone popping into your office and saying 'I like your skirt,'" Sutton Fell notes. "I've had people tell me that they don't like working from home because they have no one to talk with all day. Having other things going on in their lives can be very helpful."
8. Are you a people pleaser?
This might seem like a loaded question in a job interview. But Sutton Fell says it's worth making sure that remote employees will tell you what they're really thinking and not what you want to hear. "In a virtual environment, it can be harder to tell when someone is doing that," she explains. "Another way to ask is, 'Are you comfortable bringing up conflict?'"
She says that most successful candidates will answer something like this: "I'm a people pleaser to some degree, so if I need to say something negative I'll look for a nice way to say it. I don't look for conflict but if something needs to be addressed, I feel comfortable addressing it."
9. Are you an optimist?
Successful remote-work candidates are "friendly and generally optimistic," Sutton Fell says. "Working virtually you have different challenges." Someone who's friendly and generally upbeat will both be in a better position to meet those challenges and also will more easily form relationships with remote colleagues.
10. Please describe yourself in five words.
Sutton Fell admits that she sometimes feels a little silly asking for this. She does it anyway because it can tell her quite a lot about a job candidate. "I intentionally do it off the cuff," she says. "I want to know what people think is important about themselves."