Recently, we’ve published multiple blog posts on how to navigate remote interviewing. In this post, we take a deeper dive into the remote technical interview. Think whiteboarding exercises, coding challenges, etc. To speak on this topic, we called on our in-house experts, Dave Walters, CTO, and Anna Steward, Recruiting Manager. Dave is not only a technology leader but also worked at a fully remote company prior to Vettery; Anna has been leading technical recruiting at Vettery for 2+ years. In this Q&A, we address questions that will aid both interviewers and interviewees through the remote technical interview process.
Anna, what are your tips for hiring managers on how to conduct a successful virtual technical interview? What about for interviewees?
Technical interviews are all about problem solving. Hiring managers should keep the conversation flowing as the candidate works through each problem. If a candidate gets stuck, verbally coach them through it. Not only does this keep the interview moving along, but also simulates the real world environment you’d be working in. With this method, you can evaluate their coachability and problem solving skills, not just whether they can solve a singular problem.
If you’re the one interviewing for a job, be sure to articulate your thought process as you work through each problem. Demonstrating your approach to problem solving and your communication skills are just as important as solving the problem itself. You should also observe the interviewer’s body language for clues - they may nod their head or lean forward if you’re on the right track, or do the opposite if you’re heading in the wrong direction. Listen up for verbal cues as well.
Dave, what skills do you think are important for job-seekers to highlight, either in a resume or during an interview, that demonstrate they will be successful as a remote employee?
Since we’re talking specifically about remote work, job-seekers should highlight their communication skills, as the ability to communicate effectively is absolutely crucial when remote. They should also speak to their ability to successfully structure their day and manage their time. In a remote work setting, it can take managers and their direct reports longer to establish a feedback loop, so demonstrating these key soft skills during the interview will put the hiring manager more at ease, and they’ll be more likely to select you over other candidates.
Anna, have the types of questions you typically get from candidates (or the questions you’ve been asking) changed since the shift to remote work? What about the overall tone of interviews?
This has been a very humanizing experience for all of us and my interviews have definitely taken on a more informal tone. As a recruiter, I’m spending more time chatting with candidates early on and just getting to know them, as well as understanding their recent projects and career goals.
Job-seekers are asking more about the hiring process as they want to understand if they can be hired without meeting the team in-person. They are also asking about what’s involved in the interview process - what is the structure, what tools are we using to conduct interviews, who is involved, etc. As you might expect, candidates are especially eager to hear about potential start dates and the remote onboarding process as the standard for these processes have shifted considerably.
I’ve also noticed that technical candidates are asking more about the business itself - now more than ever, developers want to know that they will have job stability and an opportunity for career growth long-term.
Dave, how do you reflect the culture at Vettery, especially our tech team, via a video chat? How do you gauge how the candidate will add to that culture?
We do our best to share some of the key cultural and social elements they can expect as a part of our engineering team. At Vettery, we do holiday and birthday celebrations, happy hours, and virtual (previously in-office) activities like Bingo and Game Night. I also like to talk about our onboarding buddy program as well as offboarding farewells we have when a team member may decide to move on for further growth.
Aside from speaking about the fun social events we do, I also like to demonstrate our team's collaborative nature during the technical portion of the interview. It offers great insight into what working on Vettery’s tech team is really like.
Of course, it’s also important to ask candidates what kind of culture they are looking for. As you talk through examples from your company, pay attention to their responses so you can get a sense for how they’ll add to that culture.
Anna, have you felt the need to add or remove anything from the interview process? If so, do you foresee these changes sticking once people are back in the office?
Yes, we’ve certainly adapted our interview process given the circumstances. We want to make it as simple as possible for candidates to schedule time with us throughout their day. As such, we’ve taken measures to balance out the timing of sessions involved in our interview process. For example, the first technical screen is now longer, and the final (previously on-site) technical session is shorter. We’ve also allotted extra time in the technical portion of the interview so that everyone can get to know each other and ask questions without taking away from the technical evaluation itself.
Going virtual has allowed the process to move faster. It’s a lot easier for a candidate to carve out 1-2 hours for a video interview versus physically traveling to our office multiple times (not to mention coming up with excuses to get out of work!). I expect a lot of these adaptations to stick, although it will be nice when candidates are able to come in and see the office again.
Dave, a technical interview typically includes whiteboarding and/or coding exercises. How have you been conducting these remotely? Any tips or favorite tools? How can candidates best prepare themselves?
There are a number of different solutions for digital whiteboarding, however if a candidate is unfamiliar with them, or doesn’t have the right tools such as a stylus pen, they can be awkward to use in an interview. I prefer to handle virtual whiteboarding in a simple, low-tech way, with just pen and paper. If the candidate is able to, ask them to set up a second device with a camera and have it pointed directly at the paper so you can see both them and their work at the same time. If not, just have them hold the paper up to the camera every so often so you can see their progress.
For remote coding exercises, there are a variety of tools to choose from. Think about whether you want to have the candidate use their own IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and screen share (this will have limitations in pair coding) versus a remote interview tool such as remoteinterview.io.
If you’re a job-seeker, I recommend asking the recruiter ahead of time what the format of the interview will be, and what tools will be used during the technical portion. Then, spend a bit of time setting up and getting comfortable with those tools prior to the interview.
Anna, technical glitches during video calls are inevitable. How do you diffuse awkwardness and keep momentum going when this happens?
Inevitably there will be some kind of technical difficulty and it’s most important to keep the lines of communication open when this happens. My advice is the same whether you are the interviewer or interviewee.
If for some reason you can’t get into the video chat, email the other person to let them know you’re having trouble. If your connection cuts out, email or call the other person directly to let them know what happened and together decide what the best next steps are (e.g. finishing the interview another way or rescheduling). The other person’s email is typically in the calendar invite, but when in doubt, reach out to your recruiter!
Everyone understands that technical glitches happen. The most important thing is not to leave people hanging or confused about what’s going on.
Dave, as our resident tech pro, do you have any tips for avoiding technical issues during a video call?
Whether you are the interviewer or interviewee, you absolutely want to do whatever you can to prevent technical issues from interfering with the flow of the interview. First off, make sure you are in a quiet and distraction-free part of your home or office. Close extra tabs and applications that may be competing for resources with your video conferencing software. If you haven’t rebooted your computer in awhile, consider doing so a few hours ahead of the meeting. Ensure applications that notify you with visual or audible alerts are closed or put on Do Not Disturb. Lastly, run some speed tests to ensure your wireless strength is strong in the room you will be taking the call from.
Like Anna said, some technical issues are unavoidable, thus they should never be used as a measurement of how either side performed in the interview.
Anna, how do you recommend making a new employee feel welcome when their first day is remote?
An easy first step is to do what you would typically do on day one. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to welcome them, add them to team meetings, and introduce them to everyone on the team, especially people they may not have met yet.
Remote work means that we don’t get to eat lunch together or have casual water-cooler interactions. I like to arrange for new hires to get virtual coffee with a buddy or two during their first week. This is a great way for them to meet and start building relationships with new coworkers, especially those from other teams.
Dave, anything to add to that?
It’s important to make the extra effort to reach out early and often with new remote employees. In addition to the traditional day one HR onboarding meetings, have your IT team reach out that first morning to make sure they are fully operational and have everything they need as far as equipment and accounts. This can prevent an issue from going on longer than it needs to because your new team member may be shy to speak up.
Have a list of key people for them to meet within their first few days. This will give them a warm welcome and better visibility into what each group does and who is responsible for what in the company. This helps form key bonds in the organization that they can call upon if and when needed.