The 5 killer job interview questions to ask remote developers


Boris Borisov

14 August 2018


Not everyone is prepared to work remotely (yet)

To hire successful remote developers, you need to look beyond the technical skills. Yes, technical skills are important, but what sets apart the best hires are their remote work skills. Those who have strong remote work skills have undivided focus and ability to work collaboratively in the remote workplace.

The remote work skills are a set of soft skills that allow people to be productive in a remote work environment. To be precise, successful remote developers need (1) ability to work independently, (2) self-discipline, (3) effective communication, and (4) to be socially independent of their workplace. The details are in this article.

When you hire someone, who has a serious deficiency in one of the soft skills needed for working remotely, things can go terribly wrong. Even though everyone can learn the needed remote work soft skills – it takes a lot of commitment and continuous effort. It's not just a gap in knowledge. One thing is certain: you must assess your new remote hires in terms of remote work skills – either to select the right people or to identify areas of improvement.

Here are the 5 job interview questions that we use at RemoteMore:

1. Have you worked remotely in the past? What was your experience?

This question gives you quickly an understanding of the remote work skills of the candidate. Success in past remote roles is definitely one of the best predictors of future remote work success. Remote work experience counts also when it's in a freelance or distance collaboration work capacity. If a person doesn't have past remote experience, you should NOT exclude the person: the remote work skills can be acquired in other ways. That's why you need the next 4 questions to probe deeper.

2. Why do you want to work at a remote position?

Most of all, you are looking for a genuine answer. For remote work – clear, open communication is crucial and this personal question will be a perfect filter.

Probably you will hear a mix of personal and professional reasons. Among the personal reasons, you may hear freedom to travel, a healthier lifestyle, less time wasted on commuting, having more time for family etc. Those are all valid reasons and they are fine (as long as the person has realistic expectations).

A good answer should also include some professional reasons. Those can be framed from a personal point of view: I am most efficient without too many interruptions; I enjoy working in an environment where results are the main priority, I spend many hours at work so I'd like to make my environment optimal etc. You want to hire a person who is intrinsically motivated for the job, not just looking for the benefits package.

3. How do you normally organize your workday?

Remote workers need to be good at independent problem solving, which requires awareness. They need to set themselves up for success on their own. You will distinguish between the remote work skills of the candidates by asking this question because you will hear the depth of their practices.

The exact practices are not important. Someone may use Trello, someone may write notes on paper; someone may start the day with the calls, someone may start the day with coding. The important question is if the person has awareness and habits that will support his independent productivity.

4. What do you think makes a good remote team – good?

While the previous question evaluates how good the person works on their own, this one is targeted at their collaboration skills. A reply that is full of depth and insight of what makes remote collaboration good signifies that the person can work well with others in a remote environment. Listing the true reasons is not sufficient (e.g. replying shortly with “communication”), the reply should ideally go into the deeper reasons and propose solutions.

If the person you're interviewing replies that they don't have experience with remote work (which happens), you may want to use the follow-up: “Sure. What's your best guess in that case?”. A good reply without first-hand experience would be even more valuable.

5. What do you like to do outside of work?

With the previous questions, you have established that the person is motivated for the right reasons, the person can work independently and with others in a remote environment. However, there's one more thing to address: would this person enjoy working remotely?

If they have not worked remotely in the past, this is your go-to question. A major attrition factor for remote workers is that they may feel too isolated without the social environment of the workplace. The reply should indicate that the person would be happy without the face-to-face communication at work. For example, social hobbies are a very good sign when interviewing extroverts. Plus, this question is a great way to get to know the person that you may be co-workers!

Use the same questions across interviews

The best practice for job interviews is to stick with a set of questions for a while. You should deviate only to a small extent, which is needed to ensure fluidity of the conversation and the possibility to zoom in on interesting aspects. When you have a fixed set of questions, it is easier to compare candidates. Also, it allows you to learn over time what answers predict top performance, and which questions should be replaced.

Do you want more interview questions? We've got you covered!

Download our curated list of 60 killer job interview questions for hiring remotely.