We've all endured appalling job interviews.
Whether it's the guy who came in wearing spandex bike shorts, the woman who talked on her cell phone for 15 minutes without stopping, or the college grad who brought his mom in, awkwardness and bad fits abound in the interviewing process.
Imagine taking those bad in-person encounters and putting them on the phone.
How would you know who's likely to wear neon yellow spandex to the office? How would you weed out the kids who are still using Mommy as their security blanket? It seems like it would be even harder to hire good staff remotely, but it's entirely possible to find great hires from afar. You simply have to know what you're doing.
Create the Right Interview Process for Your Company
If you run a company that has employees scattered across the country -- or the globe -- you're going to have to do some remote hiring. As you develop a remote hiring system, keep an eye on what works best for your business in its day-to-day operations. What makes you most productive will also help you locate the right hires.
For example, my company has a large Facebook fan base. We've moved to posting positions on Facebook -- because we have a large pool of people using our page, we're not shorting ourselves on quantity or quality. (This also works if you have a solid client list or a professional association you work with.)
We know that these people are already passionate about our brand and the market space we occupy, which is tremendously important. Skills can always be developed, but initial interest is crucial. You don't want people who hardly know what you do trying to explain it to other people -- then you've created the awkward situation.
One good way to create a real-life interview experience is to do video interviews via Skype. This allows you to see the person you're interacting with and get a feel for their communication style. (Non-verbal signals count just as much as speech. If you don't believe that, imagine Bill Cosby without the exaggerated facial expressions. Jell-O seems a lot less appealing without them.)
The best way to pull people out during Skype interviews is to chat them up as if you were meeting at a social event. The benefit of a webcam is that you can pick up on people's personalities more clearly. You want to know if they'd be a good fit for your company, even if they'll be thousands of miles away. People can still be very annoying from distant zip codes.
Narrow the Field Selectively
The first thing you're looking for in a potential employee is ability.
The most accurate view you'll get of their skills is via their past work -- always ask for samples. People who've struggled to produce good work in the area you're hiring aren't going to suddenly become talented overnight. If you don't want to be the person to build them from scratch, carefully look over their old work.
Test projects also allow you to see people's capabilities, particularly if they've completed work that's so different from what you're looking for that you're having difficulty gauging their fit. Once you've eliminated the people who aren't up to snuff, send the remainder a test project. This doesn't have to be something you actually need, but it should be something that requires a 30-60-minute time investment on the candidate's part.
If it's a design position, you can have them create a small banner; if you're hiring a writer, you can ask them to craft a short email. A lot of people will blow the assignment off, so that cuts out the tire kickers who are too lazy to go the extra mile. These tests also let you evaluate how the candidates respond to your needs. People who develop samples that reflect your way of thinking will immediately rise to the top, as will the people who improve upon what you yourself would have done.
Eliminate the Bad Fits
Once your field is down to just a couple of people, you need to check references.
A true former employer, supervisor, or co-worker counts as a qualified reference; the neighbor who paid the candidate to mow his lawn doesn't. Contacting references is time-consuming, but these people will be able to give you a firsthand account of what it's like to work with the fabulous-seeming people you're considering.
But don't just rely upon former employers' impressions.
Think about how the candidate responded throughout the hiring process. Did she respond on time? Was she easy to communicate with? Did she fully answer all the questions you asked? Did she behave appropriately? It's easy to overlook these things when someone's work has blown you away, but fit is crucial. You'll have to work closely with the person you hire, so finding out how they'll act in the environment you've created is important. One ill-fitting hire can scare off the rest of your superstar squad.
It's true that people can find ways to hide their true natures during the interview process, no matter the format. But following these steps will make it much harder for candidates to hide their rude phone manners -- or the spandex bike short collection that would make Lance Armstrong jealous.
Take the extra time to vet your remote candidates, and you won't spend the rest of their tenure avoiding them!