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Remote hiring: How to screen for remote culture fit

Remote hiring: How to screen for remote culture fit

There are many things you need to screen for when you’re hiring people in a remote company.

Of course, you want to make sure they have the skills and experience to do their job at the level you expect. Also, you want to make sure that their personality fits your company culture, and that they’ll be a good boost to that environment.

But there’s another important area where you need to gauge your candidates: remote culture fit.

We’ve been hiring for many different roles and responsibilities at Close. (And we've shared our approach to hiring sales people extensively in the past.) But as a remote company, it’s essential that new hires are a good remote fit. Will they do well in a remote environment?

How do we measure a candidate’s remote culture fit? What tests do we run, and what qualities do we look for? And how can your remote company do the same?

Let’s start by talking about some of the mistakes we made at the start, and what we learned from them.

Two big hiring mistakes we made early on

1. We didn’t ask about remote work experience

On our remote job applications, we never used to ask whether candidates had experience working remotely.

Working remotely is so different from working in an office. Will these people be engaged in their work? Will they be happy working remotely, and can they really thrive in this environment?

You can only know the answer to these questions if you ask.

What we learned:

We learned that the best indicator for whether a candidate will be a good remote fit is whether they’ve done it before.

Now, all our online job applications include a question about previous remote work experience.

Some people have years of experience working remotely for another company, which is great. Others have been working remotely as freelancers. And some have spent some days per week working from home. We just want to understand where they are in their remote work journey.

During the interview process, Mary, our head of people operations, gets on a culture call with the candidate. She asks them directly, “What does remote work look like for you?”

The goal: Get the candidate to explain what their remote work life will look like, especially if they haven’t done remote work before.

2. We didn’t rank candidates by remote work experience and motivations

In the early days, we didn’t think to rank someone with remote experience above someone without. That was a mistake.

In those days, when we asked someone why they decided to apply, some answered that they wanted to try out remote work and thought our company would be a great place to start. We thought that made sense, and even thought of ourselves as the gateway to help these people start a better life of remote work.

Today, we realize that’s not the best motivation to apply.

What we learned:

We don’t want to be the guinea pig for this person to try remote work for the first time. Granted, sometimes this works and the person turns out to be a great fit.

But here’s the key: How thoughtful have they been in choosing the remote life?

If a candidate just wants to try out remote work for a while, this presents serious risks for your company.

Maybe they dream of traveling for 6 months while working. They want to set up a completely different life, but they don’t realize that requires an incredible amount of planning and discipline.

We don’t want to be the company that someone uses to experiment with remote work for a couple of months only to realize it doesn’t work for them.

We want people that want to work for us for very strong reasons, not just because they want to work remotely and have applied to every remote company.

We look for candidates that are exceptional in their job first, and view the remote aspect as a plus.

After making these two big mistakes, we’ve learned what to look for in a remote candidate. Here’s how we gauge whether someone is a good remote fit:

Key indicators of a good remote culture fit

There are certain qualities and skills that provide evidence of whether someone will be able to thrive in a remote environment. Use these indicators to gauge the remote fit of your job candidates:

Exceptional communication skills

Remote work is a zany combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication, often across different continents and time zones.

So, how is your candidate as a communicator? Can they communicate well in writing? Are responsive, or are they slow? Do they have the ability to consistently stream video for meetings?

We have certain tools and processes for communication that we use in our company, just as every remote company does. You need to make sure the candidate is a good fit for your company’s communication style.


How to test communication skills:

First, we start with reviewing the online job applications people have submitted. We’ll check for spelling and grammar, as these are good indicators of a successful written communicator.

Some people are negligent in answering the questions in our application. For example, they may just put “Ask me in the interview” as a response.

We take these questions very seriously, and we invest time to read the responses. Since we’re a small team, these applications are basically the first interview, and the goal is to help people get in front of a hiring manager.

If the responses are poorly written or poorly communicated, it’s a good indicator that this person isn’t a good fit.

Next, we pay special attention to communication during the interview process.

For example, how does the person communicate with the hiring manager or with Mary during the culture call? When they receive instructions for the take-home project, are they coming back with lots of questions? This could mean they didn’t read the instructions properly.

Lastly, we add up everything we’ve learned about this person’s communication style, and that allows us to see whether this person is a good fit.

Discipline and maturity

To be a successful remote worker, you need to be disciplined. This includes taking charge of your life, designing your workspace, building habits, and setting your work cadence.

With a physical company, this is forced on you. You start at a certain time, you sit at a desk that was already designed, there’s a time for lunch, break time, etc. These things are designed in advance for you: All you have to do is go along with it.

When you work remotely, no one is forcing you to do these things. You could sit around in your pajamas, never shower, blast music and watch TV while you lounge in bed with your laptop. You could have absolutely terrible habits, and no one would know.

Since it’s up to them to decide how they build their work life, some people feel like they have the freedom to do anything. But they don't realize that without discipline, freedom is hell. You’re going to be the victim of your moods if you don’t have the discipline to create and follow a structured schedule.

That’s why discipline and maturity are essential qualities in a remote job candidate.

How to gauge discipline and maturity

The key here is to understand where this person is in their life.

Using questions during the culture call and other conversations we’ve had with the candidate, we try to understand whether this person is disciplined in other aspects of their life.

For example, you might ask a remote candidate: Outside of work, where do you find that you display a good amount of discipline and commitment in your life?

The answer to this question is always very illuminating. For example, you could discover:

  • They go to the gym religiously every week
  • They’ve been sticking to a strict diet
  • They’re very committed to their family
  • They’ve stayed for a long time in other jobs
  • They run 3 marathons a year

We’ve found that if someone has strong commitment and discipline outside of work, they’re more likely to thrive in a remote environment.

So, find out what kind of life they’ve created outside of work. If this is a life that requires discipline, you’ve likely found a good remote fit.

Reasons for remote work

People have different reasons for wanting to work remotely. For example, some people would be just as happy in-office as they would be working remotely, but they prefer the opportunities they find in remote companies.

Others choose remote work because they want to move away from the big cities to take care of family. Or, maybe there are limited opportunities for interesting work where they are locally.

These are all well-thought-out reasons to switch to remote work.

However, other people are looking to start a new life. Maybe they want to pick up and travel the world, and they have a completely different vision of their life after starting remote work. While this may work in some cases, it isn’t really viable for the majority of people jumping into remote work for the first time.

How find out if they have the right reasons

The best way to figure this out is to ask.

In the interview process and during the culture call, we ask candidates directly:

  • Why do you want to work remotely?
  • What’s the reasoning behind this choice?

From these questions, two categories of people will emerge. Candidates will either give you compelling reasons why they chose this life, or their answers will be more random and less mature.

The key is to look for thoughtfulness and intention in their responses. If the answers aren’t compelling, this could represent more risk for you as an employer.

Remote work setup

This is closely related to having discipline, but more focused on the work life itself. It’s essential for remote workers to have a clear process, a designated workspace, and a schedule they can stick to.

Whether or not someone already has remote work experience, these are things they should have already thought of.

How to measure the remote work setup

Again, ask the right questions. For example:

  • What does your work day look like?
  • Do you use a coworking space or a home office?
  • What does your work setup look like?

These questions help you understand how much experience this candidate has with remote work, or how much thought they’ve put into creating a remote work environment that works for them.

That, in turn, helps you figure out if they’re a good remote culture fit.

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