5 interview questions an ex-Google recruiter asks before hiring remote workers

The number of remote workers is surging, but it’s not for everyone. Here are the five interview questions Jennifer Farris asks to see if candidates can hack it.

5 interview questions an ex-Google recruiter asks before hiring remote workers
[Photo; Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash]

Whether from home or at a satellite office, more people are working remotely. A study done by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found that the number of remote workers has grown by 159% since 2005, and 4.7 million Americans—3.4% of the U.S. population—work outside of the office at least half of the time.


But not everyone is cut out to be a remote worker, says former Google recruiter Jennifer Farris, who is currently the chief people officer at Terminal, a company that establishes teams of engineers for companies around the world.

“The biggest factor of being able to work remotely is if you can get work done without someone looking over your shoulder,” she says. “Sometimes a really talented worker can have a harder time adjusting to the new world of remote working arrangements. They might need extra support—someone physically close to them. It’s not for everyone.”

During the interview process, Farris looks for traits that are beneficial for successful virtual working arrangements. Here are five areas she addresses to help uncover a candidate’s proclivity for remote work:

1. Previous experience

Ideally the candidate would have prior experience working in a virtual setting, says Farris. Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, especially because they know what to expect.

Farris asks candidates to talk about past remote situations, adding that they can go beyond employment. “It could be that they completed a portion of their education in a remote environment,” she says.


2. Communication skills

Working remotely requires the ability to be proactive in finding solutions or help. Since colleagues aren’t sitting in a nearby desk or office, remote employees must have good communication skills.

Farris asks the candidate to describe a scenario in which they had to take initiative to solve a problem. How did they solve it? Who did they enlist? How did they find the right person? And how did they reach out? “It’s about how they accomplish goals through team communication,” she says.

3. Potential concerns

Working in a remote situation is different than working in a traditional environment, and Farris asks candidates about potential problems as well as their awareness of the new ways they may be expected to work.

“I want to see if they have concerns in the beginning about the particular setup,” she says. “Are they thinking about how they would ask for assistance when needed? And when things are going well, do they want to know how to share feedback or progress with their team?”

4. The work process

For remote work situations to be successful, companies need to establish systems, especially around communication. Farris wants to see if candidates have thought through their own requirements. “Certain things have to be in place for you to be effective at your job, such as having effective tools for communication,” she says.


Other things can be a matter of setting personal routines or boundaries. Farris asks candidates how they expect to manage differences in time zones, what hours they expect to work, and if they allow exceptions.

“Also, I want to know how they like to be managed,” she says. “What do they expect from management in terms of communication and feedback?”

5. Job satisfaction

When hiring for a remote worker, Farris looks for people who can find joy and be productive in virtual environments. “The individual needs to be someone who can be successful with a level of independence,” she says.

Farris will ask the candidate to describe their most successful work environment and what it was about it that brought that level of success.

“If they say going to happy hour after work with coworkers brings them energy, I’d have concerns around them potentially being a good fit in a remote environment,” she says. “If they say they’re interested in solving interesting problems and like to partner with people to solve those problems, I’d dig in and ask how they like to partner.”


The company’s responsibility

While finding people who can be successful in a remote working environment is important, equally important is that companies ready themselves to manage remote working arrangements, says Farris.

“The individual matters as to how they can perform in a remote environment, but a lot of it has to do with infrastructure set up by the business,” she says. “If a company hasn’t had remote teams in the past, make sure the manager gets appropriate training to ensure that the remote worker can be successful. It’s important to vet the individual, but the company is responsible for that success too.”