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Best Practices for Vetting Remote Tech Candidates

men writing in a whiteboard

Remote work is here to stay. Its rise was often attributed to the rising number of millennials and Generation Z in the workplace, but with as many as 90% of staff wanting to work from home it was clear all age groups were on board. Then came Coronavirus, and remote working was less of a choice and more of a necessity to keep business ticking over. The net effect of this is that there are more companies than ever who need to vet tech candidates remotely.

While hiring someone without ever meeting them might seem odd to companies who haven’t been working remotely for long, it’s become the norm for many organizations and is something we deal with day in and day out as a remote technical recruitment agency. Here’s what we’ve learned when it comes to vetting remote developers.

Take Up References

Once upon a time, getting a response to a reference request was a time-consuming task that often didn’t get completed until your new starter was on site and working. With more rapid communication, it’s now possible to get opinions from previous employers or other referees within hours.

If you can, set up a phone call to talk to the ex-employer; this will enable you to move past the cookie-cutter responses of a generic reference and let you ask the important questions to you, such as how that person worked under pressure, or what part of the stack they are familiar with.

Evaluate Technical Talent

developer coding in multiple monitors

The traditional way of vetting tech candidates was the infamous whiteboard test. We’ve talked about the problems with that approach in the past, but in effect, it relies on the developer having a good memory rather than proving their ability to problem-solve with all the knowledge of the internet at their fingertips.

If you prefer a more objective assessment, then there are companies that provide online testing services such as Code Signal and Codingame. You could also do a little research yourself – do they use Github? If they do, you might be able to get a look at some of their code and see the way they conduct themselves on the forums there.

That’s not how to vet a software developer; we’d suggest that you give them a small task to undertake for you, or maybe even screen share and do some pair programming. Maybe there’s a bug to fix or a new function that needs writing. Seeing them work on something that is real and relevant to your business will show you a lot more than any course completion certificate.

Beyond the Interview

We’ve found that the best indicator of a ‘good fit’ isn’t so much about technical skill, it’s more to do with cultural fit. Employees perform better if they feel a sense of belonging to your team, so you need to make sure that their expectations of work align with yours. For example, there’s a cultural difference between the ‘work from home’ candidate who puts in regular office hours and the digital nomad, who works while traveling and wants flexible hours. Take some time in the interview to discuss expectations in terms of working hours, even if all you need is some overlap once a week for a team meeting.

It’s also useful to understand that there is a lot of advice out there for remote candidates, giving them tips on how to ace video interviews. As a result, you’ll probably find yourself looking at the head and shoulders of your candidate, set against a neutral wall. If you want to learn a little more about them, you could ask them to attend the interview from their usual working space. You could also ask for a ‘tour’ of their home office, so you can get an idea of some of those important personal traits like organization, time management, and how effectively they separate work from their home life.

The best IT talent working for you

Multiple Personalities

When Steve Jobs was hiring for Apple in the early days, he would get every member of the team to spend some time with the potential candidate before he agreed to hire them. Steve was a very smart man, as we know, but this is now becoming a more widely held hiring practice. Candidates are increasingly being introduced to members of staff from throughout the company to see how they interact with them; as the saying goes ‘You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him’.

Remote Experience

Although many people are currently working from home, this isn’t a genuine reflection of remote work. Working at home long term, outside of a pandemic, has its own challenges and isn’t for everyone. One of the best ways to vet a software engineer for a remote role is to choose someone who has previous remote experience.

That’s not to say that you should rule out anyone who doesn’t have that experience, or who has only been working from home due to COVID-19; but if they haven’t got a track record of delivering from home then you’ll need to ask them questions about how they might face some of those challenges. We’re talking about things like distraction, time management, and what they will do if they find themselves in need of help when no one else is online. Scenario-based questions are the easiest way to get someone to explain their approach.

Leave it to the Experts

As we said, we’re specialists in this field. We spend our days matching opportunities like yours with our database of highly qualified, remote-proven, developers, and other technical staff. We pre-vet all candidates, so when we send you a CV you can be sure that this person is not only the top of their game technically, but they’re also a great fit for your culture, and we know they’ll work remotely with great success. We even handle the HR side of things for you! So, if you’re about to vet a tech candidate, let us do the heavy lifting for you.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.

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