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28K Video Interviews Later: How to Interview Software Engineers Remotely

By Laura Handeland on Mar 13, 2020

28K Video Interviews Later: How to Interview Software Engineers Remotely

Here at Triplebyte, we write a lot about how to hire software engineers: which questions to ask, how to close candidates, and why credentials don’t tell the whole story. But what happens when a candidate can’t visit your office for a final round of interviews? How do you give a great experience when you’re just starting to conduct interviews remotely?

I manage our team of remote technical interviewers, coaching them on ways to ensure that every Triplebyte candidate’s video interview is a positive experience -- regardless of how the candidate performs on the assessment. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Minimize Distractions

When you’re interviewing via video call, it’s easy to forget what you look like, and even easier to get distracted.

First things first: turn off your notifications and close out unrelated screens. If you’re busy reading chat messages, the candidate is going to notice. While you’re at it, make sure your own space is distraction-free. Especially if you’re working from home, take steps to minimize disruptions from deliveries, pets, and family.

Next, think about how you normally build a relationship in an interview. Your active listening skills are even more important over video, so you might need to tweak your usual body language a bit. Eye contact, your facial expression, and aural feedback are more important than usual; all helping demonstrate that you care about what the candidate has to say.

Eye Contact

Get used to where the camera is located on your device, and pay attention to talking into the lens (rather than down into the screen or at the keyboard). You want the candidate to know that you’re looking at them, not just at your notes. Especially when you first sign into the call, make sure to look directly into the camera when you introduce yourself.

Facial Expression

You’re going for what I call “neutral-positive.” You want to look inviting and engaged, even when you’re in the midst of pulling up a screen share or listening to a long-winded answer. Think relaxed facial muscles overall, with slightly raised eyebrows, and maybe a slight upturn at the corners of your mouth.

Aural Feedback

To reinforce that you’re interested in what the candidate has to say, try nodding along as they speak, using the candidate’s name to start off your questions, or adding some light affirmations. These cues help the candidate know you’re listening, since your usual cues (like leaning towards the person, or slight changes to your expression) don’t quite show up in the same way on a screen. You might also work on mirroring: keeping your tone upbeat with an enthusiastic candidate keeps the energy high, and repeating key phrases from the candidate’s answers are another way to demonstrate that you’re engaged.

Sharing the Office Culture

Now that we’ve talked about some of the basics of communicating well over a video call, let’s cover some methods for promoting your office culture.

Be intentional about your mindset. Even though you’re not together in an office, you’re still acting as a host on behalf of the company. Do what you can to make sure the candidate is comfortable. Suggest a water or bathroom break if you know you’re beginning a call in the middle of a long interview slate. Ask yourself if there’s anything you’d usually do or say to build a connection at the start and end of interviews. For example, start with a friendly wave since handshakes are off the table; or transition off the call with a mention of why you love working with the next interviewer.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the physical office space, especially if that’s where the candidate will eventually be working. Mention how you’re looking forward to seeing the view of the city, or getting back to your team foosball tournament.

Ensuring a Smooth Experience

Finally, a few logistical details to consider when you’re gearing up to conduct your interviews remotely.

  • Designate a point person for the interview slate (probably the recruiter or hiring manager), just like you would for an onsite. They should ensure that the candidate and interviewers have everything they need to interview effectively over video (eg, conferencing software, a quiet space, headphones). If your interviewers are working in the same office, reserving one conference room with one call link for the whole day can help simplify this process.
  • Do a quick review of general video call etiquette. Remind the interviewers that they should always make sure the candidate can see and hear properly at the start of the call. Raise awareness of any privacy issues (for example, hiding their bookmarks bar and closing out screens containing private company data before a screenshare). Also remind the team to try and limit fidgeting (especially tapping, which is noisy over video call).
  • Check in with everyone on how the videoconferencing application works, so that each interviewer is comfortable enough to do some light troubleshooting (in case the candidate runs into any issues). Let your IT staff know about the interview, so that they can also be on standby.
  • Make sure to have back-up plans. For example, what if someone’s wifi goes down? Should the interviewer call the candidate, and if so, where can they find the candidate’s phone number? Let the candidate know who they should contact if something goes wrong mid-interview.
  • Ensure smooth transitions. Figure out who will take over from who, when, and how. (For example, should the next interviewer just sign into the call link at the designated time? Wait for someone to tell them to log in?)
  • Have an end of day wrap-up, just like you would if the candidate was onsite. This provides the candidate a chance to ask any outstanding questions, and for the recruiter or hiring manager to communicate details like the decision timeline.

While your team might be new to conducting interviews remotely, these tips will help ensure that every candidate has a great experience. And when your candidates enjoy their time learning about the company, your brand (and your candidate close rate!) improve. If your team is hiring software engineers, Triplebyte can help. Our directory of highly-skilled, technically-assessed software engineers can help you source candidates for your job openings.

Stop wasting time on bad candidates. Start hiring great engineers.

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