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How to Nail the Technical Interview for A Remote Job

Illustration of a woman attending a video interview

Since joining Toggl as a mobile software engineer, I’ve helped the company hire 10+ engineers from a growing pool of candidates. The team is 100% remote, which means our hiring pool is, well, the whole planet. This also means that all of our communication takes place over the internet. Our hiring interviews are no different. The popularity of remote work means it’s crucial to nail the interview.

During my time at Toggl, I’ve sat through countless interviews, both good and bad. I can offer you some practical tips on how to prepare and make sure that you blow your interviewer away!

👨🏽‍💻 Make sure your software won’t stab you in the back

Since there’s already a lot of physical and digital distance between you and the interviewer (video latency, possible language barriers and the fact that you’re not in the same room to read body language), you need to make sure that nothing else gets in the way during the interview times.

Two hours before the interview, make sure to restart your computer, as this fixes 99% of the tech industry’s problems, check for OS updates (we’re looking at you, Windows 👀) and test your camera and headset in the platform that you’ll use for the video call.

While most interviewers probably expect some minor disturbances, these problems might make you even more nervous which can significantly affect your ability to function during the interview.

💻 Do a recap of your developer environment

Programming code

It doesn’t matter how senior you are: writing a Hello World from scratch, in the environment and technology you’ll use for the test, will make you more productive when doing this in front of the interviewer – a bit like when you rehearse before doing public speaking.

This will also ensure that you don’t waste your time fighting environment errors, which can be perceived negatively. I know computers are hard and sometimes they act up, but the last thing you need during an interview is to fix configuration problems instead of showing your skills!

😯 Don’t see the interviewer as your enemy

A common misconception during interviews is the assumption that the interviewer is trying to trick you. If that were the case, why would the company be hiring in the first place? The interviewer is another human being, like yourself, and they’re looking for the best people to fill the position.

A common misconception during interviews is the assumption that the interviewer is trying to trick you.

The very fact that you were invited to the interview should already mean something. Maybe you have a kick-ass resume or you nailed some kind of online test; it doesn’t matter! Remember you are being interviewed for a reason and don’t let that imposter syndrome kick in.

🤔 Not knowing things is not a problem

When you join a remote team you need to learn how to trust people. This means you should never be afraid of saying: I don’t know. I can’t stress this enough. If a person says they don’t know the answer to a question, that’s completely fine. If they make things up just to pretend they know the answer, that alone tells me not to trust that person and is a huge deal breaker.

If a person says they don’t know the answer to a question, that’s completely fine.

This also extends to using a new, hype framework/architecture versus working with what you know. If you’re given the freedom to choose, show what you already know then mention your knowledge of the other method. This will let the interviewer know that you’re not oblivious about technology without making you look like a liar.

🔈 Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more!

Another indispensable pillar of remote work is communication. It doesn’t matter how good of a developer you are; if you’re unable to communicate, you’re not a good fit for a remote team.

Before you even consider writing your first line of code, make sure you correctly understand the interviewer’s requirements and expectations. Remember: they’re not your enemy!

Do they want you to complete in time regardless of code quality? Or maybe they want you to show how you’d build a real-world application. Is performance more important than code readability or the other way around? Knowing what interviewer expects is key to impressing them, so make sure you get it right!

During the interview, explain what you’re doing as you’re doing it. This will show that you’re able to communicate and helps the interviewer understand your thought process. If you’re doing something in a less than optimal way and plan to refactor later, let that be known (as long as you have the time)! Don’t be shy. Remember, the interview is the only way to show that you’re a good fit!

🌴 Understand that remote work is still work

interview-remote-beach

Please, don’t mention things like: “I just wanna work from a beach in Bali” or “I need this job because I wanna focus less on work”. To be clear, it’s okay to have those aspirations! Work-life balance is important. If working from home can help you with that, you should look for a remote job! However, you have to remember that remote work is still work, and it’s still a job interview.

The interviewer wants to know how you can contribute to the team and the company. If you only focus on the remote part and forget the work part, it’ll sound like you only want to relax and not get anything done.

Instead of focusing on the benefits of remote work, mention any prior experience you have working from home. Show the interviewer that you’re self-motivating, organized, and not easily distracted. This will get you a lot closer to your goal than saying you want to be in one of those stock photos of people drinking margaritas on a beach!

🎁 Wrapping up

These are the tips that helped me hiring new people and getting myself hired. If you feel like something in this article is wrong (or if you have something to add) feel free to contact me!

Last but not least, we are hiring.

May 29, 2019

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There are two ways you could answer that question.

In terms of costs, our calculations have shown that it is indeed more cost efficient for our teams to travel, rather than have established offices in different countries. That difference is expressed by an order of magnitude. We’ve done the math and according to our estimates an office in New York would equal at least 200 trips per year. As for the travel option – we’re currently doing about 30 client trips and 20 team meeting trips per year.
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This is where long term thinking comes in, as you need to look beyond maximising your immediate positive cash flow.

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The idea of doing regular team trips wasn’t our own. The inspiration for the model came from remote work “giants” like WordPress, Github and 37Signals. We carefully analysed their experiences before starting out with the remote system, and quickly noticed one striking conclusion shared by all these companies.

Each of them found that having regular face-time is an absolute must have.

Every Toggl team member makes hundreds of small decisions about Toggl and its business each month. I am absolutely certain (and our experience also shows it), that these decisions are better informed and motivated if people have a better, more personal understanding of not just their teammates, but also their customers.

It’s very difficult to get to know another person via video or a Slack channel – let alone learning to trust that person. Building a team without trust is very difficult, if not impossible. The only way to build that trust and gain a deeper understanding of the other is to physically meet on a regular basis.

 

The remote mindset goes much, much deeper than basic costs.

It’s true that when done right, you can operate more efficiently than with a traditional office setup. But ultimately, the real benefit lies in having access to people with different language skills, viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, covering different time zones – all that without the hassle of setting up offices all over the world.

 

Do you manage a remote team? We’d love to hear from your experience in the comments below.

Or you can read how one Latin American company abandoned their office, what went missing with it, and how they got it back.

 

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