How to Screen Technical Candidates Online: 3 Best Practices for Remote Interviews

Waikit Lau Waikit Lau
How to Screen Technical Candidates Online: 3 Best Practices for Remote Interviews

As the world takes shelter from COVID-19, remote work continues to gain traction. Now is the time to think about how you recruit your talent.

Here are 3 best practices for conducting remote interviews online:

  • Adopt a digital mindset
  • Create a collaborative experience
  • Capture interview artifacts

Adopting a digital mindset

To successfully conduct an interview online, think outside the conference room. What works for on-site interviews may not always translate to a virtual setting.

Here are a few ways to get into a digital frame of mind:

  1. Show and tell.

    During your interview open, show candidates “a day in the life” of their expected role.

    You can share pictures from team building events, play a video from a sprint review, or even demo a company product, provided the information is non-proprietary.

    Speak to visual aids, such org charts and product documentation, where possible.
  2. Clear your desk.

    To encourage digital note taking, put away all sticky notes and notebooks. Handwritten feedback is time consuming and difficult to share.

    You can create a feedback template, survey, or checklist to reuse for each interview.
  3. Be prepared.

    Unfortunately, technology snafus are not as innocuous as a double-booked conference room.

    Tell candidates what to do in the event of a technology snag and how you’ll keep in touch, whether by chat, another application, or an old fashion phone call.

    Get in the habit of testing your A/V, recruiting platform, and related tools before each interview. You can work with your IT department to develop troubleshooting steps to keep in your back pocket.

Creating a collaborative experience

To keep candidates engaged, give them an experience that feels conversational. A genuine, human connection goes a long way when conducting a remote interview.

Here are a few ways to stay connected:

  1. Get the right tools.

    High-quality audio and video is your top priority. Without it, you run the risk of leaving a poor impression, or worse, passing up a qualified candidate.

    Next, find the tools that support your assessment strategy. For example, you can use an IDE for code exercises, and a virtual whiteboard for designs or diagrams. Don’t forget about licensing, configuration, and download requirements when deciding which tools to purchase.

    For a roundup of developer assessment tools, checkout SelectSoftware Reviews.
  2. Interact.

    Encourage candidates to think out loud as they work through a complex question or technical exercise. Be prepared to give hints and ask probing questions to keep the conversation going.

    Structure you interview to include natural breaks and opportunities to dive deeper into a particular topic.

    If you struggle with interview fatigue, try mixing in some recorded questions to keep candidates engaged.
  3. Be attentive.

    Minimize distractions by silencing notifications or temporarily disabling your taskbar.

    If you have more than one monitor, switch screens from extended mode to duplicate mode; you’ll be more apt to face your webcam and maintain eye contact.

To preempt personal interruptions, schedule deliveries, check on pets, and notify family members ahead of time.

Capturing interview artifacts

To thoroughly review candidates with your colleagues, capture complete and consistent artifacts from each interview.

Here are a few tips for collecting information:

  1. Record what you can.

    Save time taking notes by recording audio or video, provided you ask permission and your tools support it.

    Download working documents to PDF, and screen capture any designs or diagrams for future reference.

    If your technical screen includes a homework assignment, ask candidates to submit their work ahead of time to a shared location.
  2. Use a checklist.

    Collect responses more quickly, by using a checklist format for questions that have a standard set of answers. Simply check off the items that the candidate knows.

    You’ll add more structure to the interview, and spend less time writing down information you already know.

    Here’s an example format for questions about RESTful web services:

HTTP Methods

GET - getting a resource

  • POST - creating a resource
  • DELETE - remove a resource
  • PATCH/PUT - for updating
  • Status codes and ranges
  • 2xx - success
  • 3xx - redirects moved
  • 4xx - client error
  • 5xx - server error
  • Request components
  • Verb
  • URI
  • HTTP Version
  • Header
  • Body

Looking for something more robust? Try creating an online survey that prompts the interviewer to ask different questions, based on the depth of the candidate’s answers.

  1. Be consistent.

    Use the same application, file format, and file system for candidate evaluations.

    Check your notes for discrepancies before submitting your feedback, and set up an archive system, whether email or shared drive, that you and your HR team can both access in the future.

The future is remote

With the rapid growth of video conferencing apps and prevalence of remote job listings, expect to see more companies pivot to remote interviewing and recruiting. Just remember to: adopt a digital mindset, collaborate with candidates, and capture the artifacts you need.

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