In a highly competitive market, it’s not enough just to be a strong candidate. To earn a remote position, you also need to prove you can work effectively from home. Not everyone is naturally disposed to remote working—most of us need a strategy to keep up our motivation, productivity, and enthusiasm. Soft skills involving communication and emotional self-regulation are key, along with self-discipline, focus, and even your familiarity with modern technology.
If you’re interviewing for a remote position, here’s what you need to know about how to position yourself as a top candidate.
7 Qualities Employers Are Looking for in a Remote Candidate
In an interview with BBC, Timothy Pychyl, associate psychology professor at Carleton University, says conscientiousness is the “best predictor of job performance” out of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism). In other words, an employer must be able to trust you to fulfill your obligations to the company: stay on task, work productively, attend mandatory events, and finish assignments on time. If an employer believes you’re trustworthy, they’re more likely to work with you.
If you report to an office in person, it’s easier for a supervisor to manage your progress and enforce productivity—but in a remote-first workplace, it’s impossible to achieve the same level of oversight. As a result, the burden of responsibility falls on candidates to demonstrate their work ethic during the interview process.
Take a few minutes to reflect on your career. What commitments have you made to employers in the past? How did you fulfill those obligations, even when faced with obstacles? Use these experiences to describe your work ethic and demonstrate the integrity of your word. Even if an employer doesn’t ask these questions specifically, find a way to incorporate these insights into your responses.
2. Intrinsically motivated.
It may seem counterintuitive, but people-pleasing isn’t necessarily a desirable trait in a remote employee. It’s important to show you’re passionate about the opportunity, but you also need to present yourself as intrinsically motivated and fully autonomous. If the company is remote, business leaders will have limited interactions with individual employees. This means you might not receive as much one-on-one encouragement and reassurance compared to your experiences with coworkers at an office. You need to prepare for this possibility and focus on motivators that are intrinsic—for example, taking pride in your work, or feeling personally invested in the company’s mission or values.
Identify concrete goals in your overall career trajectory and use these milestones to motivate your success. If you’re driven to succeed because of your personal ambitions, not just for the sake of earning an income, you’ll advance professionally.
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3. Proactive about improvement.
In every job interview, your top priority should be to serve the employer’s needs. Research the organization’s mission, their competition, and any other factors that relate directly to your target role. If you’re applying to a position in finance or senior leadership, for example, look up the company’s securities and exchange commission (SEC) filings and annual financial statements.
Most employers want to see candidates who are proactive when it comes to learning about the company and the role, but when you’re applying to a remote position, it’s even more critical to be seen as a self-starter. By preparing for the interview, you’ll prove that you take initiatives and can contribute a new direction. Take this a step further during the interview by asking detailed questions about the department’s priorities and then pitching ideas in a collaborative brainstorming session. Act as though you are already part of the team and invested in their objectives.
If you’ve done anything recently to improve your skills—for example, by taking a certification course or volunteering—make sure to also discuss these points during the interview.
4. Strong communication skills.
Respond to communications promptly during normal business hours. Even if you’ll work flexible hours or an alternate shift, it’s important to be available early in the day. According to a series of experiments at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, supervisors tend to assign higher performance ratings to employees who start work early in the morning, even if employees who work later in the day perform just as effectively.
When it comes to writing emails, aim to be concise but warm. Begin your message with a friendly greeting, and try to avoid sending any abrupt, one-line responses, which can seem dismissive. Tone and clarity are especially important in written communications, and, if you accept a remote position, your colleagues won’t have the benefit of interacting with you in person to add context to your discussions. It’s best to avoid sarcasm or irony, which sometimes create confusion.
Initial screening might happen over the phone, but most final interviews are being held over video conference during the pandemic. Spend some time setting up your workspace and dress like you normally would for an in-person interview. Use natural, bright lighting, position the computer camera at eye-level to frame your face, and test your audio and video settings ahead of time. If possible, you should plug your computer directly into an ethernet port to avoid Wi-Fi dropouts and delays.
One of the biggest challenges with working from home is staying focused. Show that you can create boundaries between your professional and personal life by setting up a dedicated workspace in a quiet, orderly environment. Think about what will be visible to the interviewer in the background, and make a conscious effort to present a clean desk that’s free of distractions. Silence your phone notifications during the interview, and, if possible, keep the door closed between yourself and other household members.
You can also demonstrate your ability to stay focused on work by discussing your routine. If you have techniques for staying productive while working remotely—for example, by taking on the most difficult task first thing in the morning, exercising during your lunch break, or using a standing desk—share these anecdotes with the employer. Specificity will make your conversation more memorable.
6. Familiar with technology.
Technological competence is one of the fastest growing job requirements, and the pandemic only increases the demand. You might not need to be a computer whiz to do the job well, but you should familiarize yourself with file-sharing platforms, digital conferencing, and cybersecurity basics. Make sure your home has enough internet bandwidth for video streaming (at least 20 Mbps), and build an online presence to establish credibility within the industry.
Your email address is another subtle signifier that makes an impression on employers. Use a modern-sounding, professional email address—for example, your first initial and last name at a well-known domain, like Gmail. Don’t use email addresses with numbers that could indicate a birth year or graduation date, and avoid domains like Hotmail and AOL that are less prominent today than they were in the early 2000s.
Every candidate has experienced failure at some point during their career. But what you take away from those moments will define the overall narrative of your professional development. Create a positive frame of reference for the employer, even if you’re discussing a setback or hardship. People are naturally drawn toward optimists—projecting a hopeful outlook will make you seem more emotionally resilient and determined to do the job well. Remote workers who have a high ‘frustration tolerance’—meaning they can stick with a difficult task without giving up—also tend to be more productive and optimistic.
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Don’t Let Remote Work Become a Barrier to Your Success
Remote work offers benefits to organizations and employees alike. In the coronavirus era, it limits exposure between team members, which could help prevent disease spread. Ultimately, this could translate into less absenteeism, increased productivity, and—most importantly—a healthier workforce. Numerous studies also show working remotely can facilitate a more satisfying work-life balance, reduce your carbon footprint, and even save businesses money long-term.
But onboarding remote employees still presents unique challenges, and stigma about working remotely could thwart your ability to advance. These obstacles will be more substantial if you work with a company that employs a mix between remote and on-site workers. To get the most reward out of working from home, identify target employers with a remote-first culture and a robust digital infrastructure already in place.
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