Fully-remote jobs don’t need in-person interviews

I hired a data analyst last year who started working for me in December.  He lives in Colorado, I live in Michigan.  After 10 months of working together, week in and week out, I finally “met” him at our annual company conference last month (September).  Does that seem funny?  I was surprised by how tall he was, but otherwise, no, it’s business as usual around here.

I’ve now embraced the idea of hiring someone and working with them without first meeting them in person.  If you’ll be working with them remotely, and your team and organization have the right culture and systems in place for that, why would you insist on in-person interviews?

In a truly remote-first organization, there’s little cause to fly someone out for an in-person interview.  And there are many reasons not to.  When you weigh the costs and benefits, it’s not worth it.  You’re a remote organization – embrace it!

It hasn’t always been that way here at TNTP.  In 2009, I flew from Chicago to New York City to interview at TNTP’s Brooklyn office.  I was teaching high school, so this meant using a personal day, creating a plan for the substitute teacher, and spending at least a dozen hours traveling, all for a couple of hours of interviews.  If I were doing this now, I’d tack on the burden on my family of an absent parent.

That was the cost to me, the applicant.  It also cost TNTP hundreds of dollars in airfare and travel expenses.  There’s an environmental cost, too.  A roundtrip flight, plus driving on either side, and possibly a hotel stay, all contributing to climate change.  Multiply those costs by the number of finalists you interview to make a hire.

And for what?  We do video interviews, which accurately represent how we work together remotely.  That provides the full communication experience with facial expressions, non-verbal cues, etc.  To that, an in-person interview would add … smell?  My in-person interview back in 2009 was nothing that couldn’t have been done over a video call.  If you do whiteboarding exercises, pair coding, or similar activities at your in-person interviews, you should be able to approximate that experience by getting creative with virtual collaboration tools, which are decent and getting better.

One possible benefit to the in-person interview is establishing the company’s legitimacy, especially if the candidate is unfamiliar with remote work and getting hired remotely doesn’t feel “real” to them.  To address this, if I have a colleague nearby, I’ll have the candidate meet with them toward the end of the hiring process.  The first person I hired with a fully-remote interview process, in 2014, was based in San Francisco, and it was easy to set him up with a coworker for an informal chat over coffee.  The goal of their meeting wasn’t to assess his candidacy, it was to show him that yes, we are a real company, and to give him a warm, personal experience.

Whether or not we have someone for the candidate to meet with locally, I’ll explicitly call out the fully-remote aspect of the interviewing process as an example of our culture.  We embrace being fully remote.  We respect their time, and in flying them out the time cost would fall on them, which isn’t fair.  And while getting together regularly is wonderful, we know we can work effectively together while spread across the country – because we do it everyday.

Having hired at least a dozen people without meeting them face-to-face, I’m a believer.  It’ll save you money, respect candidates’ time, preserve the planet, and be true to the remote-first experience.  As a bonus, you may get to know them well enough by the time you “meet” them in person that you’ll get the delightful, unusual experience of seeing someone who is at once both an old friend and a new acquaintance.

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