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The Interview Kickstart Remote Interview Survival Guide

Posted on 
April 3, 2020
|
by 
Nick Camilleri

TL;DR

  1. Don’t overthink remote interviewing. The fundamentals are still the same. Your technical and behavioral prep is still your best bet to do better at whatever type of interview - local or remote. Emote just like you would, in a local interview. Don’t delay interviews just because they are remote. 
  2. Plan ahead for the Internet going down while you are in the interview. Share your phone number with the interviewer prior to starting, just in case. Or use a Phone line with a muted video feed.
  3. Whether you pick a Whiteboard setup, Digital setup or a pencil-and-paper setup, it doesn’t really matter. Pick something you’re comfortable with. Just make sure to test the entire setup at least once before your first interview.
  4. Don’t cheat.
  5. We know that you don’t have time and that working from home has all of our attention spans diminishing to that of a goldfish, but take the time to read the longer version below at least once. There is a lot of nuanced advice out there. This is a comprehensive view into the minds of senior level hiring managers and recruiters from companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, amongst others and could help you nail your next interview. 

The Longer Version

Remote interviews are not a new thing. They are just happening at an unprecedented scale now

As I am sure many of you are aware, tech companies worldwide have transitioned to working from home in the wake of the CoronaVirus Pandemic, and interviews have gone remote.

While this may feel foreign, it is important that we don’t delay our interviews. Video interviews have been a very common practice for years. Companies like LinkedIn, Google, Amazon, and others have used video interviewing as a way to accelerate growth when opening offices in new states or countries. Even local onsite interviews can have remote components from time to time if someone on the panel is on a trip or working from another building across the campus. 

The prevailing belief is that a good engineer should be prepared to solve problems regardless of the circumstance and being prepared can actually become a competitive advantage for you. 

Since 2014, Interview Kickstart has been trusted by thousands of Software Engineers as they prepared to uplevel in their careers and transition into the most competitive jobs on the market. 

We had a chance to catch up with a few of our Alumni, Instructors, Mock Interviewers, and Career Coaches from companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and AirBnb so that we could build the ultimate Remote Interviewing Survival Guide. This is what they told us. 


Remote interviews are awkward for some interviewers too!

You’re not alone. Remote interviews can be awkward for many interviewers, they may even be uncomfortable. 

  • Be empathetic to their situation and use this as an opportunity to connect with the interviewer on a personal level. 
  • You will need to make more of an effort to show your communication skills and personality as some of this can be lost when you are not meeting in person. 
  • Your interview will be no more or less challenging than a traditional onsite, and your odds of being hired are virtually the same. Pun intended.  


Start your prep with the recruiter

To get the best understanding of what to expect in any interview, it’s always best to start with your recruiter. This is especially true when it comes to remote interviews as you will need to handle many of the logistics on your end. Here are a few crucial questions to ask: 

  • Is there a preference between solving problems on a whiteboard, or can I work directly through online tools? 
  • Are there any preferred tools for video chat, coding, drawing etc? 
  • Can I use my own preferred tools?
  • Is there anything that the interviewers would like me to prepare to validate my identification?
  • Am I in the same time zone as my interviewers? 
  • e.g. Be sure that you are starting at 9:00 AM PST and not 9:00 AM EST or CST) 
  • What is my schedule for the day of the interview? 
  • How many people to expect and what you will be generally assessed on? 

Once you have an understanding of the company’s recommendations, take some time to play around with your setup and tools and troubleshoot to reduce the likelihood that you (or the interviewer) would be distracted by technical or environmental malfunctions.

Setup

Your Remote Interview Room

Internet

Most remote communication tools need just 2MB of steady bandwidth. So anything more than that should be sufficient. Stability can be achieved to a good extent with a physical ethernet cable. We would recommend that you avoid wifi if possible. 

Increased internet traffic or disruptions on either your side or the side of the interviewer can negatively affect bandwidth. Expect the internet connection to go down, right when you need it the most. Share your phone number with the interviewer prior. 

Make sure you’re not on your company’s VPN connection!


Lighting

Interviewers want to be able to see your face and body language. Some interviewers will even want to read your lips if they are unable to hear you properly. For these reasons, it is critical to have proper lighting. 

Desk lamps and large windows tend to work fine. Overhead or lighting behind you will cast a shadow and turn you into an unreadable silhouette. 


Quiet

You will also want to be sure you are in a quiet room to minimize distractions for both you and the interviewer. Be aware of the sounds that pets and kids can make. If possible, work with a spouse, neighbor, or family member to get children or animals out of the house for some social distancing fun for the duration of the interview. I would also recommend investing in quality pair noise-canceling headphones.  


Furniture

You’ll want to have a comfortable chair, and a large monitor (dual monitors can be useful as well). 


Background

Finally, be aware of your background. You should either have a plain wall, or a whiteboard behind you. Avoid rooms that have clutter, furniture (like beds, workout equipment, etc), or other potentially distracting decorations behind you.

Many video conferencing tools even have the option to choose a “virtual background” in the app’s preferences. Keep it simple so you and the interviewer can stay focused on the task at hand. 


Video Conferencing

Zoom is by far the most popular and it’s increasingly becoming so due to its quality and simplicity. Be sure you’re familiar with Zoom (we especially recommend their virtual backgrounds). Some companies will continue to use the tools that they feel work best for their company needs. e.g. Google will use Google HangoutsAmazon will use Chime, Facebook will use BlueJeans.

Code Writing and Drawing Setup

For actual coding/drawing, there are three primary configurations that can work: 

  • Whiteboard Setup (Whiteboard or a Flip Chart is the same thing for this purpose)
  • Digital Setup 
  • Good ‘ol paper and pencil 

Pick your setup according to what’s most comfortable to you. There is no right or wrong.

With a Whiteboard Setup, we assume that you’ll be writing code and diagramming on a whiteboard. You will want to place your computer and/ or webcam on a desk with the camera focused on a whiteboard. Similar to a traditional onsite interview, you will stand in front of the whiteboard and use it to solve your problems. 

In the Digital Setup, you will sit at a desk and use digital tools and use screen-sharing or other collaborative tools online while solving problems. 

When it comes to using Good ‘ol paper and pencil, we would recommend using a quality webcam or overhead document camera to show an interviewer your work. 

In either case, you will need to be sure that you have a strong internet connection, a HD camera (computer or high quality USP camera), and the tools to execute. 

Note that you will need to ask the interviewer (or recruiter) if you can use your favorite tools and if your setup works for them. Many interviewers will be comfortable with this request as they want you to succeed. That being said, if they do insist on their preferred setup, it will likely be fairly similar to your own (assuming you follow the tips outlined in this guide. ;-) ).

Whiteboard Setup (What You’ll Need)

With this setup we assume that you’ll be writing code and diagramming on a whiteboard. 

  • Whiteboard or Whiteboard Adhesive alternative products like a FlipChart 
  • Expo, (Black, Blue, and Red) whiteboard markers. 
  • Pro-tip from a frugal tech startup, moonlighting as a school for software developers: Keep markers capped and store upside down to keep them fresh.
  • USB lapel microphone or wireless headset microphone
  • Book, stools, or other elevated surfaces can also be used to add height to the camera view. 


Digital Setup

You can use a PC or a tablet. It’s not necessary to purchase one or the other if you don’t already have it. Just use what you own. Some of the tools below have corresponding mobile apps.

For Coding

  • PC’s are preferred if you have access. It is generally easier to type on a PC than it is to write on a small tablet screen.
  • CoderPad.io is the most popular tool. Codebunk.com, Collabedit.com, and Codepair are some other ones. Google Docs can also work. 

For Drawing

Good ‘ol pencil and paper

  • Just write in your favorite notebook and hold it in front of the camera.
  • Or use an overhead digital document camera with USB or other video streaming capability.

Best Practices For The Day of the Interview

Now that the essentials for your setup for your interview is taken care of, let’s talk about a few logistics for the day of the interview itself. 

Being Proactive About Connectivity Issues

  • Login 5 minutes early and give the interviewer your phone number. 
  • If the connection or audio is lagging, don’t waste time, switch to phone and continue together via online collaboration tools. 
  • Set the expectation of how you would like to proceed if technical issues occur at the start of the interview. 

Internet

  • Conserve as much bandwidth as possible by shutting down any non-essential applications. 
  • Ask roommates or loved ones to not stream movies or games during your interview. 

Tips for the Interview

  • Treat this as you would any onsite interview. Ask questions, guide the interviewer through your thought process, and explain your solutions. 
  • When it comes to communication, remember that both verbal and non-verbal cues are important to get right. 
  • Make an effort to smile, show enthusiasm, be positive, and engage in the conversation. 
  • Create “eye contact” by looking directly into the camera. This will feel awkward, but it will look natural on the other side. 
  • Practice proper posture with your chest up and chin high. 
  • Nod and use affirmations while they are speaking to show active listening
  • When asking questions, give them a second to reduce latency or lag (as opposed to interrupting with a comment like “Can you hear - wait - ok - I think - wait, sorry go ahead”).
  • If you need a break, just ask. 
  • Don’t cheat. Being remote provides the opportunity for you to have study aids with you. You may be tempted, but if you have a cheatsheet or are searching online for information during your interview, your interviewer may pick up on this. 
  • It may sound funny, but we have heard horror stories of candidates being disqualified after ‘sharing the wrong screen’, or after the reflection from their glasses revealed foul-play. 
  • If you are running out of time, ask if you can assume some function signatures and not bother to run all test-cases.
  • When they ask if you have questions for them, be prepared as if you were local.

Accessories

  • Keep a pencil and a notepad next to you so you can take notes when needed. 
  • Turn off bookmarks and all notifications (email, social media, Whatsapp, Slack, etc).
  • Water (in case you get thirsty with back to back interviews),

After the interview

  • Take the time to take notes and audit your performance, so that you can improve from one interview to the next. 

Closing Thoughts

COVID-19 and the resulting shelter-in-place mandates have created new obstacles for all of us, and in many ways, video-conferencing technology has provided a sense of normalcy. It has allowed us to maintain a level of connectivity with family, friends, and colleagues that would otherwise have been challenging to say the least. 

At Interview Kickstart, it has allowed us to continue serving our students, who remain as hungry and dedicated as ever. It has allowed us to reconnect with alumni, faculty, and advisors, without whom, this guide would not have been possible. You guys rock! 

Most importantly, it has allowed millions of people to continue working and interviewing so that you may continue on your journey toward upleveling in your career.   

Remember that video interviews are quite similar to traditional onsites with the added convenience for you and the interviewer of being at home. It may take some getting used to, so we recommend that you utilize your tools and set up during your virtual mock interviews. 

With a little planning and some attention to detail, your video interview will feel like any other onsite, only in this case, you won’t need to drive home to congratulate yourself on a job well done. 

If you found the lessons in this guide to be valuable, please feel free to forward this to any loved ones that you feel may benefit from it.  

As always if there is anything we can do to assist in your transition, please let us know.  


Happy Prepping!

Nick Camilleri
Head of Career Coaching - Interview Kickstart
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