You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Typically, the large part of the interview process happens onsite, but this is changing as more companies build remote teams or wish to accommodate candidates who are not local. You can use many interview formats either in person or remotely; this includes even live coding challenges. A company’s resources and the candidate’s availability usually determine whether a particular part of the process will be conducted remotely or onsite.

Remote interviews have a few specific use cases:

  • Typically (but by no means universally), remote interviews are concentrated earlier in the funnel and may include:

    • Online challenges and take-homes.

    • Phone screens, both general and technical.

    • Technical screening questions, questions where the candidate can code in the browser during a screen share, and light behavioral questions. Note that while you may encounter binary decision points or spikes in the signal during remote interviews, this is not a useful format for making more fine-grained decisions.

  • You can conduct assessments of candidate portfolios or previous work remotely and asynchronously, but portfolio reviews can also be an onsite activity where the candidate takes the interviewer through a work sample.

  • Remote post-onsite follow-up interviews can be used to clarify anything that came up during the onsite and to talk about next steps.

The hiring team will likely build into the pipeline some kind of remote assessment, from technical screens to post-onsite follow-ups, so it’s important to understand the possible constraints as well as the benefits.

Confidence in what signal you’re extracting will be weaker over the phone, so it may be preferable to ask questions with clearer signals, like questions with a right or wrong answer. It’s also important to ensure that every candidate, to the extent possible, goes through the same loop when it comes to remote vs. onsite.

story “The signal isn’t weaker or stronger with remote interviews, it just manifests differently. If I talk to some people onsite and others remote, I’m going to perceive the phone signal to be weaker, because humans just have stronger attachment to in-person experiences and can gather signal from a variety of different cues in person.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

confusion If you’re hiring for a remote position, should candidates still be brought in for an onsite? Onsite interviews are enormously important for selling candidates on the role, team, and company. If the position is remote or remote optional, have everyone go through the same process, because you’re comparing people, not remote performance compared to onsite performance. If a candidate cannot come onsite because of family obligations, a current job, or other concerns,* put your best, most senior interviewers on that person.

Onsite Interviews

The onsite interview is a series of interviews held at the company’s office for several hours to a full day. Onsites can be a crucial part of the interview experience for candidates and companies alike because they offer an extended opportunity for assessment on both sides. Onsites typically include pair interviews, pair programming, live coding, debugging, non-coding technical interviews, and nontechnical interviews.

controversy Some companies have a multi-day process where the candidate comes back onsite several times. This can slow down your hiring process and lead to a bad candidate experience; but for early-stage startups or key roles, the opportunity to spend more time with the candidate may be worth the risk.

The pros of onsites are numerous—they provide the highest signal you can get. The human factor is important here: candidates get a real sense of the day-to-day output and environment of a company, and if you train your interviewers well, the onsite allows for a more conducive environment for comfortable communication. Onsites are very important for selling the job to candidates, who will get to experience the team firsthand, usually for the first time. Most candidates would prefer to interview in person, though in some cases it is essential to offer a remote option.

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