Hiring A Remote Software Engineer: Interview Questions Every CTO Has to Ask

Hiring a software engineer remotely is difficult, though it may sound easy. Of course, it’s easy to turn on Skype or Zoom and talk to a person from a convenient place. But it’s hard to make a final decision after this talk, especially if you have been asking standard interview questions.

When you hire a software developer to work in a co-located team, the screening process typically consists of at least two interviews. The first one tests the soft skills, whereas the second one focuses on tech skills. But when you hire a remote software developer, be aware that the soft skills interview questions should be different from those for a co-located team. Your task as a remote CTO is to know these questions and be prepared beforehand.

In this article, we are going to give you some examples of questions that you as a CTO have to ask when interviewing a remote software engineer. Their answers to those questions will give you an idea of whether this person is the right fit for your remote or distributed team and thus make a final decision.

Do you have any experience working remotely?

This is an initial question that sets the pace of the interview. The candidate’s knowledge of remote work specifics will help you define if they can manage themselves and communicate with the team as efficiently as they would do in a co-located setting. Lack of such experience may lead to miscommunication and impact the outcome of your project.

Could you please list your personal benefits and drawbacks of remote work?

An answer to this question will give you a clue on the candidate’s concerns regarding remote work. If you share the same concerns, it will be easier for you to work together as a team. Besides, the answer will show you how serious the candidate is about working remotely in general. If, for example, they say that they love remote work because it’s easier than that in a co-located setting, or that it gives them more freedom, then it may be a red flag.

How do you maintain your work-life balance?

Some “old school” employers may consider it a good sign when a person is concentrated only on work and has no personal life. However, in the modern world, it is obvious that having no rest and no time with friends and family impacts productivity. In a remote setting, it may be especially hard to maintain the work-life balance. Therefore, your task is to make sure that the candidate can adequately assess the time that they spend working and living their personal life.

What does your working environment look like?

Ask your candidate to describe their home office setting, co-working space, or any other place they prefer to work from. The answer will give you an interesting insight into how the candidate goes about their work.

How do you avoid distractions when working from home? What techniques do you use to remain focused?

In a co-located setting, the presence of other people and supervision can help team members avoid distractions. At home, it may be difficult, as an employee may be alone most of the time. It’s not allowed to “spy” on remote workers, so some remote employees may do something else, e.g. solve various non-work-related issues during their working hours. Can your candidate answer this question without any hesitation and list the techniques they use to avoid distractions? If yes, then you can be sure that they are serious about their work despite working from home.

How comfortable is it for you to work with people whose faces you don’t see every day?

Not all people are wired for remote work. No matter how good their personal and tech skills are – if they tend to feel isolated when working from home, they may not be the right fit for your distributed or remote team. This feeling of isolation may lead to burnout. You do not want that, and neither does the candidate. So, we recommend clarifying this issue from the very beginning to avoid problems in the future.

Can you work independently or with minimum supervision? How would you solve a problem on your own, without access to your teammates?

In a co-located environment, each newcomer typically needs a supervisor who’ll help them make the first steps with the new project. It’s much easier to get this help when an employee and their supervisor or team lead are located in the same building. But what about a remote setting? In a distributed team, supervision becomes almost impossible because the team members are scattered across different time zones and will have to wait for each other to get help. Therefore, proactivity and ability to work independently are crucial for any remote worker.

What is your preferred working schedule?

In a remote or distributed setting, different time zones of team members may require each of them to adjust their schedules to get an overlap between the time zones for meetings. An answer to this question will demonstrate the candidate’s readiness to flexible working hours that may change as more and more people join the team.

How often do you have to prioritize your own tasks?

In remote work, especially in software development outsourcing services, a software engineer may need to urgently manage multiple tasks and communicate with different people without seeing their faces. It may be quite stressful, so an answer to this question will show you how the candidate will deal with this kind of stress and gain control over the situation.

What tools for remote collaboration do you know or have used?

Each remote employee should have their own toolbox of time tracking, video conferencing, and collaboration software that help them effectively manage their working time. If your candidate can list at least 3 such tools, be sure that they are a right fit. These software products may differ from the ones that your team uses. But if the candidate is familiar with the working principle of these tools, then they won’t have any problems mastering the new ones.

Could you please describe a situation where you successfully resolved a conflict when working remotely?

This question may sound tricky, because some people tend to avoid conflicts, and that’s especially easy to do with people who are far away from you. However, avoiding conflict can make everything worse with the course of time and have a negative impact on the project in the end. You don’t want this to happen, so your task as a CTO is to find out how your candidate can deal with such situations from the very beginning. Additionally, an answer to this question will show you how good the candidate is at remote communication. In a co-located setting, communication flows naturally and conflicts can be resolved quite quickly face-to-face in a conference room. In a remote setting, one should apply an extra effort for communication to happen. So, the answer will help you evaluate at least two key skills of your candidate: conflict management and remote communication.


Anastasiia Myronets

Technical writer, IT copywriter at YouTeam, content manager, translator with 12 years of experience.