How to actually get hired remotely
Think back to life pre-COVID. Being a digital nomad - working from wherever and having all the flexibility that goes along with it - sounded nifty, new and attractive. Now that most of us have had the experience of working from home for an extended time, it doesn’t suit everyone, but maybe it’s opened your eyes to something new.
Companies have caught on too. They’ve realised you can hire anyone from anywhere, and not just from the talent pool where you’re HQ’d. This has only been accelerated due to COVID, with 46% of big companies now more open to hiring remote workers, according to Monster's Future of Work report. Some global companies, like Twitter and Yelp, have even gone fully remote.
Take Pleo – we’ve had quite the growth journey. We've gone from a small start-up to a multi-entity company of over 800 people. We hired over 80 people in June alone!
It's important for us to make sure that we’re always working with people who bring different experiences, different backgrounds, and different world views to the conversation. We need to challenge ourselves and iterate to become (and remain) pioneers.
Sometimes, the best people aren’t in a position to relocate, and we try to support this as much as possible. But other times, people just don’t want to. This is why we as a company aspire to be remote-first.
What business wouldn’t want to save money and have more productive employees? Hiring remotely not only allows for a much larger talent pool, but it has its monetary and productivity benefits as well.
The trend towards more flexible working and remote work has been on the rise for the past 5 years, with remote workers growing by 44% in the U.S. Source: 10 Remote Work Statistics
And in Stack Overflow’s survey among almost 90,000 tech workers around the globe, 32% said the option to work remotely is one of the highest-ranking factors that would make them choose a job.
This last one makes it obvious that companies are willing to hire remote workers if the talent is there.
So with more and more remote jobs opening up, how do you get yourself ready for them?
1. Be honest with yourself
During the pandemic, many of us set up a home office for the first time and swapped face-to-face meetings for Zoom calls.
The first thing to consider is whether you're even the type of person who suits remote working. Did you actually enjoy your time spent working from home? Did you take to it naturally?
I’m sure most of us would immediately say yes for the sake of it, but you owe it to yourself to be smarter than that. Be introspective. Look at the good and the bad (stolen lovingly from some of our favourite remotes from Canada, Will and PA).
1.1 Positive: the flexibility to work from wherever
You can work from wherever. Surf trip in the Canary Islands for a bit? That’s happened for kiteboarder Will. Group trip to South Africa to escape Danish winter? 12 or so of us decided to do that.
So if flexibility is important to you, this is a huge win.
1.1 Flip side: lack of face time with colleagues
The flip side of working remotely is that you have a whole bunch of virtual, awesome penpal colleagues.
If you’re someone who requires regular face-to-face conversations with others, this could be tricky.
This also means you’ll be experiencing everything virtually - the good and the rough stuff, like hiring and training. Are you comfortable having tough conversations concerning things like a salary discussion over Zoom instead of face-to-face?
1.2 Positive: the autonomy to set your schedule
Because you’re not in the office, you can manage your time accordingly. This means avoiding rush hour traffic, going to appointments when you need to, and being able to set concentration times where you aren’t interrupted and can get stuck into your work.
1.3 Flip side: self-discipline and motivation
For this, you need to be self-motivated and self-disciplined. Remote work comes with a lot of trust. It’s your responsibility to stay motivated and to get through your workload as normal. This can be hard for those who are easily distracted, or who rely on others for guidelines or energy in the room.
It’s a very individual choice whether this will work for you or not. Be honest with yourself and decide if it’s a realistic option for you, and the stage of career (and stage of life) you're currently at. If it's not an option now, it might be down the line.
2. Are you qualified?
Here, we're referring to both academic studies and work-related qualifications.
Here’s the harsh reality: if you’re applying from a country unknown to the company, you might just not be considered qualified. Not because your achievements aren't valid, but because the qualifications you have might be different to those in the country you're applying for a job. Just like if you study Law in the UK, you can't just hop on a plane to the US and start applying British laws to the people of North America.
If you’re applying for a remote job, you’re competing with the rest of the world. This means that the company that you’re applying to probably hasn’t heard of your school, or your specific degree.
Let’s take South Africa. They have fourth year degree called 'honours' which doesn’t exist in most other markets. So unless you went to an Ivy League school or somewhere well known, let’s face it: your degree or school is probably relatively unknown.
In some parts of the world, education is expensive and it’s a huge accomplishment to graduate with tertiary education. It takes hard work and is achieved by the minority.
So if you’re a South African applying for jobs within the country, your degree and university are proof of accomplishment. Employers will use this as a sign that you are qualified above the majority of the country.
In Denmark, however, at 40% the chances are high that you have attained tertiary education. On top of this, it’s not only free but the government will also support you financially during your studies.
Compared to other countries, Denmark spends more of its wealth on education (7.9% of their GDP). So education is more of a norm and less of an accomplishment if you’re looking at it from a purely statistical point of view.
The second part that I think people often forget to think about is whether you are actually qualified from a work point of view.
Unless you’ve been working for a massively famous international (Google, anyone?) then people might not recognise the company that you’ve worked for. They also might not understand the context of your company within your environment.
Take Africa, for example. Incredible work has been done in the fintech space here, like solving problems with transferring money to people who have no bank accounts.
But this could easily be unknown to someone who isn’t working within the fintech space, or just doesn’t know much about the African tech scene. Even if you were the person who built M-Pesa, you might just have to explain what it is if you’re applying for work outside of Africa, for instance.
The big question I’d suggest asking yourself is a tough one: do you really feel that in your work experience that you’ve come up with pioneering solutions to solve problems? If not, you might not be qualified from a work point of view.
3. Do the maths (1 + 2 = 3)
Let’s assume after point 1 (where you had to be honest with yourself and decide if remote work is even for you), you decided that remote work is definitely what you want.
Here’s the next question: does what you want = what a company is looking for in that open position?
Bear in mind that loads of people are after these types of opportunities. This means employers can be picky. If you really want this job, you need to make yourself the obvious (or only) choice for the role.
If it doesn’t add up: how do you become qualified?
Once you’ve admitted this to yourself, you’re in a great place to do the work you need to do to become the ideal candidate. Ultimately, hard work will get you there, but there are always going to be things you can't change.
What can you change?
If you think your skills aren’t up to scratch: get them there. A lot of the time, actions speak louder than words. I’d recommend starting a side project or taking on new responsibilities at work to learn and become a wizz at your niche.
For many employers, proactively learning by doing and showing results will speak better to your skillset than taking a six-week course filled with the latest buzzwords. Buzzwords won't showcase how good you are at your job.
Immerse yourself in the community, now!
If you want to work remotely, your network and community will end up being virtual-heavy. Get involved now. Join your community niche – both internationally and locally. If you’re in customer success, join a customer success Slack community and share knowledge. If there’s a MeetUp for your topic, join it. If there isn’t, start one.
Be involved in knowledge-sharing, find mentors, and learn all about the latest trends. This will make you an interesting hire who brings a worldwide perspective (one of the reasons remotes are hired in the first place).
Become an expert in your domain
With this community comes trends. Learn them, try them out, experiment and share the knowledge that you find. Go deep into your expertise and become a domain expert. Get yourself on a stage, host talks, write blog posts, speak to prominent people in that industry.
This curiosity will also mean you can bring best practices to the company from different regions and different mindsets. Different is good. Make sure you are – remember, you need to stand out here.
This one's not always obvious. But if you’re trying to bag your dream work lifestyle (working remotely), this will come at a cost. This may mean taking a side step (and maybe a pay cut) in your career. Perhaps you’ve been managing a team and your dream remote job doesn't involve this.
Consider applying for jobs for which you’re overqualified where you just do the job day to day and aren’t a manager. Apply at companies in high growth phases and hopefully, you’ll have the chance to manage teams again soon. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
What can’t you change?
Your nationality, passport, or country’s reputation.
And with this, the thing no one would ever like to admit is: there is bias in hiring. Let’s face it, people have it. We at Pleo do everything we can to avoid human bias. All of our employees undertake bias training before they start interviewing others and we like to be as open-minded as possible. But still, you can show it even if you have the best intentions at heart.
Things like uncommon accents can throw people and they can bring up concerns regarding your communication skills. One dodgy internet connection session can make people assume that connectivity issues in your country will make it difficult for you to work efficiently. The list can be long, so do your research and be prepared.
Try not to hide your background, but instead use it as a selling factor. For example, working in Asian markets gives you a great perspective on emerging markets: seeing huge growth, ambition and the desire to prove yourself that you've seen way more here than in the established countries.
The last thing you can’t change is that some jobs are just not suitable for remote working (yet).
Apply for jobs that are popular as remote jobs. Don’t try to be the exception, follow the rule. This stuff is new and still seen as a bit risky to some companies. You want to get this right so it works for both you and the business.
I’m ready and qualified! Now what?
Great news. Now, get ready for a lot of hard work. The good news is that lots of places are hiring remote-only now. Companies are realising that hiring doesn’t have to stop because a person can’t physically come to the office for an interview.
Some handy places to keep an eye out for remote jobs include AngelList, Glassdoor, Otta, Slack communities and remote sites.
If you already know which company you'd love to work for, keep an eye on their Careers page in case any remote opportunities open up. Or send a prospective application outlining your intention to work remotely and how this could benefit both sides.
To land a remote job, do your homework and prepare. You've got this.
Trying to land a remote job in South Africa? Check out this talk from MEST’s Cape Town incubator.
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