How to: Actually get hired remotely

It’s the holy grail of hiring right now. Digital nomads, working from wherever and having all the flexibility that goes along with it sounds nifty, new, and attractive. Companies have caught on, and have realised that suddenly you can hire from the world – and not just from the talent pool where you’re HQ’d.

Take Pleo – we have an intimidating growth journey ahead of us: since I joined 6 months ago we’ve gone from 50 to 100 people, and are not slowing down anytime soon. When I’ve been building our people team the plan has always been to go from good to great.

We need 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.

Let’s face it: though I love Copenhagen, if you’re only hiring from 1.5M people your options are limited. That’s not how you build the best team in the world. You need the world to help you out.

Sometimes, the best people are in a place to relocate, and we try to support this as much as possible. But other times, people don’t want to. This is why we as a company aspire to be remote-first.

We don’t get it right all the time, and we’re pretty limited in the type of jobs we hire remotely today (mainly in engineering). There’s a huge room to grow here, and we all (as employers) need to push ourselves to stick out if we want to work with the best people out there.

I have been working remotely out of South Africa this month – and went to a great incubator – MEST – to speak about remote work, and the potential of this in Africa. I thought I’d sum it up here and give you some honest, down-to-earth advice that I shared with the guys there.

Remote-work trends are on the rise

I found that these 3 stats indicate this nicely.

5:1 there are 5 software engineering jobs for every 1 software engineer right now.

Source: StackOverflow Study, 2017

Competition is high: we as companies have either got to compromise on quality for the sake of onsite, or look at other measures like remote work to be attractive.

56% of startups globally outsource their work

Source: The State of Software Development Report 2017

More than half of startups have identified the problem, and adapted. Quick note: I find a big difference between outsourcing versus remote-work, but I think this is an interesting indicator towards recognising that it’s possible to do the same work in different places.

30% of Silicon Valley jobs are done remotely

Source: Why Tech Talent Relocation Will Become Obsolete

Even one of the most famous startup landscapes, with world-class talent, are looking outwards for great talent.

How do you get one of these remote jobs then?

So the indicators are there that more and more remote jobs should become available, so how do you get yourself ready for them? In my mind, there are a couple of things to consider.

Thing 1: be honest with yourself

Are you even the type of person who suits remote working? 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. Let’s look at some good things, and some bad things (stolen lovingly from some of our favourite remotes from Québec, Canada, Will and PA).

1.1 Good thing: the flexibility to work from wherever

You can work from wherever. Surf trip in 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: working without physical hugs, chats, or after work drinks

The flip side of working from wherever is you have a whole bunch of virtual, awesome penpal colleagues, but if you’re having a bad day they can’t come give you a hug.

If you’re a person who requires regular, face-to-face conversations with others, this could be hard for you as you might be able to adjust or hate it (adjustment tip: work at co-working, see your friends for lunch).

1.2 Good thing: 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 just get through 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 people 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 see if it’s a realistic option for you, and the stage of career (and stage of life) in which you find yourself.

Thing 2: are you qualified?

If you ask me, there are two things to look at when it comes to qualifications – 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. I was talking as a South African to fellow South Africans, so the addressing the issue of being qualified comes from this point of view.

2.1 Academically

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, for instance, where we have a 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.

“For example I went to well-known UCT in Cape Town and in Africa. But is that well-known to the world? At a global ranking of 229., I think not.”

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 it’s achieved by the minority.

In South Africa for example, only 6% of adults between 25-34 years old reach tertiary attainment.

Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2018, South Africa

To me, this is pretty simple. If you’re a South African applying to jobs within the country, you have your degree and university that 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 also supports you financially during your studies.

In that same report, you also see that Denmark is the country that spends the most of its wealth on education (7.9% of their GDP). So education is more of the norm, and less of an accomplishment there, if you’re looking at it from purely a statistical point of view.

If you’re used to being one of the accomplished minority holding a degree that holds a lot of value in your country, be aware that your studies may seem less valuable to an employer abroad who is lacking the context.

2.1 Work-wise

The second part that I think people often forget to think about is whether you are actually qualified from a work point of view. If people are applying for remote jobs – they can be from everywhere.

Unless you’ve been working for a massively famous international (hey Google) 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. There’s incredible work done here in the fintech scene (super inspiring stuff). This is to solve problems like transferring money to people who have no bank accounts, which is such a fascinating scenario and the solution is very clever.

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.

Thing 3: does the math add up? (1 + 2 = 3)

Let’s assume after thing 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?

Chances are slim, if I’m honest. Loads of people are after these types of opportunities. This gives employers a great opportunity to be picky. If you really want this job you need to be a shoo-in and the obvious choice for the role.

So 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 candidate that is the obvious choice. If you ask me, it’s pretty simple, hard work that will get you there. I’ll go into what you can change, as well as what you can’t.

What can you change?

Get qualified

If you think your skills aren’t up to scratch: get them there. A lot of the time actions speak louder than words here. I’d recommend starting a side project or taking on new responsibilities at work to learn by doing here, make your mistakes, and become good at your niche.

I’d actually suggest that learning by doing and showing results speaks better to your skillset than a six-week course filled with the latest buzz words. Buzz words aren’t showing how to do the job. Proving how good you with something you actually made does.

Join the community, now

If you want to work remotely, your network and community will end up being virtual-heavy. Start that 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, make it.

Be involved in knowledge-sharing, find mentors, and learn all about the trends coming up. This will make you an interesting hire, who brings a worldwide view (one of the reasons remotes are hired in the first place).

Become an expert in the domain

With this community comes the 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, do blog posts, speak to others.

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 – you need to stand out here.

Be humble

This one is not always obvious. But if you’re trying to get your dream work lifestyle (working remotely) that will come at a cost. This may also be that you take a side step in your career – perhaps you’ve been managing a team.

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 you’ll have the chance to manage teams again. Be humble: 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: bias in hiring. But let’s face it, people have it. We at Pleo do everything we can to avoid human bias, 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.

I’ve heard crazy things over the years, I think it’s important that you know they’re out there. Things like uncommon accents can throw people and they can bring up concerns on your communication skills. Things like one bad internet connection session can make people assume that your country and its connectivity issues will make it difficult from which to work. Firewalls is another example of it sounding too difficult to work together. The list can be long. Be prepared.

I’d suggest not to try to hide your background, and instead use it as a selling factor. For example, working in African markets gives you a great perspective on emerging markets: seeing huge growth, ambition, and the desire to prove yourself that I’ve seen way more here than in the established ones.

You’re going to have to overcome these biases, and probably work harder than someone who people have regularly worked with. Don’t get angry about this, get clever – it’s possible to overcome.

The last thing you can’t change is that some jobs are not remote suitable (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 companies. You want to get this right and to get it to work for both you and the company.

I’m ready and qualified. Now what?

It’s on! Now what? Get ready for a lot of hard work. As I’ve said before, the demand for remote work is high. Companies are slowly adapting, but more slowly than the demand (for now).

Some handy places to keep an eye out for remote jobs can be places like AngelList, Glassdoor, Slack communities, remote sites – that sort of thing.

To land a remote job, pretty simply, you need to be the best. Make sure that you are.

Good luck!

Link to Loom recording out of MEST’s Cape Town incubator here. 👇🏾