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The Complete Guide For Hiring Your Remote (Development) Team

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Hugo Messer

In most Western countries, there is a shortage of good programmers. In hubs like San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin, many companies are fishing in the same small ponds.

But you can’t use outdated techniques like placing an ad on a job board, networking, or overpaying a local recruiter to find modern programming talent. Vacancies stay unfilled for months while salaries keep going up, because programmers jump from one hot company to the next.

According to this Elance survey, 54% of business owners expect their workforce to be working remotely by 2017. Bringing in someone to the team with whom you have personally interacted is ‘business as usual’, but imagine hiring a person who you have never met.  This post is meant to simplify the recruitment, hiring, and onboarding process of your next engineer or entire remote development team. 

Recruiting & Onboarding Your Dev Team

Dan Norris, co-founder of WP curve wrote this instructive piece for remote recruitment from start to finish. Using Lucid Chart, I will share Dan’s secret sauce:

Step 1 – Trigger

We decide whether or not to hire and then kick off the process.

Step 2 – Recruitment

Here we find potential applicants, pre-screen them, trial them, and make a hiring decision.

Step 3 – Onboarding

After we have decided to make a hire, we set-up the team member in our systems and begin orientation.

One of the toughest jobs in hiring virtual players is the screening process. As people can’t visit your office without considerable investment, your abilities to interview are limited. You can’t see the candidate’s body language or listen to the subtle changes in the tone of their voice. But there is a sequence you can follow to get as close as possible to determining if the developer candidate will be good for your company:

1. Schedule a call. I recommend live video calls, which are always more effective. These are the best way to test for culture and values fit from afar.

2. Technical Proficiency. Dig a bit deeper with a technical interview and administer a short 2-4 hour technical exam. Then give the candidate a trial project.

For non technical roles, I have found selection to be more complicated if you do the recruitment remotely. Programmers can objectively be tested on their output (code quality, analysis skills, logical skills…etc…)

For a manager (e.g. content marketer, customer success manager), selecting a candidate is less objective. You need to understand the attitude and competencies of the person. And doing such interviews remotely via video conferencing can often convey the wrong image of a person.

I am a strong believer in having an office/management structure in place to hire managers. At Ekipa’s India office, we have an HR department, technical and project management, and a lot of programmers. These people make the hiring decisions. They do this with the local cultural setting and the company culture in mind. This makes it much easier to hire for cultural fit.


This method has been indispensible for hiring and selecting great remote colleagues.  I recommend reading Who: The A-Method for Hiring, which also discusses how to coach and retain ‘A-players’.

1) Create a score card

Describe the role you are looking to hire for, and a complete description of your expectations and outcomes for the role. By creating this scorecard, you force yourself to deeply think about the person you need and the performance you want to see.

Next, define the competencies you seek for this role. Topgrading has a set of 40 competencies that are well documented. For each competency you give an expected ‘score’ on a scale of 1-6. Here’s a sample score card that I recently used to hire our marketing and sales director.

2. The telephone interview

For sales positions, there’s very useful standard script in Topgrading for Sales.  You talk with the candidate for 10-30 minutes to filter out the obvious mismatches. For remote positions, you can also perfectly do this through video conferencing.

3. Competency-based interview questions

There are proven questions linked to each competency, which I always use during interviews (sometimes to the annoyance of the candidate I must admit). The questions trigger responses that are about the candidate’s past experience; they must come up with specific cases or situations, no fictional or hypothetical answers.

Tech to the rescue

Here are some sites you can use to find and hire remote team members:

1. Upwork

This is the most famous global marketplace for freelancers. Formerly known as Odesk (and Elance), it’s rapidly becoming the go-to source for smaller (software) projects. There are millions of freelancers on the site, ranging from programmers to designers, copy writers and even consultants.

2. Stackoverflow

Stackoverflow is the solution for international programmers vacancies. Software firms in the Netherlands for example, use it mainly to hire overseas programmers willing to move there.

3. We Work Remotely

A relatively new site where companies that are completely distributed, can advertise openings for remote-work. They appeal to candidates who don’t want to be restricted by commutes or a particular geographic area.

4. Ekipa

This is the unique marketplace to hire expert software teams. Instead of hiring individual employees or freelancers, companies can hire a complete team to get their software built. The teams are matched to projects where they have experience building similar software. The platform combines a contact person to support the team selection, with escrow payment to pay the offshore teams.

With the above sites, you’ll get access to top developers and development teams. Once you recruit a great programmer or team, use topgrading and a structured hiring process to ensure a good fit. Good luck!

Hugo Messer is the CEO of Ekipa and a global IT staffing expert. He has been building and managing teams around the world for over 10 years. He helps people spread across cultures, geography and time zones collaborate more effectively.  

Image Credit: Michael Cote