We are living in a new era of technology and with all the advance of technology, the way we work has forever changed – and so has the interviewing process. It is critical to show you are a great candidate for both in-person and remote work. The employer is looking for someone who is reliable, can communicate, independent, takes initiative, organized, can collaborate well and resolve conflicts. Take note that all of those skills are soft skills and not technical skills. For the employer to evaluate your abilities in those categories, they will ask very specific questions that will give them insight on your soft skills, also called “power skills. 

According to The Muse, the list below contains a few typical questions employers use to evaluate power skills in a remote environment.  

  • Have you worked remotely in the past? 
  • What types of remote/distributed team tools and software have you used and how did you use them? 
  • What Is your approach to maintaining effective communication and collaboration with a distributed team? 
  • How dyou manage your time and stay organized? 
  • How dyou keep yourself motivated and engaged when working from home? 
  • What’s the key to making sure a project Is successful when working remotely? 
  • Tell mabout a time when you had to adapt to change. 
  • Tell mabout a time when you had a conflict with a coworker. 
  • Tell mabout a time when you weren’t sure how tdsomething. How did you gabout seeking out information? 
  • Do you have any questions for me? 

Below we will dissect the questions, their meanings, and how you should respond to them.  

1.Have you worked remotely in the past?

This might feel like a conversational ice breaker question, but it’s one you need to answer thoughtfully. The hiring manager is trying to gauge your level of interest in and comfort with taking on a fully remote role.  

How to Answer

You can keep your response relatively simple. If you have experience working remotely in the past, be prepared to detail when, where, and how you were able to succeed in that role. If you haven’t technically worked remotely before, that probably won’t be a dealbreaker these days, but you should have a comparable experience ready to share—like how you succeeded in the virtual semester at WSUor if you were selling 3D printed ornaments for Christmas and your clients were ordering online (e.g., Facebook, Etsy, Thingiverse) How did you do your work online?   

You Might Say:

“Yes, for the past six months, I have been completing college at Washington State University in Pullman, WA, while residing in Auburn, WA. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, but I quickly adapted and found resources that could help me do my schoolwork from home. I set up an online agenda to ensure I completed all my assignments on time, as well as rearranged my room to have a workstation that was dedicated for schoolwork. That really helped me stay organized, focused, and get my tasks done.”  

2. What types of remote/distributed team tools and software have you used and how did you use them? 

Distributed teams live on video and chat platforms and typically rely heavily on collaborative tools and project management software, so hiring managers will naturally want to gauge your level of comfort working with remote tools like Zoom or Slack, collaborative platforms like Google Docs, or project management software like Teams, Trello, Airtable, or Asana. As well as your technical skills, like Excel, SolidWorks and AutoCAD.  

How to Answer

In addition to listing the types of technologies you’re familiar with, you should also be prepared to explain how and why your team used them. Be prepared to describe a variety of practices to make remote work effective. Prior to your interview, revisit the job posting or ask the recruiter which tools your prospective team uses so that you can frame your response with those technologies in mind. And know that you probably won’t have experience with every single platform any given employer uses. That’s OK! Just be sure to mention how quickly you’ve learned new tools in the past.  

You Might Say:

“In my previous internship, our team used Zoom for weekly meetings and impromptu one-on-ones. We were also expected to be available on Slack throughout the day for quick questions or updates and often worked in shared docs and spreadsheets on Google Drive. I know your team uses Teams, which I’m not as familiar with, but I spent some time working with a demo the other day, and I think it’s something I can familiarize myself with rather quickly.” 

3. What Is your approach to maintaining effective communication and collaboration with a distributed team? 

Working remotely presents some unique challenges to collaboration, since you can’t just schedule an impromptu meeting in an open conference room or pop by your coworker’s desk to ask a question. Distributed team members need to be more intentional about their interactions with each other.  

Hiring managers want to see that you’ve really thought through a remote work dynamic. What would you do if you needed help and your go-to people are offline? How would you approach collaborating on tasks with team members in a different time zone? How would you manage conflict? Tell them about a course that required a group project while the semester was online. How did you collaborate with your team?   

How to Answer

According to The Muse, the key here is to have a detailed, thoughtful answer (complete with specific examples) prepared. That should be fairly easy for people who’ve worked remotely in the past, but if you haven’t, don’t sweat it. Sometimes people get tripped up when they are asked a question about a situation they’ve never been in—and remote work is new to a lot of folks. If this happens, communicate what you would do if you encountered XYZ situation in a remote role; sometimes the thought process is more valuable than the actual answer. 

You might even follow your answer up with a question about how the hiring manager’s team handles distributed communication and collaboration to show that you’re truly interested in understanding the dynamics of your prospective team. 

You Might Say:

“I think a varied approach to communication is ideal, as the best method of communication depends on the scope of the question or project you’re working on. To start, I think having regular team meetings over video is a great way to stay connected and keep everyone on the same page. I also like to schedule regular, standing check-ins with my manager. I’ll save up all of my non-urgent questions and updates for our one-on-ones when I know I’ll have their full attention. I’m also diligent about checking Teams and email. I think Teams is a great way to handle quick, simple questions or to share brief updates. Lastly, I like to check in with everyone on my team to ask what the best way to get in touch with them would be if I need to speak with them as soon as possible. So, for example, if I know that my boss prefers that I text him when something unexpected comes up, that way I’ll know not to waste my time waiting for my boss to respond to an email. How does the engineering team here tend to communicate and collaborate for meetings and projects?” 

4. How do you manage your time and stay organized? 

You have a lot of independence in how you manage your time when working remotelyThere’s no one sitting next to you to make sure you’re working on this or almost done with that. With so much flexibility, it’s crucial that you can be organized and juggle your different tasks and responsibilities in order to get things done and meet deadlines—and interviewers will want to make sure you’re up to it.  

How to Answer

Don’t be afraid to talk about all the tools and strategies you use to keep track of what you need to do, decide what takes precedence, plan how and when you’ll get it done, and follow through. That might mean calling out specific apps you live by or talking about your colorcoding system for prioritizing to-do items in your planner. If you do not have a job to draw from, that included completing several tasks at once, tell them how you stay organized in school. How did you balance, education, extracurriculars, relationships and studies?  

It is important to understand how the team works. Talk about how you’d make sure you’re prioritizing your work according to team goals. Are you checking in with your managers regularly to ensure you’re working on what’s most important?  

You Might Say:

“I keep a running daily and weekly to-do list in my notes app and rely heavily on my calendar for meeting and deadline reminders. I usually prioritize my tasks and projects based on due dates and level of importance.  I check in with my team every morning to make sure we’re on the same page, as priorities can always shift. I also like to share calendars with my team, so we always have an idea of when everyone is or isn’t available.” 

5. How do you keep yourself motivated and engaged when working from home? 

As lovely as rolling out of bed and into your desk chair might sound, remote work does have some downsides. Working in your home can be distracting (think your roommate’s having their friends over, they are watching TV but you have an exam tomorrow). It’s also easy to get sucked into doing just one load of laundry, or taking your dog on a small walk, when you know your boss isn’t going to walk by and ask you why you haven’t turned that report in yet. Plus, you don’t have colleagues sitting all around you to serve as positive peer pressure to keep working or to provide a sense of camaraderie that keeps you going. So, hiring managers will want some assurance that you’ve got a grasp on how to push through the inherent distractions and distance of remote work.  

How to Answer 

Answer honestly! Do you love the Pomodoro Technique? Do you prefer to be in constant communication with your coworkers via Slack? Is the relative solitude of remote work a natural fit for your work style because it allows you to get into deep focus? Great! Now you just need to explain how and why. Explain the actions you took to stay motivated and engaged. Perhaps you made a deal with your roommate not to have friends over the night before exam days. Maybe you have mini prizes for yourself after working continuously for 2 hours. 

You Might Say:  

“I’m very comfortable working independently, but I do love collaboration. I like to work on teams that are in regular contact over chat or email. I also really look forward to weekly team meetings or Zoom calls with my group members—it’s always nice to have some human interaction after hours of staring at words on a screen. These regular check-ins help boost my energy when I’m studying for an exam or on a deadline, as it gives me something to look forward to, gives my day structure, and helps keep me on track. 

6. What’s the key to making sure a project Is successful when working remotely? 

A lot goes into successfully completing any project—remote or otherwise—but hiring managers are going to be especially interested in how prospective hires would approach a project when in-person collaboration isn’t an option. Clear communication is key when you can’t chat with people on a whim like you can in the officeHiring managers are going to want to know that you understand this and have the experience to successfully complete projects remotely. We all know that group project in college are challenging, because it is so difficult to find a time that works for everyone in the group. Explain how you worked on a group project during this virtual time and what you did to make sure the project was a success.  

How to Answer 

It is recommended demonstrating that you understand the importance of asking questions up front, making sure you have a precise understanding of the work, managing expectations around timelines, and ensuring work is going in the right direction. Even better if you can explain that you’re willing first to seek answers…on your own before asking others. Including an example of a real project you’ve worked on remotely in the past (if relevant) may also help to strengthen your answer.  

You Might Say: 

“This will, of course, depend on the team and type of project, but I’ve found that getting on the same page from the start is really important. I like to meet with my team to talk through our goals, timelines, and work distribution before we begin working on a new project. From there, I schedule regular check-ins to keep everyone on the same page. It’s also helpful to work in collaborative shared documents or spreadsheets where possible so that everyone involved can see the progress and hopefully catch potential issues sooner than if we were working totally independently.” 

7. Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to change. 

You’ll often get some variation of this question during the interview process—whether for a remote job or not. But being adaptable is especially important when you’re part of a distributed team, as it can sometimes be more challenging to coordinate schedules or keep everyone on the same page, and you don’t have the benefit of your colleagues being a few steps away to deal with the change together. That doesn’t mean you can’t support one another, but even that takes a bit more initiative when you’re working remotely.  

How to Answer 

This is a great example of a situational or behavioral interview question, which should be a signal to you that the hiring manager wants you to share a story from your past work experience. It’s a chance to see how you actually behaved to give them a sense of how you’d function in the job you’re being considered for.  

You’ll first want to think of an example that demonstrates your ability to adapt to change—whether it was in a remote job or not. Then use the STAR method to organize your response. You can get detailed advice on how best to use it here, but here’s a quick overview to get you started: First, explain the situation you want to use to answer the question, then describe the task you needed to complete in that situation. Next, discuss the action you took to complete said task, and finally, explain the result of that action. Easy enough, right?  

You Might Say:  

In my junior year of college, my courses were transferred from in-person courses to fully online. This included my lab courses. As this was a new situation for everyone involved, I knew everyone would have a lot of question and few answers. I knew I would have to make alterations to my studies quickly. I started by making an online agenda, because now everything was due on the computer so I knew I would be on it to hear the due date alarms. Then I made sure to place into my calendar what time my professor’s office hours were just incase I need to go visit with them. And put an alarm on to watch the virtual labs. It is important to see the lab occur so a more accurate report can be written. I asked my friends what they were doing to succeed in this new environment, and I made improvements. I finished the full-time online semester with a 3.8 GPA.”  

8. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker. 

The employer wants to know whether you can recover if things break downDisagreements are inevitable, so knowing how to navigate and defuse misunderstandings before they get out of hand is an incredibly important skill—especially when you’re part of a remote team. Coworkers who see one another on a regular basis tend to have more opportunities to resolve misunderstandings, while folks who work from home will need to be more proactive about getting things straightened out when conflicts arise. 

How to Answer 

Candidates should demonstrate an awareness of how caustic conflict can become if unresolved in a remote environment. Talking things out in person tends to be the most straightforward way to resolve issues, so when you can’t do that in a timely manner, conflicts can simmer.  

This is another excellent example of a situational interview question and the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method. The Muse advises to includa detailed example of how you’ve resolved a conflict in the past. If you weren’t able to resolve things, share what you should have done instead, as it demonstrates an ability and desire to learn from your mistakes. Discussing what you learned can be incredibly valuable, so if you don’t have a glowing success story, it’s OK to share an example of a time things didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. That said, avoid sharing stories about huge blowups. As interesting and relevant as those examples may be, the goal is to keep the focus on your conflict resolution skills. 

You Might Say: 

“I used to have a lab partner who would consistently be a no-show on lab daysbecause he liked to oversleep. I was understanding the first couple of times, but once I realized it was a pattern, I grew concerned about how it would affect my understanding of the material in lab, so I invited him out for coffee. I started by asking him questions about how he was doing and if something outside of college was occurring that was taking a toll on him and how I might support him. He admitted that he felt pulled in too many different directions and that working the night shift at the convenient store was getting too much for him to make it for the morning labs. I used that as an opportunity to think of a way to help him, and myself. I knew that the course had several lab times listed in the Schedule of Classes and I asked our instructor if my lab partner and I could come in at the later lab time. The instructor had no problem with that. We started lab at 10 a.m. and my lab partner was always able to make it from that day forward.” 

9. Tell me about a time when you weren’t sure how to do something. How did you go about seeking out information? 

When you’re part of a distributed team, you’re pretty likely to run into situations where you don’t feel 100% clear about what you’ve been tasked with. And while that’s normal and totally understandable, it’ll be important for you to demonstrate that you know how to navigate these gray areas. Managers want to be confident that you will be able to find the right people and information to engage with for a deliverable without having them right in front of you. 

How to Answer 

It’s the STAR method to the rescue again! Working remotely means that sometimes you’re going to feel a bit…remote. So, when you run into roadblocks, you’ll need to be resourceful. Can you think of a time when you needed to be proactive about researching how to do something? Or a time when you had to teach yourself a new skill? Being prepared with specific examples of your ability to figure things out on your own or pull in the right resources when needed will show the interviewer you’ll be able to do the same in this role and give you a leg up.  

You Might Say:  

My senior design project was material science based, but I am a mechanical engineer. At first it felt overwhelming, hearing all these words and concepts I never learned before. But I used the knowledge I gained in the few courses I did take in material science and built my understanding from that. I also used my resources, old textbooks, YouTube videos and my peers. I knew there were students in my class who were material science majors, and I asked if one of them would be willing to give me their email address, in case I came across concepts that needed clarification. One of the students was happy to help. I also contacted my last material science instructor and set up a Zoom meeting to go over a few details that were helpful for my project. It was important for me to speak up and seek help for the success of the project. 

10. Do you have any questions for me? 

This question is code for: So are you interested? (Hint: Interested applicants always have questions!) This is your chance to show that you’re thoughtful, well prepared, and truly understand what it’ll take to succeed on a distributed team. Remote work environments don’t typically allow for you to ask questions as frequently or casually as you can in the office, so demonstrating that you’re organized and proactive about gathering information will help you to stand out.  

This also happens to be an excellent opportunity to learn more about the company culture so that you can determine whether a prospective employer is going to be the right fit for you.  

For additional help with interviewing, schedule a mock interview with a Voiland College Internships and Career Services careers coach.  You can reach us at vcea.internships@wsu.edu or call (509) 335-8726.