How to Land a Remote Job


As one way to cope with high demand for technology skills, employers have become more open to the idea of hiring tech pros in distant locations and allowing them to work remotely. However, recruiters and executives say, whether a company pursues that course depends on a number of factors, ranging from culture to the skills involved to the dynamics of a particular market.

For example, Will Kelly, a recruiting director in the Dallas office of Modis, a professional-staffing organization, sees employers engaging remote employees across a range of skills, especially within software and Web development.

But in Boston, WinterWyman partner Ben Hicks sees few organizations considering remote workers, because they view the local talent pool as being deep enough for their needs. At the same time, he added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if statistics showed [remote work] was increasing… It is a tough market.”

Despite the challenges involved with managing remote workers, many companies prefer telecommuting to an expensive relocation package, Kelly points out. Some find that remote workers are more cost-effective than onsite staffers, since employers usually tie their compensation to the worker’s home base rather than the company’s location.

For instance, Kelly has a Palo Alto client who is searching for developers in both Silicon Valley—where such skills are especially hard to find—and Dallas. By exploring the possibility of hiring remote workers, the client not only expands its potential candidate pool, but also takes advantage of Texas’s lower salary levels.

Challenges and Advantages

The remote-employee trend works in the favor of those tech pros who live in secondary markets. Not only has the technology for integrating remote workers improved; more corporate cultures have evolved to accept the idea that an employee doesn’t have to sit in a particular location in order to be productive. As a result, a developer in a place like Tulsa or Jacksonville can find themselves with more employment options than just a few years ago.

Businesses such as Dell actively promote remote work as an advantage of working for them. For most roles, Dell “tends to focus on finding the best talent,” regardless of location, said Clinton Littlejohn, a director of talent acquisition at the company.

Engineering cultures (despite their technical expertise) often resist the idea of remote workers. “There is this culture of collaboration among engineers and they can feel like they’ll lose that spontaneous collaboration,” explained Littlejohn, adding that some of Dell’s technical groups initially resisted the firm’s vision of a “connected workplace.”

Agile shops in particular can face challenges when it comes to incorporating a remote workforce. “Agile’s highly collaborative, and real Agile shops find this tough,” Kelly said. “They need a good virtual environment to make this work.”

Prove Yourself

In addition to the usual challenges of the job hunt, candidates interested in remote work face several hurdles. First is identifying potential employers. While many companies will flag remote-job openings either by labeling or tagging them in their listings, others may not. Don’t rely on job ads alone; talk to people in your network to learn if they know of companies who offer remote positions.

Though Littlejohn suggests he sees more “location-agnostic” job postings, he and Hicks agree that larger companies are more open to the idea of remote work because they have the infrastructure to support it. “Small companies are more resistant because they like the energy of having everyone in the office,” Littlejohn added.

Once they’ve found the right opening, candidates have to prove that they can deliver results with a minimum of supervision, are flexible, and will be available and reachable when they need to be. Some points to bear in mind:

  • Those who’ve previously worked remotely will have an easier time of it. Provide descriptions of projects you’ve successfully completed from home, including details such as the number of hours worked, the number of meetings attended and a code-release schedule, Kelly said. Also, show the hiring manager that you’ve got a lab or workspace that’s ready to go.
  • Emphasize your commitment to “results,” Littlejohn said. “We’re interested in the work you produced, and less interested in where and when you did it.”
  • If you don’t have experience working from home, talk about your attraction to results-based environments, how you want to work for a company that’s focused on getting things done. As part of the discussion, stress the discipline you bring to the idea of delivering results and meeting deadlines, and talk specifically about how you plan to apply that discipline to the position.
  • At some point, you’ll need to discuss travel requirements. Many, if not most, employers will require you to visit headquarters or a business-unit office, often several times a year. Be sure you understand what’s expected upfront. “You can’t completely get away from the office, and you don’t want to,” Kelly said. Some developers travel to mark project milestones. Others attend sessions where plans are laid out for the coming quarter. Whatever the reason for meeting, avoid situations where you show up “just to see each other,” Littlejohn advised. Whenever you visit, have an agenda.

Despite the moves of some companies to bring their workers back to the office—as Yahoo did last year—most observers expect the trend toward remote work to grow. In addition to offering cost-savings and an expanded talent pool from which to draw, the idea is popular among younger workers. “I think it’s going to become more prevalent,” Kelly said.

Littlejohn agreed, adding: “I think it’s one of the most underrated competitive advantages a company can have.”

6 Responses to “How to Land a Remote Job”

  1. Edward T

    I have worked remotely the last three years and find it very rewarding. Prior to this I worked with several companies that many folks would ‘telecommute’ but because I was a consultant, I was not allowed to. I would go to a conference room and be the ONLY one there.
    Also, I would say many managers and senior execs can not stand not having their employees physically in the office. I am sure it is a old-feel thing to them and/or the need to have their employees available. Which of course is very possible, provided proper expectations are laid out.

    Some folks don’t do well remotely, others do well.

  2. Ken Eliasen

    As a senior-level engineer, I converted from being an in-house employee to a permanent telecommuter almost 2 years ago.

    It makes perfect sense for me because the data center where my servers were housed was 40 miles away from me and now they’re 800 miles away. And almost all of my human interaction was over internet conferencing as well.

    In addition, my performance ratings were always top-notch. In that area, I would say that employers should have a means to evaluate prospective personnel closely for the performance history, character and tolerance to perform effectively as a telecommuter. Telecommuters will also need to work well without tactical and strategic supervision – and human interaction for that matter.

    And from the perspective of a manager that has a tendency to micromanage, he/she will need to have a high level of trust and high tolerance for frustration at not being able to walk into their employees cube on a daily basis.

    But with high levels of flexibility, patience, and professionalism on everyone’s part, a greater move to use telecommuters just makes sense.

  3. David Gray

    In 1988, I began a contract that I thought might last a year or two, working largely off-site, for a large company in the downstream petroleum industry. The contract continued, off and on, for over 15 years. At numerous points, my POC at the client would stress to me how proud he was of the virtual team that he had assembled to develop and maintain a data base of material safety data sheets for the company. Though I was local, I worked mostly from home, and we had a toxicologist who worked from her house in Irvine, California. From the start, she was an integral part of the team, although neither of us met her face to face until she had been working with us for four or five years. The team disbanded when the company was completely absorbed into Chevron Corporation in 2002.

  4. From my own anecdotal perspective, my last round of job searching was more frustrating than ever. There were more than a few jobs where I could have began producing the very first day, yet not one of them would consider telecommuting. Some were Agile shops, most were not. What surprised me more than anything were the pure contractor positions of six months to two years duration which the client actually expected the contractor to move across the country…for a temporary position.
    I’ve noticed, six months later, they’re still recruiting, still calling me occasionally, yet still not even close to considering remote employees/contractors.

  5. Donald

    Working a remote job requires a TEAM effort to stay in touch. But in todays “always on” world with Skype and other collaborative methods it makes no sense to not use it…and save the money on office space and furniture and put it into remote network access and improvement.
    I worked on a project based in the US to start and then the supply vessels were moved to Brazil. This went on for 2 years until Harris Corporation bought Caprock Communications and were afraid of “security concerns” and terminate my contract.