A simple experiment that transformed our process for hiring remote employees

Learn how this new approach for collecting job applications helps us sift through thousands of remote candidates to find the best person for the job.

Hiring remote employees gives us access to skilled people around the world.

The talent pool is large, with 69% of millennials willing to trade their work benefits for flexible work options. While the demand for remote work is growing, the supply for jobs is still small. So much so that it’s harder to get a job at The Remote Company than to get into Harvard!

Speaking of prestigious universities, the challenge of hiring a global workforce is that you usually have no idea about the reputation of the school people attended or of their previous workplaces. You can’t get the typical professional references or find a mutual acquaintance in your network to ask for feedback about the candidate.  

In our global recruiting efforts, the traditional interview process of how to screen and hire candidates did not apply. Which is why a few years ago, we developed a simple experiment that transformed our hiring process. Hopefully, it will inspire you to think differently about how you hire remote workers. 

What traits separate great candidates from others?

Believe it or not, we found there’s just one. The most important trait in deciding to hire someone is their genuine desire to want to work at your company.

How to measure someone’s determination when hiring remote employees? Ask them to do some extra work. 

This is what we did. 

For the last 5 years, we’ve asked people who are applying for a position to create a newsletter in MailerLite. We don’t want a CV (resume), but a newsletter that answers our questions. 

Screenshot of the The Remote Company job advertisement explaining how to apply for the remote job.

Changing from normal cover letters to MailerLite newsletters has helped us hire and retain people that love their job. Here are 6 insights we learned through this new hiring approach. 

1. Talented people love challenges

Do you wonder if anyone will go the extra mile to apply for a job? They will! 

Talented people love challenges. You want people on your team who are motivated by challenges. Many great candidates revealed to us that they applied for a job solely because they were curious about the process and wanted to create a newsletter about themselves.

Screenshots from newsletter job applications for The Remote Company. All of them are saying that applying for the job was fun.

Only people who are highly motivated and truly care about your company will spend the extra time putting in the work you ask of them. In 2019, we had 2377 applicants and hired 37, which is an acceptance rate of 1.55% (0.2% for Google and 4.5% for Harvard). This high level of competition separates those who accept the challenge and those who just go through the motions to get a job.

2. Hiring remote employees starts with WHY

“Start With Why” is the name of the bestseller and famous TED talk by Simon Sinek. The main idea is that the most successful businesses are very clear about their values and why they are doing what they are doing. 

The Golden Circle diagram by Simon Sinek

This same concept should be applied to your hiring process. Sure, it matters how skilled and competent your candidates are, but it’s much more important to know WHY they want to join your team. 

We ask our applicants to answer the WHY question. Our HR team doesn’t have a set of answers that they think are “right”. Instead, we read each answer to get a sense of people’s motivation behind the answer. This helps us decide if they are the right fit.

3. Our writing shows how we think

People take time to create their newsletter. They think, write, delete and start all over again. We know what it takes to create a high-quality newsletter, so it’s very interesting for us to see the end product. We notice lots of things like the design of a newsletter, its structure, the way a person constructs sentences, what they highlight and their writing tone. Each aspect shows us how the person is thinking and if they are a good fit.

Screenshot of the newsletter job application for the remote job with MailerLite.

The above screenshot is an excerpt from an application newsletter showing the candidate’s personality in written form.

As a remote company, we need our team members to be able to express themselves with written communications. By having people create a newsletter during the hiring process, we see how candidates are able to share their ideas in writing.

4. Let people show their personalities

It goes without saying that reading a newsletter is way more fun than going through generic resumes. We get to learn about the things that inspire people, we meet their pets and family members and watch their personal videos. 

It helps a lot to get a sense of their energy, their personality and how they communicate. Here is a newsletter video example from a candidate named Sthefani. She showed us her personality, her desire to work with us and she articulated her experience beautifully.

Yes! Sthefani was hired for customer support and she has become an amazing addition to our team.

Stefhani's Job Application for MailerLite

5. Let people know as much as possible about your company before they apply

In the past, we experienced some awkward interviews where people would apply for a job but didn’t know anything about our company, culture or product.

When you are committing to work up to 8 hours a day for a company, I think it should matter where you work and what you do. 

Most qualified applicants will research your website and read blog posts about your company culture before applying for a job and creating a newsletter. This is why we love posting team photos on our site and writing about our values. We want people to get excited about their future team before they commit.

So when we get newsletters, it’s from people who resonate with our culture, values and work approach.

Finally, when someone creates a newsletter, they use our product. Candidates are able to get more familiar with the tool. Instead of just reading about the features or how intuitive they are to use, they experience it all firsthand.

A testimonial from a job applicant who got inspired by our hiring process.

Even if we don’t offer a job, they got a chance to try MailerLite. Maybe they will become a customer or recommend the product to others.  With this approach, hiring becomes an opportunity to spread the word about your company. 

6. Let your team choose their new colleague

The Remote Company team members are discussing a new additions to the team.

We did not hire a dedicated HR person until we had a large team in place. Our HR person was hire #50. Before that, everyone who needed a colleague would take the lead in hiring them. 

Now our HR team handles the job ads, applicant newsletters and selects the people that get test assignments. After the test assignments are presented, the team that is looking for a new colleague takes over the hiring. 

Hiring remote employees should not be an arranged marriage done by head-hunters that don’t truly understand your company. I believe that it’s a must for your team to participate in the hiring process and select a person that they are going to work with. This way both sides have very clear expectations. It’s a good start to the relationship.

Please share your experiences in hiring. What is the most important trait in choosing your team members? How do you discover if someone has that trait?

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