037: Tips for Getting a Remote Job

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Remote jobs are the gold standard for a lot of job seekers these days. This week, Justin shares some tips to help you get your foot in the door.

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00:00 Hello and welcome to Process, a podcast by Effective Remote Work. My name is Justin DiRose and today we are talking about how to get a remote job. Last week we had the opportunity to do one of our monthly office hours sessions with our Pro level patrons. It was a fantastic time talking about how to make our productivity systems more simple and actually pursuing goals and getting things done, all sorts of different topics, centering around productivity and remote work. If you’re a remote worker looking to connect more deeply with other remote workers in the areas of productivity and being effective at life and work, I highly recommend that you check out our Patreon campaign and sign up for one of the tiers that we have available. You get access to some pretty cool stuff, including our Discord water cooler chat, these monthly office hours sessions, and our Behind the Process special podcasts just for our patrons. That is effectiveremotework.com/patreon.

00:59 Now, before we begin the topic this week, I will let you know that I’m feeling a little under the weather, so if there’s any goofiness with my voice or odd things that happen in this podcast as a result of that, that’s why. Now, I’ve seen that working for a fully distributed company is often a dream job in many people’s minds and it’s the one that they’re really searching for and actively pursuing often and rightfully so. There are tons of perks and benefits to working for a fully distributed company, like not having to go to the office every day. Being able to work from home and control what your work environment looks and feels like. To have a flexible schedule to where you can go to the gym in the middle of the day or you may have some generous time off policies that the company is offering.

01:49 These are all fantastic benefits, which makes these positions highly sought after. Now, the hiring process for remote companies tends to be a little different from traditional corporations. Usually the process can be a little bit longer hiring remotely because there’s more distance involved. Oftentimes there’s more time zones involved and often for a lot of companies, especially if you’re into a software company of sorts, there’s a trial project that’s involved too. And while these remote jobs as we talked about, are very highly sought after, not everyone gets a remote job. There are reasons for that. Sometimes when you’re approaching a company, your message is too general. Sometimes you’re not passionate about their mission and you’re just throwing blanket CV’s out there. You don’t necessarily have a track record that they’re looking for in an employee or maybe they’re looking for someone more senior and you’re more junior in your role.

02:47 Maybe you’re not writing or communicating clearly. Maybe you overstated yourself. That is something that happens fairly often in the interview process and in remote work, it actually becomes a lot more evident that you’re overstating yourself when you work in a remote job, because the only thing that you have to show most days is the work that you are doing. Or lastly, maybe you just didn’t stand out among the field of a thousand applicants. I just read an article yesterday on the Signal v. Noise blog, which 37signals/Basecamp puts out and they were talking about how in their hiring process when they post like a customer support role, sometimes they’ll get a thousand applicants for it. It’s absolutely insane that level. And so this is the kind of competition if you’re looking for a remote job, this is the kind of competition that you can expect to be dealing with and so you have to cut above the rest.

03:46 And there’s a few ways that you can do that to get your foot in the door. First of all, you have to show how passionate you are about the product for the company that you’re working for. Remote jobs aren’t just jobs, let’s put it that way. They are not just jobs. There are places where you can work and you have to be motivated to do the job that’s in front of you, to do a good job. And so it’s very important to a company that is hiring remote workers to see how passionate you are about their product, about what they’re doing because that will be an indicator of your own self motivation to further their mission as a company. And especially if that company is a startup, you might be doing lots of different things when you’re working at that company and that’s where your passion comes into play.

04:41 Also, you have to really be forward and showing how you can benefit their organization. It’s not just about the skills that you have, it’s about how those skills apply to the organization that you’re looking to work for. I suppose to back up here a little bit. An important thing when you’re searching for remote job isn’t just a blanket search for one out there. It’s to target your search to companies you’re genuinely interested in working for. That will make it a lot easier for you to move through the hiring process because you have a reason that you want to work there. You’re not just seeing “remote job” and applying for it and therefore not getting a response because you have no connection to the mission or the future of that organization in general. Now another way to get in the door is to contribute before you even open that door of asking for an interview or putting your resume out there.

05:39 If a company has open source segments of their software, or if a company has a support forum that they have for their software, for their product, whatever it is, get involved. Contribute to the community around the product, contribute the community around the company because any decent company worth working for has a community around it, so be involved. For example, at Discourse we have people who work on the team who have been hired straight out of our community forums because they were contributing and benefiting the broader community of Discourse. We also have people who have been hired because they contributed to the product. Discourse is open source, so if you’re looking at working for an open source product like Discourse or WordPress, contribute. Make a contribution because this shows that you’re passionate about it. Plus it also shows what you’re capable of. Plus, it also shows your communication skills, which are super essential when you’re working remotely.

06:46 You also need to write a rock star cover letter when you’re applying for remote jobs. This cover letter shows you and communicates how passionate you are about this company, what you’ve done in their ecosystem, what you’ve done to help benefit that organization or how your previous experience can benefit that company. We talked about contributing and doing projects and also it’s important to interview well. As I said, one of the most important skills that you need to have as a remote worker is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. And an interview is a great way to do that. It’s a great way to show your communication skills. An interview will tell an organization that you’re looking to work for if you are going to resolve conflicts well, how personable you are and how well of a fit in the organization that you’re going to be. Now, this is pretty standard for any company hiring process, but it’s all the more important for remote jobs to do a good job in these places because they’re trusting you with a lot.

08:04 Remote companies need to trust you with a lot because you’re living and working in a very autonomous fashion. You are not mandated to show up at 9:00 AM every day and clock out when the work is done. You are in control of your schedule often times as a remote worker. In some jobs and in some companies they have set schedules to help prevent issues with timezone coverage and such, which makes a ton of sense. Not all companies are like that though. You might have a completely flexible schedule. You might also have the ability to choose lots of different things that you can work on, as we talked about in our episode on the power of flexibility. Ultimately, this initial process when you’re getting in the door, when you’re trying to get in the door of a remote company, is what’s telling that company how successful you might be with the freedom that you are given as a remote worker.

09:03 So with these things in mind, it’s important to remember a number of soft skills that any remote worker for any job that they’re applying for at any remote organization need to have. Where these might be important in a typical traditional office environment, these are 10 times more important. I’m just arbitrarily throwing that number out there, but they’re significantly more important in a remote organization because there are more barriers to getting work done and there are more barriers to collaborating in a remote environment than there are in an office environment, so to say. So a few of these items are, as we talked about, written communication. When you are writing to apply for a remote job, your written communication is your communication. You can be a great verbal communicator, but if you’re not a good written communicator, that will hurt you eventually because especially if you’re working in an asynchronous team, your communication in the company will primarily be written.

10:09 You also need to be organized and self-driven in your organization. If you’re listening to this podcast, that’s probably you already because you have an interest in productivity and staying organized and also being self motivated. You want to push forward, you want to move towards your goals, you want to do things that you haven’t necessarily done before. That’s awesome. And if you’re looking to work in a remote organization that will definitely be a benefit to you. You also need a level of humility I think when you are working in a remote company. It’s very important, especially in situations where the communication medium is primarily written, to seek understanding first instead of a correct answer. Because sometimes when we write our communication and even when we speak, we don’t necessarily see the whole picture of what the person is thinking. It’s a lot easier to grab that when you’re looking at a person face to face, you can ask better questions, but when you’re having conversations that span over the course of couple of days over writing, it can be very challenging to pick out those nuances.

11:18 And so instead of jumping to a conflictual stance in a communication, humility comes into play to be able to seek understanding first. And that really helps move through some of the things that can be blockers when working remotely. And lastly, one of the things that I think is important and has become quite obvious to me over the last few weeks, especially when coming into a fully distributed organization (I’ve only been in Discourse for the last six months, about not quite six months) is the ability to impose limits on yourself when you’re that freedom is too free. What does that mean? Well, you can set your schedule anytime of the day. Well, impose a schedule on yourself. You can take as much time off as you want in some companies. Well impose a limit on that. you’re working too much. Impose a limit on that. Having this much freedom in a remote job really does require some ability to self-regulate and set boundaries for yourself.

12:21 If you keep some of these ways to get a remote job in mind, such as showing how passionate you are about the product, how you can benefit their organization, to contribute even before looking for a job, and work on some of these soft skills such as your written communication, your organization skills, your ability to self motivate, your chances of getting a remote job are all the better. It’s not a guarantee to get one, but you will tend to stand out when you are showing how passionate you are about a specific product, about the company that you’re looking to work for.

13:05 Well, that’s all for this time. For a transcript of this and other episodes, head on over to community.effectiveremotework.com. Be sure to join our Patreon campaign at effectiveremotework.com/patreon to get access to our exclusive members-only content. Follow me on Twitter @justindirose or this podcast @effectiveremote. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast! My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.

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Thanks for taking the mystery out of looking for remote work. It always feels like a shot in the dark. Some things from the traditional 9-to-5 job can carry over but there are enough differences and challenges to be aware of when we’re looking forward to working remotely.

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