On finding remote work

Trying to find remote work

Recently I ended up leaving the project I was working on for a few years and looking for a new job. Due to various personal circumstances I was interested exclusively in remote jobs, working from Australia. I’ve got background in many technology stacks and positions (experienced in development, devops, security engineering) so didn’t really expect many problems. Here are some things I found out in the process.

What do you mean by remote?

It sounds like looking for a remote job should be easy. You tick the “remote” checkbox on stackoverflow jobs, set up https://remoteok.io notifications, and few other standard places and you’re good to go… But not really. “Remote” job doesn’t exist apart from the “working from home” statistics.

In reality, companies offer different kinds of “remote” positions and finding out which one it is can take a bit of time. For example some companies want people in the same state/county. Others in the same timezone. Others only the US citizens due to the type of business. Others are ok with remote, but want you to be in the office every month. And there’s no easy checkbox for those.

Stackoverflow jobs are usually good about this and you can see “Some company, No office location (allows remote)”, which likely means they’re ok with global applications. But read the offer, check out the company, get excited, start filling out the application form, and you’ll find a required “I confirm I’m a US citizen” checkbox hidden at the very end. In the worst case I completed the first tech interview, before the company realised Australia is too remote for them.

Hints:

  • Companies: save the time by being upfront about the type of remote work.
  • Applicants: skim all the available pages for the location rules before investing the time to apply.

Scheduling times

Scheduling meeting times should be trivial these days - there’s a lot of tools that make it easy. Unfortunately some companies are not using them.

Trying to organise meetings by email can be hard without mentioning the timezone every time (emails can be forwarded to other people without full context). It’s even harder when your Monday is their Sunday, and your idea of the beginning of the week is just as mismatched. I ended up sending https://timeanddate.com event announcements every time I mentioned the times in emails.

Companies which made this easier either sent out google calendar events, or used some specific HR/recruitment portal to handle the planning. For example https://greenhouse.io gives you the ability to send your availability on integrated google calendar.

Hints:

  • Companies: Use some tool. It doesn’t matter what the tool is, as long as allows everyone to exchange times in some auto-converting form.
  • Applicants: You can send events yourself. You may not get a response to the event invitation, but at least the other side will see the time with full context.

Personal network

I’ve received quite a few contacts from friends and appreciate that they’ve done it. Unfortunately, most of the companies didn’t consider hiring remote workers at all. That means, the usual ways of finding a good place to work just don’t work that well anymore. Once you’re looking for a remote-only position, you’re most likely going to go back to talking to companies directly, or using job boards.

While it’s still useful to chat to people, and I did get some new contacts after speaking at a conference, I could not rely on that network as much as in case of a standard office position.

Competition

I’ve been quite successful talking to local companies in the past. I’ve not changed the jobs often, but I did interview from time to time and pretty much always got through the initial call, tech interviews, tasks, etc. This changed when interviewing remotely.

I can only guess about the reason, but I think there’s just much more competition in this case. I get around 20 job links by email every day. Out of those, maybe 1 a week are places I can apply to. (after filtering for location, skill, position, job level, etc.) And we’re talking globally - around the world, potentially thousands of engineers are getting the same emails and acting on them at the same time. Even if I believe I’m pretty good, there are going to be many people better than me. What makes it even harder is that many companies looking for remote enginners are pretty well known. Services like GitHub will always get a lot of quality candidates.

I started getting rejected after screen calls and tech interviews this time. Whenever I could, I checked the reason and mostly it was because they went with someone better. (standard warning about responses apply of course)

Hints: Be better? Promote your work?

Salary talk

Salary talk is annoying when you’re trying to apply for local positions where you can talk to other people. It’s more annoying if you’re moving to a new region where you don’t have local knowledge.

But it’s completely insane if you’re applying to a global, remote-only company and they ask you what’s your expected salary. You don’t know if they vary the pay based on your location, you don’t know the usual ranges (unless glassdoor and others have it), you can’t compare it to similar positions (so an engineer is in California, CEO in Denmark, company is registered somewhere else… what does it even mean!?).

Hints:

  • Companies: Just publish your salary ranges. Yeah, I’m beating that dead old horse…

Video conferences

When I started interviewing I didn’t realise how annoying a moving camera is. Don’t try to have even a short interview with a propped / held phone. It’s super annoying to the other side. This is something I learned, but I guess it applies to both sides the same.

On the other hand, once you know you’re going to have a video conference, find out what the preferred technology is. Test your client beforehand with someone else (preferrably on another continent). You may find that the setup has weird issues that need a google search or two to resolve - looking at you Zoom, choosing digital outputs even though the default device is set correctly in the system.

Summary

Looking for a remote job is different than a local one. It’s harder too. Both because companies don’t necessarily want remote workers and because when they do, they still prefer at least timezone overlap in most cases. I hope what I learnt will help others in a similar situation.

PS. None of the services mentioned are endorsements. They’re just examples of what I’ve seen / used.

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