As the world becomes more high tech, working in an office is slowly becoming more of a tradition and less of a requirement. But not all companies, or people, are open to remote work.
Recruitment has been particularly slow to the mark. For many recruitment teams, the hiring process remains high-touch and physical presence in the office is required. After all, recruiters are the central communication point between hiring managers, recruitment stakeholders, and the candidates themselves. How can you develop, manage, and nurture these relationships seamlessly from afar?
This month, I spoke to a recruiter who is opening the discussion on what it means, not just to recruit for remote teams, but recruit remotely themselves… and from a camper van.
Jitske van de Worp is an experienced tech recruiter who has been working on freelance in-house assignments for five years now. Two and a half months ago, Jitske returned to Amsterdam, after a year of being a remote recruiter working from a camper van.
Today, she’s working with bol.com and Xebia Product Management. She’s recruiting internationally, assessing relocation packages, and giving advice on how to scale the organization from an IT recruitment focus. Between her work with Bol.com and Xebia, Recruitee managed to have her in to share her story with us.
So, first things first, how did you end up becoming a remote recruiter and working from a camper van? What’s the story there?
It started with Sander, my husband. We had been together for eight years and since we met our life had revolved only around social and work. We never really had the time to spend just us two together. That’s why we wanted a change. But I also didn’t want to leave my work.
That’s where the combination of remote work and traveling came from. For me, I could just bring my work into a camper van! So, that’s the story. That’s how I ended up recruiting remotely from a camper van for a year.
What did your typical day look like?
Good question. In the beginning, I worked full time- 40 hours per week- for SuitSupply and ING. But traveling was new to me. It was completely new to be traveling and working at the same time. Usually, you travel and go on holiday, but now I had to combine the two. So time management was a big challenge for me.
At first, I would work while Sander was driving. But I was also working seven days a week to get the 40 hours somehow to stack up. Even though you have the flexibility to choose whenever you want to work, in the end, on Saturday or Sunday you think “damn, I don’t have the hours yet”.
My contract was ending at ING anyway at that point, so I decided to reduce the hours for Suitsupply as well. From January on I was working only 24 hours a week, which was much better.
I have a sheet where I would calculate the hours per week. Looking at this you really realize how many hours it takes to plan your trip and do other stuff like groceries- all the things we do now just online. It just takes so much more time.
In terms of the recruitment logistics, how did that work out on a daily basis while you were traveling around Europe?
I was doing 50/50. 50% sourcing and 50% handling all of the incoming candidates.
When you source candidates, it’s always good to have the flexibility. I could really say “Hey, I’ll call you in the evening, no problem.” So I would handle most of the calls in the evening, which is fine working from a camper van because it was getting dark anyways so you want to be inside.
In the mornings, I would be sourcing and then in the afternoons, that was the time for having fun.I had my phone always with me anyways, so I was always available. I had a candidate call me while we were at the Giro Italia and of course, I took the call.
I didn’t bother telling candidates or my hiring managers I was traveling because its nice for me to work remotely but for them, it doesn’t really matter.
Every Monday we had a stand up so I would always call into that. Monday was meeting day so I would also call all of my hiring managers as well. But it was really the same. At first, they were always asking me “Ok, so where are you now?” but at a certain point they stopped asking because it just doesn’t matter where you’re working from as long as you get the job done.
Did you experience any unexpected challenges along the way?
Well, whenever you go camping, it’s easy to forget that you need electricity. We didn’t realize it would be such a challenge to always be connected. Wifi was also a challenge. Sometimes we’d be traveling to a beach and there was no connection so then we’d have to drive somewhere else.
Another unexpected challenge was that I sometimes needed an in-person connection with my colleagues. You try, but you’re not there so inevitably it’s just different. You have Slack and Skype, but I did miss the personal interaction. So in the end, I was away for one year but I flew back twice to see family but also my hiring managers and the people I work with. It was hard but it was actually easily fixed in the end with just a couple trips back.
Well, the van that we were living in- cooking, sleeping, we did everything in that van. So when it was raining for seven days it got a bit claustrophobic. With the dog, with the husband… it gets very small.
Time management is always a challenge, but even more so in this situation. It’s important to set some time aside for fun. In the beginning, I kind of forgot to do that.
There have been some studies that remote workers are more likely to ‘overwork’. Did you feel that way?
It’s hard to switch off. You have to remember sometimes to take a holiday… from the holiday. So my husband said “Jitske, everyone is taking time off work. Even though you’re on a big ‘holiday’ it’s important to take time off from the remote part of the holiday”.
But that’s very hard for me because I’m very loyal to my work- I love what I do and I don’t want to let them down.
I guess that if you work remotely you have to have a certain skill set. Unfortunately, it’s not for everybody. You need self-discipline but you should be careful about overdoing it. It can become a weakness and it can get in your way. And I can see that’s how remote workers can really become overworked.
In your opinion, what kind of skills or personality traits does it take to be a remote recruiter?
You need to set an alarm every day. I tried one month not to set an alarm but then I got really lazy. Setting an alarm requires some self-discipline.
You need to be motivated and you need to have good time management. Also, you need to really focus on your company and candidate relationships. Which means that even though you’re working remote, you need to always be there when they need you. So I was working mostly in the mornings and the evenings but they could always reach me.
You need to deliver as a recruiter and be results driven. Most importantly, you really just need to do what you say. Both of these things are just kind of common sense.
What are the key differences between traditional recruitment and remote recruitment? Any particular challenges, benefits?
Now, I’ve been back in the office for about two months and I realize that I’m back in a routine. I definitely did not have that when I was working remotely. I need to be ok with it but I did like that my routine changed a lot.
Working in a team is a big one. Working at bol.com, I have an amazing team of people around me almost every day. It’s so much fun. On the other hand, you definitely work less efficiently. Seeing people is nice and it’s fun, sometimes it challenges you even but you also work less efficiently.
The impact is the last one. As a remote recruiter, you can have an impact on hiring people but it’s a very independent role. Now working at bol.com in a team, together, we are figuring out how to scale the IT department. So it’s a much more strategic role, that probably could not have been done remotely. It’s the difference between making a person-by-person impact and making a more long-term organizational impact. Both are fun but different.
Are there particular jobs or positions that remote work is more suitable for? Some that are not as suitable?
I think being a recruitment manager, well, every management position is difficult to do remotely. My advice would be: if you’re considering remote work, think about what you want to do with your career. Because if you want to become a manager, you need to be there and people need to see you. So I wouldn’t recommend remote work for those sort of positions.
I think it’s also difficult for product owners to work remotely because you have to be with your team and then you also have to be with the business. Basically, all positions where you’re the bridge between the business and IT/tech teams, it’s not really ideal for remote work.
Any job where you have a specialism, like online marketing or recruitment, those are very suitable for remote work. You see some software engineers now working from Bali, which is nice.
How do you ensure you really get to know your candidates remotely?
When I have a vacancy, I do an intake with the hiring manager. I have a really nice template with the job spec but also questions around the why- more extra information about the role. And then when I reach out to candidates, I make sure that they are happy to read my message. So when I have them on the phone I talk to them for at least 45 minutes.
Turns out, I was spending more time when I was working remotely from my camper van, to get to know people. Now that I’m not working in the office, I spend about 30 minutes because I know I’ll get to meet the candidates anyway.
In the end, I would almost spend an hour getting to know candidates, so you basically cover the whole thing. Then I Whatsapp (text) with them. So there you have a little bit of a different dynamic.
I definitely called a lot. If I had candidates in my pipeline, I would call them every week, saying “Hey, just checking in. Do you have any job interviews” or “Hey, next week you have your first interview, I’m calling you to prep.”
You have more time so you can be more high-touch with candidates. I also was always trying to be up to date with everything, like their birthdays or holidays. Now working in the office, you have more things that demand your attention so you can lose track of the small things like that.
What are your favorite questions to deep dive into a candidate’s skills?
“What do you do in your spare time?” is a good one, and then you can go more in depth.
I always finish my interview asking if they have any holidays coming up. First, because it helps me see if they’re available in the coming weeks. But I also want them to share more about their personal interests. Things like books, cooking, etc. And usually, along the way, you might touch something interesting. You can also share things that don’t have to do with work and you develop a little bit of a friendship.
I also made Google maps pins of every country we went to- so like Corsica- and I would invite my candidates to it, especially if that’s where they were going on holiday. They could see nice restaurants and camping sites, hikes, whatever. Then you really share what you’re doing.
What does the remote recruitment process look like in its entirety?
When I reach out or they apply, I always have a call with them. I use a tool called youcanbookme and then they can schedule their own availability within my calendar. Then, I have a call with them- a little longer than usual- and then they go to their onsite interview at the office.
So they have an interview with the CTO or Head of Product and then after that, they go home. I get feedback from the hiring manager and then I call the candidate. If they proceed, then they go for a second interview. There could be situations where there are more interviews
Eventually, if they are successful, then I also give them the offer. I cover the whole process until they’re hired.
Did you ever use video in the process?
I did, but it also depended on where I was. Sometimes the connectivity was not good. I was always checking out wifi services and subscriptions.
In Portugal, we used a dongle, which was quite cheap because you couldn’t use video on your phone data. But then in Spain, the connectivity was not so good, so I was not video calling at that point. So it really depended on the location- I wasn’t using it a lot in the end.
Did you ever feel like you were constricted?
It’s definitely more difficult, but on the other hand, you really qualify the candidate on what they answer rather than what they do. And if they were good, they would go onsite anyways to meet the teams and of course, I trust my hiring managers and the other interviewers.
So for me, the important thing was more the voice than the visual. What I found was that when I was video calling, I was really dressing up and it’s like… come on, I’m living in a camper van right now. So I didn’t really want to dress up.
It definitely eliminated the visual bias, you could say that. I would sometimes Whatsapp candidates and, well, the profile picture can really tell you a lot.
That’s kind of a divisive topic, how can you engage appropriately with candidates over Whatsapp (text)?
Good question. I think if you’ve talked to someone for 45 minutes to an hour, you should know what kind of professional relationship you’re going to have. So judging on that conversation I would either use Whatsapp or email.
It can be tough, but as a recruiter, you should have the ability to recognize the difference between candidates who will be ok with it and those who won’t. You have to base this decision on your first call.
In the end, it’s important for recruiters to have a relationship with their candidates, so if you have to use, text, email, only phone… whatever, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the commitment.
What are your tools of the trade? Anything that you would consider a must-have for a remote recruiter?
A dongle, a good laptop, a good phone plan, earplugs, and headphones that have noise canceling capabilities. You never know where you’ll end up and your focus needs to be good. Have all these tools so that you can work when you need to work.
In the end, it’s not about finding the right tools. It’s harder to make the decision to be a remote worker, than actually doing it– because it’s super easily done. It’s just the decision that makes it hard. Looking back, that was the hard part.
What does a company need to have in place in order to help facilitate remote workers and remote recruiting?
Trust. That’s the number one thing. You need to give your remote workers the tools- the same ones I mentioned before.
It’s important to set up KPIs. No one likes them but you need some guidelines to keep track of the work done. It’s important also then to stay in touch with each other. Communication is a huge part of it.
It’s not really a hard topic as long as you have trust, you make an agreement. They should already know how you work and if you have the right skill set. So if you have people who ask to work remotely then, as a manager, I would make sure to prep the employee to be a good remote worker. This means they have to have self-discipline, the motivation to do it well.
This is something big companies can really offer. They set up courses all the time for their employees, maybe this should be one of them: a track for remote workers. They do a course, and then they’re good to go.
Do you think remote work can be a tool for retaining people?
Definitely. I mean they don’t have to be remote forever, it could be only 3 months. Most of the times people are not unhappy with the job, but they’re unhappy with the routine. Working remotely can help break this.
It’s funny because I know a lot of recruiters, but I don’t know very many who take the chance to do it remotely. I don’t know why.
We want to extend a big thank you to Jitske for joining us at Recruitee to share her story. If you are interested in more details on her remote adventure, you can check it out here.
Both recruiting for remote roles and becoming a remote recruiter are bound to become a bigger trend as companies open up to finding talent outside of their HQ and employees seek broader experiences outside of the office. Look out for remote recruiting as a growing trend in 2019!