For the right candidate

I recently went through the process of looking for a new job. I’ve been a remote worker for the last 6 years, and I really like the flexibility of working remotely. Especially given the craziness of being married to a successful opera singer and having two young boys, this flexibility is quite important to me. I put some feelers out and let folks know I was looking, and I was lucky enough to have a bunch of people reach out and express interest in having me on their team. In several of those conversations a similar pattern emerged.

Me: Would it be possible for me to work remotely from Berlin?

Them: We prefer our employees to be in San Francisco/Austin/London/whatever, but for the right candidate we would consider that.

What they didn’t know is that by saying that, they’re essentially saying “no.” Or maybe they did know that and they just don’t like saying no because they think it’s mean - what do I know? But trust me, if you ever hear someone say “for the right candidate,” you should consider that a huge red flag for a couple reasons.

“For the right candidate” sometimes translates to “We don’t want to do this, but we’re kind of desperate. Plus, we don’t want to pay what it might cost to hire someone in our local market.” “For the right candidate” means that company didn’t made a conscious decision that by transitioning to a remote team they’re broadening their potential talent pool, which is beneficial for the company.

If a company hasn’t consciously made that decision and adjusted the company culture and workflows to accommodate it, then whoever they’re hiring is always going to be a sort of second-class employee. They’re going to be the odd person out because the company wasn’t designed around a distributed team. It takes commitment to the idea of working remotely to make it work, and if that commitment isn’t there from the top of the organization on down, it’s just a matter of time before the experiment fails.

But aside from being the odd person out, they’re also frequently going to be held to a higher standard than their peers. Don’t forget, they’re the special “right candidate” that was so good that it justified breaking the company’s rules to hire them. This can lead to a lot of resentment within the existing team, especially if some of them would like to work remotely but aren’t allowed to. It can also create a false hierarchy within a team, with the “right candidate” often being seen as needing to produce twice as much as the collocated employee just to be considered “pulling their weight.”

So next time you see “remote considered for the right candidate,” just know that this really stands for “remote considered for someone willing to go through a lot of unnecessary pain for the privilege of working here,” and make your decision based on that. Maybe the opportunity is so good that it’s worth the pain! Just know what you’re really signing yourself up for.