All Things oDesk
March 20, 2008 by Jacqui Pittenger

Buyers hiring their first remote providers might feel as though they're going in blind. You find someone with a good rating, a profile listing the skills you need, and perhaps some encouraging scores on oDesk's performance tests. But even after a chat or two, you're still hiring someone half a planet away and entrusting him or her with tasks essential to your business. It's an unnerving risk, a roll of the dice. But there's no reason not to stack the odds in your favor.

When you buy a car, you test drive several before settling on the one for you. You don't buy a house until you've had a good walkthrough - perhaps several. You don't hire a new staff member without reading her resume, chatting on the phone, holding an in-person interview or two, and checking references. And you probably do it for several people before you settle on the right hire. It's the same process with remote workers - only the strategies change. Instead of face-face communication, you use Web conferencing and Skype. Instead of seeing the person at work in the next office, you have the Work Diary. And instead of a three-step interview process that includes a technical test, you hire a few providers for a literal test drive. Contact a handful of likely candidates and give each a small trial before putting a long and vital project in anyone's hands.

If you need a PHP programmer for a project that will take more than 1000 hours, you can't afford to find out at hour 48 that you've hired the wrong person. Instead, contact three likely candidates and tell them you're in the process of settling on the right provider. Hire each to do a simple project, something with a time limit of a few hours. It can be discrete pieces of your greater project or just a sample task. Ask for a Web page that will take input of name and gender and output "Hello, Mr. Smith." Throw in a time-of-day element to get "Good evening, Ms. Jones."

Make the test investment commensurate with the project's scope. For a smaller project, use a simpler test. Hire your candidates to assess your site and suggest specific improvements. Give them, say, an hour or two to report how they'd make your site more useful to your customers, or more attractive, specifying how they'd carry out the effort, with cost/hour estimates. Their ability to grasp your objectives, communicate viable solutions, and demonstrate their level of detail and creativity may be as telling as their ability to provide clean, effective code.

Know what you're looking for when you judge their introductory efforts:

  • Is their work product clean, attractive, effective?
  • Does it match your instructions?
  • Was it timely? How did they compare with the estimates they gave or limitations you set?
  • How was their communication during the project?
  • Did they use the work diary well? How does their Work Diary look?

The process of hiring a remote provider requires you to refine the strategies you use to recruit an in-house employee, but there's no reason to be any less careful and selective.