The Way We Work
August 7, 2009 by Brian Goler

There is a ton of good advice available about hiring online workteams, but I find that I’m often pressed for time and cannot do everything that one “could” do. At the same time, I never want to settle when it comes to hiring, especially when I’m looking to build a long-term relationship - which is pretty much always the case. Here are steps 2 & 3 of my advice for hiring better online teams:

2. Interview by email first. I much prefer email to other approaches of first-round interviewing (phone or chat).


Email has four advantages:

1. You get a chance to collect more information with minimal additional time investment since you'll be sending a nearly identical list of questions to each candidate.
2. If a candidate's English-language skills slow down real-time communication, you'll save even more time.
3. It's asynchronous, so you don't need to schedule time to talk with the candidate.
4. All candidates have an equal opportunity to shine. I hate to admit it, but I'm less consistent with real-time interviews. Sometimes timezone issues require that I do an interview at an odd hour when I'm less alert or I might be rushed. Real-time conversations might also take you on tangents that bias your decision.

I've found that candidates at this stage are also more motivated to provide you with information because you've confirmed that there may be a good fit. I suggest positioning the questions as a prelude to a real-time phone/skype conversation or chat if it looks like the candidate is still a promising fit. The specific questions you ask depend on the work you want done and I am more confident asking for more information the larger the work opportunity is - e.g., I'll ask more if I'm hiring for a long-term, full-time position than I would if it's a smaller engagement. Strategies for specific interview questions are probably better suited for another post, but here's a rough list of things I've asked freelance software developers at this stage for a long-term, full-time engagement:

# What experience do you already have building this type of technology? Please include a description of past projects that best illustrate your capabilities in this area.
# What is your development methodology? How do you ensure quality? Extensibility? Maintainability?
# How do you like to interact with your clients? How often do you do builds that we can see and test?
# What questions do you have about the engagement? What other info would you need from me in order to start work?
# (If the engagement has a set deliverable or clear initial milestone) How long do you think it would take to develop [the technology or achieve a certain milestone]?
# What factors will determine the actual amount of time? Where is there risk? Where do you need more info?
# What's your availability to work on this? Number of people and hours per person? (If a provider company) which of your team members will be doing the work?
# What is it about your work that most differentiates you from other providers?
# Assuming that the initial "version 1" project is successful, what would you charge me for follow-on work? How will costs change as we scale? [I'm trying to pre-negotiate good rates if the team grows with this question]
# We're looking for a long-term partner, would you be willing to commit to a long-term relationship with an extended notice period should we decide to end the relationship at some point down the road?
# What questions do you have for me? [reciprocity is a key part of the process and long-term relationships need to work for both parties, so encouraging the candidate to ask questions is important]

I've used this strategy to reduce candidate queues from ~10 people down to 3 to 5 finalist candidates.


3. Test drive. By hiring your most promising candidates for short "test drive" projects, you get a chance to see the candidates in action and both you and the candidates get an opportunity to see if your working styles are compatible. oDesk makes it very easy to hire people and set a maximum number of hours they can bill. I recommend assigning the exact same project to your top candidates so you can make an apples-to-apples comparison. Also, I put the assignment in writing and send the same copy to all candidates, so that there is less risk of my guiding one candidate to a greater extent than I guide the others. Plus, it saves time to re-use the same project.

If you're hiring an analyst, you might send the candidates a data sample and ask them to analyze it and present their findings in a 2-3 PowerPoint slides. You might ask software developer candidates to port a small open-source program from one language to another.

If all works according to plan, you'll know exactly who your superstar is by the end of the test drive without having to waste any time. Plus, by following all the steps in the process above you will have laid the foundation for a great long-term work relationship.

Please leave a comment if you have a question or suggestions for other strategies that work for you!

Brian Goler


Brian Goler served as Vice President of Marketing at oDesk. Brian has more than 15 years of management experience spanning several online community and publishing businesses. Brian co-founded and launched YorZ, an online community dedicated to helping people advance their careers. He held several senior positions at LookSmart including Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Senior Vice President of Product since January 2001 and… read more

  • http://underconstruction Celeste

    Hi Brian, I found your advice to be useful and the email interview will work best for me since it's difficult for me to schedule the interview at a time that would work for both myself and the candidate. The idea of sending out interview questions to multiple questions is the best method of "killing two birds with one stone" or several in this case.

    I do have one question. I've been trying to find information on odesk regarding safeguarding my product(s) integrity and design when outsourcing the work for prototypes etc. Where can I look to read regarding the policy and protection of such kind of jobs request?

    Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for the above advice.



  • Patrick

    The test drives are so important, especially on a development project. Start with a very simple task wich is a part of the develoment project (I usually take "code a login") and you will see how the communication is done and how the work flows.
    Better take 10 test drives with different people then take 2-3 to the next round (next milestone) to find your fit - It'll pay out later in the project.

  • Mdudabir Aziz

    At once site contractors and buyers are being asked to have video calling at skype etc and same time account suspension ours if this happens strange .

  • Miesha S. Nathan

    This is some very good information. I received an email from an oDesk representative what would like to educate me on the use of oDesk. I think I better respond back to him and accept his assistance. A could be very valuable to me in the future....Thanks for sharing.

  • Greg

    Hi, I have a question, can you please direct me to part 1 of this series? I stumbled across part 2 today, and found it very informative. Only because I've had mixed success with hiring off the cuff, and paying for subpar work I've had to go behind and re-do, or pay another to re-do.

  • http://tryingtopostjob,nopostbuttononcefilledin dan shannon

    i must be blind I did this once before, but pray tell, where is the submit this job button?

  • Burlington Photographer

    Beautiful. I have posted 3 new jobs and am going through the process for the first time. This helps a lot.

  • Day trading course Joel Wissing

    Doing the interview by email is much easier. I did mine using the system on ODESK and tracking down all the questions and answers after the hire was tough.

  • Joel B

    Wish i read this before i employed someone! Got Burnt!

  • Rick

    I'm a newbie with ODesk after having terrible experiences with sites such as Rent a Coder. I hope there is a way to test drive your prospects, without investing anything more than time.

    ODesk was recommended by a friend of mine, so we think we can find capable and serious people here.

    Outlet Season
    Online Electronics and Computer Store

  • Kim

    oDesk really does have an innovative overseeing process. Outsourcing solutions really are the way to go!

    Kim Hughes

  • Brad

    Just what I needed, thank you!

    Brad Taylor
    Creator of

  • Bernard

    This post is really useful! That's what I needed - concrete advices and tips and not some vague assumptions. The idea of email interview is great, and the questions are helpful. Thanks!

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