The Way We Work
July 14, 2010 by Erica Benton

Finding a remote worker online is fairly easy these days. Finding a great remote contractor online can be a whole different challenge. The interview process becomes extremely important in pinpointing that remote worker who is a perfect fit for you and your business. So, as you screen freelancers for your next project, be especially sensitive to the following warning signs that you’re looking at the wrong person for the job.

Red Flag #1: Poor communication skills. Mastery of a certain language may or may not be relevant to the work you need performed, however, being able to communicate clearly with your remote worker is vital. Pay attention to the emails you exchange with each candidate. Are the candidates understanding your questions? Are you understanding theirs? Watch for signs of sloppiness, such as texting lingo or spelling errors. Whenever possible, speak to your top applicant by phone or Skype before making your final decision. Communication is crucial for successful remote work, so make sure that you and your candidate have laid the groundwork for a good relationship early on.

Red Flag #2: Work experience that can’t be verified or a lack of credible references. Just because you are not hiring an in-house, full-time employee for your company, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework. Be smart. Ask for references (and check them!). Look closely to see if the candidate’s resume reflects the skills you are looking for. If the applicant’s previous work can be examined online, be sure to take some time to review it. Taking the candidate’s word for what she can do is a risk most of us can’t afford to take.

red flags 1Red Flag #3: Delayed responses to calls and emails. People are usually on their best behavior when trying to land a job, so what you observe in the interview phase of the relationship with your freelancer is probably as good as it gets. If a candidate seems difficult to reach, it’s probably because she is.  Don’t ignore that nagging voice in your head telling you this may be a taste of what’s to come, because the voice is probably right.

Red Flag #4: Lack of respect for the contracts already in place. Pay close attention to how your candidate speaks or writes of current (and past) employers. If your applicant is ready to bail abruptly on a previous contract commitment in order to work with you, consider yourself playing with fire. Look for candidates who are tactful when discussing previous employers and who display loyalty, integrity and a overall desire to do the right thing.

red flags 2Red Flag #5: Disinterest in your company or organization. A candidate who doesn’t ask questions or seek dialogue with you about your business and goals may not be interested in either one — and that’s a bad sign. A good freelancer understands the importance of understanding you, your business and your expectations of their work. Remember, it’s not just about what the applicant can do, it’s about what the applicant can do for you.

The interview process is vital when hiring remote workers, and skipping it can lead to disaster. In the comments below, tell us about your experiences – the red flags, the fireworks and the successes – from your experiences interviewing remote contractors.

Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more

  • Art Hausmann

    Hi Erica–I found your comments helpful and to the point. I have never hired anyone before (remotely, that is) and I am kind of wary about what website information I can give them (i..e, enough to start the seo job, but not enough to sabotage or try and mess up my site, for example). Maybe I am just being paranoid, but you hear stories…..can you give me any suggestions how I can be honest and fair with whomever I hire but not naive and vulnerable??

  • Astrid

    Thanks for such great article- I really liked it! It is my first time hiring IT prospects, let alone virtually and it can be very difficult. I had asked some of the questions already but no way nearly with as much detail as you talk about here, which is a wise idea.

    Like someone said “lack of listening skills” is a big flag as I feel there is no point in moving forward if you can care less about what I have to say about my company or what I am looking for.

    Thanks I now have a better idea about interview questions and what not to ignore.

  • apply2jobs4you

    “Watch for signs of sloppiness, such as texting lingo or spelling errors” I found that this is not a great predictor of failure. In fact, it may be an indicator of the device used and the environment used it. I’ve hired people going 60 mph on the interstate at night, using my Galaxy Tablet! That being said, LISTENING SKILLS are what I see are most critical. If the candidate doesn’t seem to listen, or if they are they fail to understand your questions….based on their answers, stop right there. Also look out for people whose answers seem canned and off point. Like they are cut and pasting them

  • Outsourcing

    Excellent!! This blog is amazing and helpful to improve the remote working culture. The advancement of technology and modes of communication in the 21st century has given rise to the

  • Outsourcing

    Excellent!! This blog is amazing and helpful to improve the remote working culture. The advancement of technology and modes of communication in the 21st century has given rise to the

  • satelliet tv pc

    So true!!
    I have had some problems hiring too..
    great post!

  • Erica

    Viewing source code is a great way to check out technical applicants – though they may find that they are restricted from sharing source code on their previous work assignments. (I’ve heard from a number of our contractors that this is the case.)

    We’ve got a few more tips on hiring technical workers in another blog post coming soon!


  • Chris M

    Hi Erica,

    That’s a great article. There’s one more thing I’d add to the list particularly if you’re hiring technical people; and that’s to provide source code of something they have worked on in the past. Many candidates will not do this, or submit something plagiarised- it is a very quick way of separating the gold from the mud.

    Great article, well done!

  • Julie

    How true the suggestions are in 5 Red Flags.
    I wish we had read something like this before we jumped into hiring.
    We now have ound a treasure, but it took a while to do.
    We did exactly as Erica suggested and hired for a small job to test skills and Yippee this next time!

    • Erica

      Glad to hear you found a treasure! Good luck with your next remote contractor hiring – let me know how it goes!

  • sewa elf

    Thanks for the advice. Very usefull to improve My Human Resources

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  • Avdi Grimm

    These are all excellent advice.

    I would add that the best way to gauge a potential employee – bar none – is to work with them on something. This is as true of remote workers as it is of collocated ones. Many of the companies that I’ve worked with recently have begun to make one or more pair-programming sessions with a potential new developer a central part of the interview process.

    • Erica

      Avdi, definitely agree that starting a relationship by doing a small, paid test assignment can be invaluable. I’ve seen many employers bring the wrong folks into those test jobs, though. People who should have set off alarm bells, or at least rasied enough of a red flag to get dismissed from the process early on, can really sour the overall experience. In both co-located and distributed teams, the first step is to recognize which candidates are the right ones to “test drive”. From there, you can rely on that brief experience to inform your final hiring decision.

  • custom flags

    This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I

  • 55dallas


    I am fairly new contrator in oDesk. I appreciate your candid approach.


    Thanks Erica

    • Erica

      Thanks for the compliment, 55dallas!

  • Roopak

    Erica thanks for the wonderful compilation and I agree to most of it. Its will be great help to anyone looking into the freelancing world over web.

    Question: You mention that references are good way. Can you suggest a good approach for freelancers who are starting fresh. How should they make themselves visible as they will not have references though that particular site?

    It always amazes me !!


    • Erica

      Roopak, thank you for the compliments! When just starting out, it can be hard to prove your worth. If you don’t yet have a reputation built up, make sure you post work from other jobs in your portfolio to show proof that you have the skills you claim to have. Additionally, it may be helpful to offer in your cover letter to connect potential employers with past employers/coworkers who can verify your work skills and confirm your abilities. You can also offer to do a limited project for the employer at a discounted rate – once you’ve completed that assignment successfully, you can begin working for them at your full rate and with their full confidence that you can get the job done.