Online Work Tips & Best Practices
January 23, 2014 by oDesk Ambassador

By Antoine Martiano, Strategy & Business Development Consultant

I’ve been using oDesk for almost two years now—hiring for various types of profiles and skills, from multiple locations around the world—and it’s been filled with a lot of ups and a few downs.

When I was new to oDesk, I didn’t really know how to properly evaluate freelancers. What’s more, it’s always difficult to evaluate a skill you don’t have yourself. As a result, my turnover rate was pretty high.

Some freelancers quietly vanished in the middle of an assignment; others didn’t actually possess the skill set they said they had or were always behind schedule. But at the end of the day, it was all about me—how I described the project in the job post form, how I screened and evaluated profiles, and how I responded to applicants. Long story short, my screening process was broken.

After a lot of trial and error, I fixed my process. I can now say confidently that most of the freelancers I’m hiring are awesome, and I believe they enjoy collaborating with me. After all, hiring the right people and managing them well are skills that only become more important when hiring online.

So how can you have the same result? Check out the steps below for guidance on how to hire an awesome developer on oDesk. Today I’ll go through the first three tips, and stay tuned tomorrow for the next three.

1. Decide whether you need an agency or an independent freelancer

oDesk allows you to choose between hiring an agency, an independent freelancer, or a combination of the two. Agencies are teams or companies of freelancers; you have one point of contact at the agency and he or she delegates the work to freelancers from the agencies. Independent freelancers are just that—independent. You will only work with the person you hired. Both agencies and independent freelancers have their pros and cons, so I can’t really advise you to choose one over the other—it depends on your project and goals.

In general though, agencies tend to be more cautious with their reputation, so they might go the extra mile to make sure you are completely satisfied with their work. They might also have a broader skillset, so if you have a project that requires multiple skills (such as graphic design plus JavaScript, etc.), you can avoid the hassle of hiring multiple specialized freelancers. Personally, I found a lack of a one-to-one connection with agency freelancers. This lack of a personal relationship was a real con for me, so I tend to favor working with independents.

2. Write the world’s most detailed job description

If you are not familiar with technical development, your first job posting might be too vague for a developer. You just can’t be too specific here.

“I need a Windows app that will help my child with their homework”—a job posting like this one really ain’t going to work, and you will attract a lot of freelancers whose skills are totally out of the realm needed to perform the job properly.

So first, decide and describe what needs to be done. Be as specific as possible. If you have constraints, mandatory skills or particular demands—such as a delivery date—don’t forget to mention them.

This might be counterintuitive, but the best developers hate to guess what you want. They love when real specifications are available (and yes, at some point, you will have to write detailed specs, otherwise, they just can’t deliver what you were expecting).

If you are a beginner (at what you want to be developed) and lack a clear idea of what needs to be done, then your first task is finding a freelancer who can help you define your needs. You should not be hiring a developer to develop a concept that is not clear to you.

On the other hand, if what you need is advice on how to best build a page or app, put it in the job posting, stating that the first part of the assignment will be for the freelancer to define the exact specification for you. This way, freelancers will know there is a consultative aspect to the project. Some like that while others don’t, so stating that upfront will go a long way in attracting the appropriate candidates.

Additionally, try to give potential applicants a sense of the workload, how many hours per week you expect them to work (if this is a hourly assignment), how much you’ll pay, etc.

3. Include a secret word

Now that you have spent a fair amount of time on your job posting, you want to make sure the people applying to it have at least read it.

There are a fair number of less-than-strategic freelancers who seem to apply to every single listing; it can become pretty annoying. You’ll spot them easily—they usually start with “Dear Recruiting Manager” or “Dear Mrs. or Mr. Recruiter.” (Side note: I hate that! I can understand how someone on the other side of the globe may not guess my gender based on my first name, but it would be much more effective to at least write my full name to greet me.) Then they will write how great they are, how the list of skills they have is enormous, and they will also add a list of numerous similar projects they have done previously. Unfortunately, most of the time, the competencies are not the ones you are looking for.

Do these two things. Please. Trust me—you will save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

  1. Disqualify applicants who don’t meet your criteria. That includes budget, language proficiency, or whatever other constraints you have added to your posting.

  2. Add a secret word at the bottom of your offer along with the phrase: “Please write this secret word in the subject of your answer and as the very first word of your message—so I can make sure you are not a robot.” Disqualify ALL applicants who don’t follow this simple step.

The idea behind the secret word is two-fold. You want to make sure the answer you are receiving is not a spammy one from agencies that are just “fishing,” and you also want to make sure the freelancer is able to follow some simple instructions.

Want more strategies? Don’t forget to read tips 4 through 6!

Antoine Martiano

Strategy & Business Development Consultant

Antoine Martiano is a Strategy & Business Development Consultant who helps innovative companies reinforce their positioning so they can grow and create more value. Based in Paris, France, Antoine also serves as oDesk's Paris Ambassador, helping other entrepreneurs find success on oDesk.