The Way We Work

So, you need a website, but don’t know where to start. Or, you’re dreaming of an iPhone app for your business, but learning iOS development just isn’t in the cards. There inevitably comes a time when you need to hire someone whose technical skills are so far outside your comfort zone, they may as well be speaking Martian during their interview. Here are a few steps to help you hire tech workers when you don’t know a bit from a byte:

1. Know WHY you need it built. You may not know the skills required to build an e-commerce site, but you should be able to spell out what you’re trying to accomplish with the site, what type of products you will be selling there, how you will be accepting payment, and what the shipping options will be. Spend some time thinking this through before you even write the job description, and ask candidates to detail out how they can address your specific needs, rather than rattling off a list of skills you don’t recognize.

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2. Get yourself an experienced project manager. Don’t think you’ve got the right perspective on hiring for this position? Bring in outside help. Instead of hiring for the position itself, tap a recruiter or project manager with experience in leading technical teams on similar projects. You’ll likely pay a little extra for the peace of mind of having a pro manage your hiring process, but it may be worth it to find that stellar player that ties the project together and plays translator between your business case and your technical team.

3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Chances are that you already know someone with the skills to get your project done. While they may not have the time or bandwidth to tackle your project yourselves, consider pulling them into an advisory team — a group of people whose judgment you trust and who have some level of experience in the field you are hiring in. They can help educate you about the skills you should be looking for, ideal portfolio pieces to request and red flags to watch out for. Just remember to compensate them for their time – whether with a bottle of wine or shares of your company, be sure to show your appreciation for their advice!

4. Let candidates show you what they can do. While you may not have the slightest idea which programs your designer should be familiar with, you have a pretty good idea what you want the end result to look like. Take the time to review their portfolio closely to see if they have existing work that shows similar outcomes. You should also make sure to get (and check!) references and clarify their role on the teams they’ve worked on in the past.

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5. Interview, interview, interview. When you’re outside your depth, consider each of your interviews as a lesson in which questions you should be asking on your next interview. Every contractor you interview will educate you a little more about what they need to know in order to do the job, and thus what details you should be asking for. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to re-interview your early candidates. While you may find someone you think fits the bill at interview #2, you won’t know for sure until you reach interview #7.

6. Take a test drive. You can’t always tell if someone will be a good fit for your needs before you hire them. If you have a few candidates who may fit the bill (and they all pass your stringent review of their portfolios, their references give them high praise and they  “wow” you in interviews) consider hiring them all for one week. Set very clear guidelines as to how many hours they can work, how you will be reviewing their progress and when you will be in touch with them to discuss. (Not sure hourly is the right way to go? Check out Fixed-Price Finesse: The Test Run)

Overall, be sure to use your common sense. When hiring for technical work beyond your own skills, you should have a clear idea of what you want to walk away with. While you may spend a bit more time, energy and even a little money hiring someone outside your skillset, the effort you put into hiring them makes reaping a successful result that much sweeter.


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