The Way We Work
October 6, 2010 by Erica Benton

When hiring a remote contractor, making the wrong choice can be costly in terms of time, training and money. Here are the key things to look for when reviewing candidates to set yourself up for hiring success.

Feedback: The first thing you’ll do is check the contractor’s feedback and work history, but don’t just count the number of stars. Look at what your candidate’s impressive score really means to you:

  • How many people contributed to that rating? Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, but the length of their track record gives you a sense of how many other employers felt they were worthy of hiring.
  • Were they short-term assignments or ongoing engagements? A ten-hour job is one thing, but longer-term positions reveal the ability to handle complex jobs, manage relationships and deliver consistently, so weigh the feedback on a 200-hour project more heavily than you do the response from a five-hour project.
  • Are they getting repeat business? Seeing the same job title with “will hire again” comments is a sign that the same employer keeps coming back for more. Repeat business is a stronger recommendation than the highest written praise.
  • What about ongoing projects? If the contractor has a lot of continuing jobs, check whether she’ll have time to meet your deadlines.  The good news is, a contractor still engaged after logging 400 hours has proven herself indispensable, and is someone you want to consider for your team.
  • What kind of jobs are listed? Your prospective Java developer lists a full alphabet soup of skills: ActiveX, CSS, J2EE, PHP, the works. If most of his assignments have been in PHP and CSS, even dazzling feedback might not qualify him for your six-month J2EE position. If the role you’re trying to fill requires specialized skills, make sure the contractor you hire has standout expertise in that skill.

Portfolio: Feedback lets you see whether a contractor’s work made the previous employers happy. The portfolio lets you see whether their work will align with your needs to make you happy in the long run.

  • Is it good enough? Do you like your prospective writer’s “voice”? Do you find that web designer’s last site attractive and easily navigable?
  • Is it big enough? Does the portfolio contain work of the scope you’re hiring for?
  • Does it relate? Are the skills and abilities showcased the key ones you need for this position? Is there an opportunity for them to apply knowledge from previous assignments to your role?

Skills: Scores on skill tests will expose work style as well as competency.iStock_000010333402XSmall

  • Can he back up his skills? Does the candidate list 100 skills on has taken only 2 tests? Chances are, you need someone who can do all he claims. If he has taken tests in some subjects, but not those that pertain to your job, don’t hesitate to ask him to complete tests that apply directly to the skills needed for your position. It should take the contractor only a few minutes and it is both a sign of interest in the job as well as a yardstick for you to compare all candidates equally.
  • Does she have enough tests? Don’t just look at the test scores; make sure the candidate has a good range of tests too. If you are hiring a blogger, look for results from an English test, an AP/Chicago Style guide test and perhaps an Internet/blog writing test.

Hourly rate: More than just price – when looking at the candidates’ hourly rate, consider how much value you are getting. Employers often find that the lowest price doesn’t net them the best work.

  • Is the rate sensible? While remote work removes many of the typical barriers to international hiring, it means employers need to take into account the global market – what are similar contractors asking rates? Does the contractor’s skills and experience support their rate?
  • Does their rate increase over time? As a contractor builds their reputation, they will likely seek periodic rate increases. A contractor that is able to raise their rate is a someone who has proven their value to employers and has earned the confidence to demand a higher rate. Contractors with this indicator are likely a good bet for quality work.

An online profile puts a lot of data at your fingertips, but to extract some of the best information, dig a bit below the surface. It’s worth the effort if it leads you to a contractor good enough not only for your current position, but also for your future needs in their area of expertise.

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