The Way We Work
May 11, 2012 by Jenna Weiner

The shift towards online work is dramatic, pervasive, and only just beginning.

We’re not just saying that because we’re biased — IDC forecasts that the world’s mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion people by 2015 (representing almost 40 percent of the total workforce), while Staffing Industry Analysts projects that contingent workers will comprise half of the Fortune 100 workforce by 2020.

But with this new employment model, when the entire hiring process is conducted virtually, how do you determine who is the best fit for your business? This seemed to be the million-dollar question this week, as several publications gave guidance for online hiring best practices.

In an article for VentureBeat and The Washington Post titled, “How to Hire the Best Talent in the World,” oDesk’s very own CEO Gary Swart discussed how to hire for the future of work. He presented three ways to assess whether an online candidate is the best fit for the job:

  1. Go above and beyond your typical job description to attract the most qualified talent. With online hiring, it’s more important than ever to make the job description as clear and detailed as possible. “The best job descriptions not only outline skills required, exact objectives, and any key context, but also expectations for deliverables,” Gary wrote.
  2. Single out exceptional communicators. Stellar communication skills are tremendously important in online workers; Gary noted that “the best online workers check in frequently, ask smart questions, and skillfully articulate ideas and concerns.”
  3. Test drive your favorite candidates. Because of how quickly you can complete the entire hiring process (within a few days, said Gary), you can afford to assign test projects that give you insight into candidates’ skills. You can even test multiple candidates and hire your favorite, Gary wrote.

In addition to these steps, it’s important not to neglect the actual interview. Though online interviewing is almost identical to its in-person counterpart, there are a few unique things to look for. On the heels of Gary’s piece, GigaOM published a roundup of the best interview questions you can ask when hiring an online worker — referencing a handy slideshow from CIO Insight. Among them were:

  • What did you do when a manager was absent and you had to make a decision? The reasoning here is that online work requires a significant amount of independence, especially if team members are in a different time zone and you aren’t on hand to immediately answer questions.
  • How do you stay in touch with coworkers and supervisors? Because frequent communication is one of the most critical elements of successful online work relationships, this answer can tell you a lot about how well and how often the candidate checks in with others — from providing progress updates to flagging potential problems.
  • How do you prioritize projects? Online workers often have several clients and projects that they are committed to at any given time, so look for people who are organized and can effectively assess the importance of tasks to prioritize accordingly.

As Gary writes in his article, “the world of work is changing for good, and clinging to hiring processes that worked in the past will quickly render your business extinct.” Now that you know what to look for in online work candidates — and how to look for it — the world’s talent pool is at your fingertips.

What skills do you look for when hiring online? Do you have any best practices to share? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below!

Jenna Weiner

Content Marketer

Jenna Weiner is the former content marketing manager at oDesk and was the editor-in-chief of the oDesk blog. With a background in business and technology writing, she specializes in content marketing and strategy, public relations, and branding. Before joining oDesk, Jenna was a writer and editor for Monitor Group’s marketing department (now Monitor Deloitte) and was the Business & Technology Section Editor for Brafton Inc.… read more