Hiring someone you’ve never met might feel strange.
You can learn about our experience with freelancers, so that you are able to see where they might be helpful for your company.
Anybody that has done any hiring knows that the process isn’t easy. You have to figure out the best place to post your job opening, go through resumes, find the right people to interview, get through the interviews, choose somebody, and then get them trained and settled in.
Here is a run-down of some of the things I’ve learned over the last 15 years of hiring, a crazy story, and how we decided to try something new.
We mostly hire entry-level customer service people, so if you are hiring managers and engineers, my experience might not apply, but I bet there are a lot of similarities. I’m talking about hiring usually young people just out of highschool or in university, and most of them don’t have a lot of work experience.
Typical Hiring Problems
Job applicants don’t read the job advertisement
I remember posting an ad on Kijiji back in 2005. This was in Winnipeg and people were using Kijiji a lot and it was free, so I gave it a shot.
I put in an ad for a customer service rep asking for the standard cover letter explaining how they think they might be a good fit and a resume of their experience, etc.
At first I was getting tons of phone calls applying for the job. This takes up a lot of time, so I updated the ad and took out our phone number. People I guess would then just go to our website to find our phone number and so I kept getting tons of calls. I updated the ad again and wrote something like “No Calls Please! To apply, send your resume by email…”. People still kept calling!
At the end of my patience, I came up with an idea to stop the incoming calls. I went back in to edit the ad and I put in a different telephone number. It was the phone number for the Manitoba Adult Learning and Literacy office.
What we started to do was to put a simple instruction at the end of the job ad. You can weed out the people that don’t follow the instruction because you know they didn’t actually read the ad before applying.
A surprising number of people don’t spell-check or have somebody check their resume for them
One guy spelled his own name wrong on his cover letter. A lot of people would emphasize ‘attention to detail’ while make a spelling or grammar mistake in the same sentence.
It really surprised me how many people would send in a cover letter and resume and it would be filled with spelling mistakes. I know that most word processing programs will put the little red squiggly line under mistakes. For any job applicants reading this article: have somebody read over your resume for you just once!
Again, seeing those glaring mistakes turns out to be a very easy way to weed out a lot of applicants.
They don’t prepare for the interview
One of my favorite questions is, ‘Did you get a chance to look over our website?’. I am sure that half of the people have answered no to that question. People apply for a job at a web design company, and they don’t even look at our website before the interview!
I had an interview with a guy that applied for a sales position in our Montreal office. Near the end of the interview, he asked me what the job was. I didn’t understand what he meant.
It turned out that his wife had applied for him and sent him to the interview and he hadn’t even looked at what the job was.
Half of the people you book for an interview won’t show up, no call, no email
This was early on, but I kept track and I found that almost half of the people I would book for a interview would confirm, seem interested and enthusiastic, then they just didn’t show up for the scheduled time.
Only rarely would the no-shows even call or email to make up some excuse.
The way I dealt with this was to start doing a pre-interview on the telephone with applicants that seemed like a good fit. A 15-20 minute telephone call is really illuminating.
These days, we will usually only interview one or two applicants in person just as a last confirmation that they are going to be a good fit, and we usually hire them all.
There are fantastic liars in the world
Back in 2001 when we had barely moved into our first office, we had a young guy come in the office to apply for a job. He had a little briefcase and was wearing a suit that didn’t seem to fit very well.
He went into a story about how he was looking for a job because he was the CEO of his own company, but things were going so well that he had no work day-to-day and he wanted something to do. He wanted to work at sales on the telephone. He made a strange offer like he would work for free and increase sales by 100%. If he succeed he would take 20% of the increase in profit, otherwise we don’t pay him anything.
We had never met anybody like this before, and we were still barely a year old company, and at first we thought it can’t hurt if this guy wants to work for free. But that wasn’t the end of it.
He went on and on about his life story and credentials. He was a Certified Image Consultant and he had a little laminated card with his picture on it to prove it. This meant that he was trained on helping people to improve their professional image and style.
He was the youngest high school graduate in the history of California at the age of 13 and had written a book about it. He then appeared on the Conan O’Brien show and David Letterman show to promote the book.
He was called a pint sized Donald Trump (I know, it was 15 years ago), and that he was billed as being able to “sell ice to an Eskimo”. His cousin was the television star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
He was a black belt in some sort of martial art, I forget which one. He had used his martial art skills when he was in Los Angeles to “aid the FBI in the apprehension of one of America’s Most Wanted”. A guy by the name of Jesse James Hollywood (that was a real wanted criminal, I looked it up).
He and his wife both had MBAs from Harvard, and his wife owned a golf resort and an airline and he would get her to fly us all there.
When somebody tells you a story like that you know it isn’t true, but it is so fantastical that you can’t help but keep listening and you kind of want it to be true. If you can believe it we actually let him get on the phone and start making sales calls.
I forget how long he called for, but he actually came back and worked the next day also. He sounded pretty confident on the phone and we didn’t have to pay him, so we let him keep going. The next day he called and told me that he wouldn’t be coming in, he said that he hadn’t wanted to say anything until he knew for sure, but he had just heard back from his doctor that he had “a potentially fatal tumor in his cerebrum”. He called again a few days later saying that he had nothing to do and wanted to come in to make some calls. I let him know that the position had been filled.
I looked this guy up years later and found an amazing story in an internet forum of the ex-military, special operations community. It was about 8 years after we had met this guy.
It recounted the story about how this guy had claimed to have an international security company with offices in New York, Dubai, London, and Sydney, etc. He actually put out a press release that he would take on (and take out) one of the most famous Mexican drug cartels at the time.
He posted an ad on this forum looking for 120-150 ex-military available to work for however many months in a Spanish speaking environment. The real ex-military, special operations people on this forum did some digging and eventually exposed the guy as a fake. They found out that the only real security job he had ever done was to provide a few security guards at a country music festival in rural Manitoba – and then he got sued because he didn’t pay the people he hired.
They finally tracked him down to be some unemployed 35 year old guy living in his mother’s basement in Winnipeg.
Hiring Freelancers On Upwork
We first started using the website Upwork a few years ago when they were called eLance.
We mostly hired graphic designers, but we have also found the service great for small one-time research and programming jobs. Pretty much anything you can think of, you can find somebody to do it for you on Upwork.
The system is great because you can filter by location, by skills, by experience and by their reviews on Upwork. It is really surprising sometimes how cheaply you can get a project done.
The people were eager to work, to show us what they could do, they worked fast, almost always did a fantastic job the first time, they needed almost no training, it was cheaper than hiring somebody full time, and we didn’t have to struggle or lay anybody off in slower months.
We ended up finding a group of people that did awesome work, so we would always have somebody on call when we got busy, and could pay them by the job instead of by the hour.
Great for busier times of the year
One thing that has been really consistent in our industry is that people are not in the market for a new website during the summer.
This sometimes causes problems because we won’t have enough work to keep everybody on our team for when we need them in busier seasons. Hiring freelancers turned out to be a great solution.
Filter by location, experience, work history, reviews
We first wanted to filter just for people who knew the software we use for developing our websites, WordPress. Also we filtered just for people in Canada.
Being in Canada, we thought they would have a better feel for building websites for Canadian small businesses, and we could choose people that spoke English as a first language.
You can also look at the work history on Upwork and their rating. The freelancers can rate the company that posted the job also.
Usually saves you a lot of money with hundreds of people bidding for your work
The latest project I had that I realized Upwork would be a perfect fit for was a database and research project for our new small business website directory. I was able to find programmers and researchers on Upwork that finished the project for 10% of the amount I was expecting to pay.
Not 10% less, 90% less!
Safe and predictable payment system
The payment system is really smart. You can pay by the hour, or by the job. I always pay by the job because you obviously can’t track somebody working on the other side of the world. They will have the incentive to give a realistic price and if they have problems they can make up the time on their side instead of you having to pay for it.
You can break projects into ‘deliverables’. Meaning, you can break the project into 10 parts and release the payment for each part after it is complete and you have checked that everything is done correctly.
Upwork holds the money until both parties are satisfied. If you aren’t happy with the work, Upwork will refund your money.
Things to be careful about on Upwork
The first thing to realize is that Upwork is filled with freelancers from all around the world. A lot of people do not speak English as a first language so you want to make sure people understand the project.
Most people on Upwork will be happy to do a little bit of test work to make sure they understand and are capable of doing what you need. This also means that you have to be very clear about your project.
When you are hiring a freelancer, they won’t know anything about you or your company. I find this turns out to be a really good thing. It makes you really think about your project and outline all of the details that you might think are obvious. They usually won’t be obvious to the freelancer.
One thing I like to do is to make sure that each stage of the project leaves me with something useable and useful instead of breaking up a projects into parts that aren’t useful until everything is complete.
Check out Upwork https://www.upwork.com