How to Hire on oDesk – Eight Tips for Small Business Owners

oDesk has become extremely popular these days for small to medium size businesses. This is because it is fast, easy, and convenient to post a job and find affordable talent to fill the position. The contractor can be anywhere in the world, thanks to all the cloud-based services readily available (Google Docs, for instance). Plus, one of the biggest benefits are the feedback ratings and reviews left by other business owners so that you know the contractor is trustworthy. It’s a great way to hire locally or internationally: I’ve hired people in Oregon and Texas, but I’ve also hired in South Africa, India, Philippines,  Ukraine, and more. The types of positions I’ve hired for include: QA/Usability Engineer, Software Developer, Graphic Design, Data Entry, Blog Writing, and Online Research… just to name a handful.

oDesk is a great way to save money over using traditional staffing agencies.  And, by the way, oDesk has those staffing agencies scared stiff as they try to catch up with the times. Staffing agencies = deer in the headlights. oDesk = the new hotness.

But how do we go about hiring on oDesk? Given my experience with posting many jobs and screening hundreds of oDesk applicants, here are my eight tips on how to hire on oDesk:

  1. Give the job post a good title.  Spend some time thinking about the title.  What will intrigue talented people to click on the title of the job? Don’t just give it a one or two word title, like “Blog Writer”.  Instead, you can say something like “12 original WordPress articles: how college students can save money”. See how this is much more specific, and gives them a teaser to what the job is about? In a way, you are advertising your job post–so think like an advertiser.
  2. Be very descriptive about exactly WHAT you want done.  It must have “x, y, and z”.  List it out in a bulleted list in the Description when you post your job.  And, think about what are the deliverables? Be specific. The better you explain it, the better your experience will be on oDesk.
  3. Create an unlisted YouTube video, and link to it from In the Description field. I’ve used Snagit to create a quick video screen capture of exactly what I need done, then uploaded the video to YouTube as unlisted.
  4. Ask questions in the job post. This will help you screen out applicants.  At the end of the Description, say something like “To apply, please answer the following questions: 1)… 2)… 3)…”.  The questions can be experience related for example.  I’ve asked “What are three examples of your best work?”.  Or, “What experience do you have with [insert name of technology]?” If the applicant does not answer all of your questions, then this is immediate disqualification.  Hide them or “decline” them–either way, don’t hire them.
  5. Feedback, feedback, feedback.  For starters, there is no need to hire anyone on oDesk that has a feedback score of less than 4.  Most of the time, you can find people at 4.5 and above. When you post a job, expand the “Advanced Options” section at the bottom.  Select “At least 4.5”. Doing this will help you screen out the dead weight once the applications start rolling in.  And, make sure they’ve billed enough hours on oDesk so that they have feedback from at least five different recent sources.
  6. Know how to sort and filter your applicants. oDesk allows you to sort your applicants  in seven different ways: Best Match, Newest Applicants, Oldest Applicants, Feedback, oDesk Hours, Rate (low to high), and Rate (high to low).  In my opinion, the most useful sorts are Best Match, Feedback, and oDesk Hours.  Once you’ve sorted your applicants, make use of the Shortlist and Hide features to filter out the applicants that don’t have enough good feedback, don’t meet your qualifications, and/or didn’t answer your questions.
  7. Look for contractors that ask questions. I LOVE it when contractors ask questions about the job (about the “what” from #2).  This shows that they are interested in the position, and that they are not just using a canned template to apply for the job.  Or, if they mention something specific about your post such as, “I watched the video, and I’m interested in x, y, z…”. These are the creme of the crop… especially if they also have great feedback and matching qualifications.
  8. Give the contractor a test drive.  If applicable, hire them for 5 hours (or less) and have them complete a small task.  See how they do with it.  For example, before I hired someone for the 12 WordPress articles, I asked a contractor to write one article.  Then I can evaluate how they did, and go from there.

Watch my video for more:


Jim McKenzie Smith
President, CEO
McKenzie Books, Inc.

View my next post: Hiring Freelance Web Developers – Start with a Detailed Requirements Doc

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