Hire Right – The Key to Online Hiring

Brian Goler, Vice President of Marketing at oDesk, shares his tips to efficiently and accurately hire online.

When looking to make the right hire online, combining the inevitable short timeframe with my own high standards can make finding the right fit doubly challenging. So what’s the best way to hire top-notch online talent on a tight time budget?

I’ll share the approach that I’ve been refining over the past few years. It’s led me to the right hire almost every time. I follow three key steps:

1. Write the killer job description. This post on the oDesk blog will show you an approach that should attract a lot of interest, but I have one important twist: tell prospective candidates at least one specific request for detail to include in their cover letters. The idea isn’t to discourage applications, but rather to make sure that you collect information that will enable you to quickly eliminate unsuitable candidates and identify promising ones without needing to review their full online profile. This should be a lay-up for the right candidate. I’ve used this strategy to reduce candidate queues with 50+ candidates down to 10 “qualified” candidates in less than an hour.

If you’re hiring an engineer, for example, you might ask candidates to describe an application that best illustrates their capabilities to do the type of work you require along with a short description of why that’s the case. If you’re hiring a customer service agent, you might ask them to give you their favorite tip for keeping customers happy. If you’re hiring someone to help you with social media marketing, ask for a link to their blog or Twitter account.

By looking for that request fulfilled in your candidates’ applications, it will be easy for you to evaluate who is a likely fit, and who is merely sending “copy & paste” cover letters.

2. Interview by email first. I prefer email over other approaches of first-round interviewing (phone or chat). Email has four advantages:

  1. You get a chance to collect more information with minimal time investment, since you’ll be sending a nearly identical list of questions to each candidate.
  2. If a candidate’s English-language skills slow down real-time communication, you’ll save even more time.
  3. It’s asynchronous, so you don’t need to schedule a mutually convenient time to talk with the candidate.
  4. All candidates have an equal opportunity to shine. I hate to admit it, but I’m less consistent with real-time interviews. Sometimes timezone issues require that I do an interview at an odd hour when I’m less alert or I might be rushed. Real-time conversations might also take you on tangents that bias your decision.

I’ve found that candidates at this stage are also more motivated to provide you with information because you’ve confirmed that there may be a good fit. I suggest positioning the questions as a prelude to a real-time phone/skype conversation or chat if it looks like the candidate is still a promising fit.

The specific questions you ask depend on the work you want done – and ask more if hiring for a long-term, full-time position than for a smaller engagement. Strategies for specific interview questions are probably better suited for another post, but here’s a rough list of things I’ve asked freelance software developers at this stage for a long-term, full-time engagement:

  • What experience do you already have building this type of technology? Please include a description of past projects that best illustrate your capabilities in this area.
  • What is your development methodology? How do you ensure quality? Extensibility? Maintainability?
  • How do you like to interact with your clients? How often do you do builds that we can see and test?
  • What questions do you have about the engagement? What other info would you need from me in order to start work?
  • (If the engagement has a set deliverable or clear initial milestone) How long do you think it would take to develop [the technology or achieve a certain milestone]?
  • What factors will determine the actual amount of time? Where is there risk? Where do you need more info?
  • What’s your availability to work on this? Number of people and hours per person? (If a provider company) which of your team members will be doing the work?
  • What is it about your work that most differentiates you from other providers?
  • Assuming that the initial “version 1″ project is successful, what would you charge me for follow-on work? How will costs change as we scale? [I’m trying to pre-negotiate good rates if the team grows with this question]
  • We’re looking for a long-term partner, would you be willing to commit to a long-term relationship with an extended notice period should we decide to end the relationship at some point down the road?
  • What questions do you have for me? [reciprocity is a key part of the process and long-term relationships need to work for both parties, so encouraging the candidate to ask questions is important]

I’ve used this strategy to reduce candidate lists from ~10 people down to 3 to 5 finalist candidates.

3. Test drive. By hiring your most promising candidates for short “test drive” projects, you get a chance to see the candidates in action and both you and the candidates get an opportunity to see if your working styles are compatible. oDesk makes it very easy to hire people and set a maximum number of hours they can bill. I recommend assigning the exact same project to your top candidates so you can make an apples-to-apples comparison. Also, I put the assignment in writing and send the same copy to all candidates, so that there is less risk of my guiding one candidate to a greater extent than I guide the others. Plus, it saves time to re-use the same project.

If all works according to plan, you’ll know exactly who your superstar is by the end of the test drive without having to waste any time. Plus, by following all the steps in the process above you will have laid the foundation for a great long-term work relationship with your new hire.

What tips do you have for hiring development teams online?

 

* Special Promo: Already have an oDesk account? Log in to your account, select Manage & Work > Team Room, then choose Subversion (SVN) from the Team Tools for a special offer from Codesion.

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