Often being called on to assemble and manage teams of designers or coders in particular through projects, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks in 12+ years of off-shoring which I wanted to share. They may be obvious to some. With experience, I’ve found that most off shore contractors are hard working and keen to grow but can sometimes be challenging or even impossible to work with.

  • Can a job applicant read?

Usually, the job description will contain the old test, “please include the word ‘blah’ at the top of your reply to prove you’ve read this description”. This makes sure that the applicant has read the description rather than just posted a cut and paste canned application to multiple jobs. Sometimes, applicants respond to questions that they prepare rather than actually reading and understanding your questions. I was hiring someone to work on some Google AdWords campaigns. I asked, “can you let me have some stats/supporting evidence/case study on any recent previous job – click through rates, impressions, conversions and metrics.” What I’m asking is, what did you do, and what were the results? The applicant on the other hand, seemed to answer the question, “can you tell me anything y0u can think of about some of your past work?” As an applicant, if you can’t read my requirements and queries accurately, how can I work with you?

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  • Can you really understand my job description? Can you follow instructions? Can we communicate?

I’ll often include abstract ideas, ask for the applicant’s opinion, and include requests for detail and further information. Here’s an example – “a large part of this design job is working directly with clients – can you please provide some examples of both your graphic design work and your client presentations? Please include just a brief note on why you’ve laid your presentations out in that way, how it was received by the client, and how you could have improved it if you were delivering it for a second time”

Those that send in standard applications, possibly containing graphic design samples but making no reference to client presentations will usually be rejected at this stage. It shows that they haven’t been able to read and respond to a clear and basic request for information. I’m not really even that interested in the answer per se – I just need to know they’ve thought about it, and have been able to provide a coherent answer.

Whilst I am usually quite unforgiving at this stage of the process, I also understand that a job applicant can not be expected to reasonably dedicate too much time to each job application. In a competitive and saturated market, some contractors routinely apply for 10+ roles per day.

By the end of this stage, I’ve often lost 80-90% of candidates – that’s before we’ve even really talked about the work itself.

  • Is the applicant capable of actually doing the job?

I need to know that the applicant is actually able to do the work required. I need to get beyond exaggerated abilities, claims of expertise and promises, and on to on to what the applicant can actually do. This may involve a simple short timed coding test, even a paid trial.

  • How will we work together? Will the candidate need to be micro managed?

This is partly fed by the previous step and any test or paid trial. Once the applicant has shown that he’s able to do what he’s trying to get hired for, I need to know that we’ll practically be able to work together, and if so, how. Do you have enough common sense and business knowledge to take initiative? Do you need constant micro managing? A middle manager to keep prodding you in the right direction? I’m not necessarily unwilling to hire you if you do, you might be the best person for the job – I just need to know before we start how to get the best out of you.

You may be a great contractor, but if working with you is going to be too much hassle – it probably won’t work out.

  • Do you really want the job? Will you actually do the job, on time and to specification?

By this stage, I know that I can communicate clearly with the applicant. I know that he is, at least in theory, capable of completing the job. I now need to make a judgement call on whether the applicant WILL actually complete the job satisfactorily. What’s his availability? What other commitments does he have? If he says he’ll be online and working at a certain time, is he, or are there excuses? Does he need the job, or is this just a short term gap filler? Often, you just don’t know until you get started, but with experience you start to get a good gut feel for if the contractor is going to pull off the project pretty early on.

As a hiring manager – use your instincts. I’ve made the mistake several times of trusting a contractor when it went against my instinct. Contractors sometimes want to develop something in a particularly bizarre sounding way, or use strange libraries or tools. On at least 3 occasions that immediately come to mind, I’ve gone ahead and let them do it, knowing it’s been the wrong thing to do. The results have been disastrous and have later needed a rework.

Lastly, we look at practical business protection for both sides. What guarantee does the contractor have that he’s going to be paid? Should escrow or a deposit be used? What guarantee do I have that the contractor will finish the job? Where am I left if he disappears mid-way through an ongoing project having already been paid?