Freelancer Evaluation

After deciding to hire a freelance developer, the next question you would have - how to choose the right developer for you? Let's lay it down together.

Companies are increasingly turning to freelancers for the ability to get them onboard quickly and also to hire for skills that are highly aligned to their job requirements. However, even the number of freelancers is growing each year. This makes the task of choosing the right developer for your requirements extremely time and effort-intensive.

This makes it paramount to have a streamlined evaluation process as it helps in:

  1. Finding the best developers for the role
  2. Minimising the amount of time spent on evaluating candidates
  3. Decreasing drop-offs during the process

To comprehensively evaluate and choose freelance developers, a robust process needs to be designed. Let’s delve into why this is critical and then how to design such a process.

Need for a holistic evaluation

Firstly, we need to recognise the reason for hiring a freelance developer. Typically and ideally, you are looking for someone who is an expert in their field. They should be able to ramp up quickly, effectively understand what your team is trying to achieve, and then slot in seamlessly. Further, they should be able to communicate well, be proactive enough to foresee problems, and take independent decisions while working remotely.

Hence, you need to evaluate their ability to excel in all of these parameters, rather than just their technical ability. This makes the case for a ‘holistic’ view in the evaluation of freelance developers.

What to look for to choose the right freelance developer

As discussed in the previous sections, there are some common strengths that all high-quality freelancers require. Let’s look at those qualities in a bit more of detail:

1. Technical Proficiency

New permanent employees generally have an induction period. During this period, they are trained and given exposure to the organization. In contrast, freelancers have limited onboarding time, with quick ramp-up. Moreover, there tends to be more scrutiny on their productivity from the very beginning as compared to full-time employees.

This requires freelancers to be technically strong in their domain for them to hit the ground running. Here it is key to identify the particular skill sets required for your project. For many projects, it might make sense to give precedence to those skills rather than generic coding aptitude and learning ability.

2. Communication Skills

Being able to communicate effectively is very important in every professional relationship. However, since freelancers are typically located remotely and don’t work out of your office, communication skills become super critical.

Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings and could also potentially hinder the formation of trust. This happens, especially, at the beginning of an engagement, where both parties are still adapting to each others’ working styles.

A good freelance developer, therefore, should err on the side of over-communicating at all times – both, written and verbal. This involves being responsive over the agreed communication channels, expressing articulately and with clarity.

Some of the red flags to look out for are:

  • poorly written emails
  • a need to follow-up multiple times
  • lack of clarity in their messaging
  • failure to acknowledge deadlines during the hiring process

3. Ability to Work Independently

As discussed, freelancing is largely a remote exercise, with opportunities for F2F interactions being sparse. Therefore, freelancers must have the ability to independently make decisions that are aligned to the success of the project.

Further, remote work involves a lot of diversions and challenges. Being able to overcome these obstacles and to consistently deliver quality is critical. This requires staying focused & proactive, maintaining good documentation, managing time effectively, and comfort with tools that aid remote working.

It might be difficult to gauge a freelance developer’s proficiency in the above-mentioned skills. So, using their prior record of working under similar conditions for other remote teams can be a great indicator.

4. Punctuality & Reliability

It is imperative that the freelancer is punctual. This holds not only for delivering the required code on time, but also for team meetings, stand-ups, etc. If they aren’t punctual, they would be hampering the productivity of the entire team. In a place where opportunities for interactions are already limited, this is even more pronounced.

In addition, they must be reliable and deliver on their promises. Again, since it is hard to objectively gauge a developer’s punctuality or reliability, insights from their past client references would help a lot.

This could also be assessed based on the interactions during the evaluation process. This includes responsiveness on replies, reliability in delivery of even non-work related items, etc. Before starting the engagement, it bodes well to have a short-term trial project (even paid). This would be beneficial to both parties, to assess fit.

How do we evaluate developers at Flexiple?

At Flexiple, we have evaluated 16,000+ freelance developers across the world over the last three years. As one can imagine, this wouldn’t have been possible without a streamlined process. We had to iterate multiple times to arrive at our 6-step screening process. This ensures that we have a holistic view on every person while still optimising for time & effort of all parties involved.

To help others who would like to implement a similar evaluation process, we have detailed the same below.

1. Depth in past work

We ask each developer to fill a simple profile form. This form includes a generic description of oneself, the technologies they are proficient in and their CVs. We then review developers based on the years & quality of experience and complexity of products built. The answers given by the developers also help us gauge their written communication skills.

Only the developers who display depth in experience and have worked on end-to-end projects are selected for the next step, which is an introductory call. This helps us to focus and deep dive into the most promising candidates.

2. Good communication and motivation

Over a call, we use the notes made in the previous round to test the depth of the developer’s experience. We ask probing questions about the products they’ve built. We are hence able to test their ability to answer questions comprehensively and in an articulate manner. This helps us understand the confidence they have in their abilities and also the quality of verbal communication.

On the non-technical side, we also achieve a deeper understanding of the candidate’s motivation to freelance, past remote working experience, and the challenges that they’ve solved. These inputs help us assess if they are a good fit for our network.

3. Strong technical abilities

Over one or more F2F interviews, we comprehensively assess the developer’s involvement and their performance in building complex software products. This sets the platform to delve deeper into technology-specific discussions where the developer’s knowledge in specific technologies can be adjudged.

This step requires the involvement of senior tech experts. The insights obtained in this step allow us (and similarly could help you) to match the freelancer with the right projects based on their skill sets.

4. Keen problem solving and coding

A good developer needs to have a mix of good technical experience and also problem-solving ability. To test their technical proficiency, we use skill-specific problems. To adjudge their problem-solving ability, we use a live coding test involving algorithmic problems.

These tests allow us to mimic a real-life, high-pressure situation. Thereby, we can get a proxy of how a freelancer might react and perform in similar circumstances.

5. Splendid reviews in background check

As discussed earlier, client references are a great way to get valuable insights on how a developer performs in real-life situations. We obtain inputs on a variety of qualitative factors such as reliability, punctuality, communication, and responsiveness. This is very helpful as such inputs are otherwise difficult to assess only though a 1-on-1 screening.

6. Consistent exemplary performance

While the evaluation to this point is extremely comprehensive, consistent performance during each engagement needs to be delivered. Our developers are expected to maintain Flexiple standards across all engagements with our customers. Even you should keep regular appraisals to ensure that performance remains exemplary.

This continuous evaluation is carried out by considering a host of factors. For example, the quality of code delivered, documentation practices followed, ability to ramp up, and softer aspects of responsiveness, reliability, etc.

Closing thoughts

The implications of making a bad hire are too pronounced – delays in product development cycles and lost opportunity costs. It might often be tempting to save effort and time by rushing through the evaluation process, especially if you’re dealing with hundreds of applicants. However, it really pays off to do a thorough assessment of candidates.

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