The one skill you should look for when interviewing freelancers

The one skill you should look for when interviewing freelancers

“So what is the secret for hiring good freelancers?”
I currently have 12 freelancers under my payroll from all over the world (2 personal assistants, 6 transcribers, 3 graphic designers, 1 web engineer) and have worked with over 100 freelancers on an ad hoc basis. I mostly hire freelancers via global crowdsourcing sites like oDesk (currently Upwork), Elance or
I am constantly asked “the secret” in hiring good freelancers. Especially since you’re never going to meet them face to face. My answer? Communication skill.
“But what about when hiring artists? Aren’t artistic skills important?”
My answer? Yes & no. You can judge how talented the artist is by looking at her portfolio page. The question is:
Will you be able to get the same quality work when she works for you?
Michael Shurtleff, a casting director for many blockbuster Broadway shows, beautifully illustrates in his book “Audition/Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part” what I mean by communication skill:

Communication is a circle, not a one-way street. You hear people say in life, “But I told him!” as if telling at somebody were sufficient. If he hasn’t received what you’ve told him, there is no communication.

This is what most people tell me when they have a bad experience working with freelancers. They say “but I told the him/her to do this” as if it was the freelancer’s fault when the he/she fails to get the message.
These people think their explanation skills are so good, freelancers should instantly “get it” and they have high communication skills. I find this the opposite. No matter how good you think you are conveying the message, if the receiver doesn’t accurately receive it, it means that you failed. The author continues:

It takes two to communicate: the sender and the receiver. The receiver has to acknowledge the message by sending a reply back to the sender, thus completing the circle before a communication has taken place.

This is exactly what I am looking for when interviewing applicants.
  • Do I feel that I’m being 100% understood?
  • Is the freelancer signaling through facial expression or verbal clarification the she is fully understanding what I am saying?
  • Does she seem to care of what I am saying?
The author beautifully explains this process:

This imposes a constant obligation on the part of the sender to (1) make sure his message is clear and (2) check that the receiver has received it. And an obligation on the part of the receiver to (1) make sure he’s heard the message and is able to duplicate it and (2) let the sender know he’s received the message. Without the process of duplication there is no communication.

Communication is mutual. Communication is also chemistry. Not only the freelancer but you also have to be a skilled communicator catching the signals sent by the freelancer that he/she is fully understood.
Last spring, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Likability Matters More at Work,” stressing how the growing use of videoconferencing and social media at work are making “likability” a more important career skill, and that “this likability” is more important—and harder to pull off—on video than in person.
I totally agree with this but what is the main ingredient for this “likability?” Of course…

Posted by Masafumi Otsuka

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