14 Red Flags When Finding Programmers on Freelance Websites

screening programmers


It’s painful and expensive to waste precious time with a programmer that doesn’t work out.  While you can find some highly qualified and cheap programmers on freelance websites, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.  It helps to screen applicants using a freelancer test assignment, but you also want to weed out some candidates earlier on. 

Unlike the typical hiring process, you often won’t meet a freelance developer in a face to face interview.  With the absence of physical cues, you have to use every other piece of information available when screening.  Here are some warning signs to watch out for when hiring off a freelance website.

Red Flags When Hiring a Freelance Software Developer

  1. Spelling and grammar mistakes or sloppy profile.  A sloppy profile is a good indicator of a sloppy coder.  English as a second language is not a valid excuse.  A skilled programmer will take their time creating a quality profile and really ought to know how to stand out as a freelancer.
  2. Negative or mediocre feedback ratings. This one is just common sense but many people forget to look at a freelancer’s feedback history.  More than one bad rating is usually a sign of trouble.
  3. Negative comments or disputes. Don’t just look at the ratings, read comments as well.  Many employers feel bad giving a negative rating (I’m guilty of this), but their comments may hint at problems.    
  4. High feedback ratings with low # of hours. 8 one hour projects with high feedback ratings does not mean you found a good developer.  You want to see a history of positive feedback over time.  It’s also easy for unscrupulous developers to make up employer profiles (or have their friends rate them).  These “fake employers” can hire the programmer for a couple hours work and give them a great feedback rating.  No money changes hands except for the small transaction fee to the freelance website and they are able to make themselves look more appealing to employers and scam more work. 
  5. Unexplained gaps between jobs. What took this person so long to find work?  If he hasn’t worked in a few years is he going to be up to speed on the latest technologies?
  6. No related work experience.  Just because a programmer applies to your job posting doesn’t mean he has your desired expertise.  They may even be very qualified in other areas.  Sometimes this can work out for longer term work, but unless you want this person to learn new technology on your dime, avoid them if possible.
  7. Made up answers to questions.  Some developers feel like they let you down if they can’t provide answers to all your questions.  However, it’s much more important for people to admit what they don’t know than to pretend they know everything.  You don’t want to hire someone too proud to admit they have a few things to learn….it’s much safer to hire someone honest.
  8. Unrealistically low bids.  Don’t let a super-low price lure you into considering an under-qualified candidate.  There’s probably a very good reason why the programmer is so cheap.  If they cost half as much as another developer but deliver bad code or take twice as long you’re going to regret it.
  9. They ignore instructions.  When you create a job post it’s a good idea to include a secret phrase that the freelancer must include in their bid.  That way you can be sure they pay attention to details.
  10. Long delays (over a day) in response to your email questions. Freelancers should be able to respond to your questions within a day.  A couple hours is better, but it’s fair to wait a day since many freelancers are overseas and work on a different schedule than you.  However, if you have to wait much longer than that you should expect delays when you communicate during a project as well.
  11. Refusal to let you host content on your own servers.  There’s no reason you shouldn’t use your own hosting company or use your own servers.  If a developer insists on hosting your Production code themselves, you could easily end up in a hostage situation down the line. 
  12. Poor communication skills.  This is a no brainer.  Even if someone looks fantastic on paper, if they can’t communicate properly you’ll have a hard time getting a project done.  Don’t assume this can be overcome.
  13. Distracting work environment.  If you interview someone on Skype, why not do a video interview?  Then you can see exactly what their work environment looks like.  If they’ve got kids running in and out of the room or you hear gun shots and police sirens blaring in the background, they might have a hard time staying on task later.
  14. Looking for payment in advance.  There’s too much risk dealing with people you don’t know if you pay in advance for software development.  Most freelance websites will offer escrow services which should reduce concerns by either party.  If a freelancer you don’t know wants you to pay them in advance without escrowing, I’d be pretty worried they were looking to take the money and run.
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