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17 Things to Look for When Hiring Freelancers

Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber
Updated Jan 23, 2023

When hiring a freelancer, don't just focus on their technical skills.

Freelancing and remote work is becoming increasingly popular, both for companies needing specific talents and for people looking for flexibility and a broader range of potential clients. However, each remote worker does things a bit differently from the next, so how do you know you’re hiring the right one for you and your project?

To help you identify what to look for, beyond the specific skills they can offer, members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) recommend paying particular attention to the following:

1. They provide referrals and portfolios

“When hiring a freelancer, we generally start with a referral and then look at the portfolio of work. This provides validation not just on what the freelancer has worked on, but that they were good enough to work with that the prior employer would refer them.” – Ashley Merrill, Lunya

2. They’re proactive and ask questions

“One of the rarest skills these days is being proactive, and when hiring a freelancer, I want to know whether or not they understand the project and the big picture. The best way of doing that is by asking questions. If a freelancer doesn’t ask me any questions during the interview process, I automatically discard their application because that will generally lead to a subpar product.” – Amine Rahal, Little Dragon Media

3. They come with high ratings and reviews

“With websites like Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer hiring a freelancer is a piece of cake. But, ‘buyer beware,’ because the price is not the most important factor when hiring a freelancer. Having used sites like Upwork for over a decade I’ve found the most important factor when hiring a freelancer is ratings and reviews. Qualify prospects based on no less than 10 reviews and a 4.5 star or higher rating.” – Kristopher Brian Jones,

4. They exhibit good communication skills

“Communication style is the No. 1thing I look for over the minimum skills requirement. I look for a freelancer who seeks to understand. When they seek to understand and are specific in their language, then I know they care about the project. I also look for quick communication. Long response times in email, texts or returned calls is a major red flag that could show they don’t really care either.” – Shay Berman, Digital Resource

5. They seek to understand your company

“Whether it’s design work or copywriting, we take into high consideration the freelancer’s understanding of our branding and positioning in the digital signage industry. It’s also a big plus if they’re familiar with our industry. When the freelancer understands the personality of our company, they’re able to provide work that better matches the rest of our product and marketing.” – Nanxi Liu, Enplug

6. Provided references are recent

“When considering hiring a freelancer, I always want to talk to references who have worked with that person in the past six months. I think it’s important to have recent references, because the passing of time will not have dulled their criticisms, and the narrow window means the freelancer is less able to cherrypick only the happiest of clients.” – Ryan D Matzner, Fueled

7. The candidate can withstand constructive criticism

“When looking to hire a freelancer, I think it’s important to choose someone who is able to take constructive criticism. While they may be awesome at what they do, it’s still important for them to consider what you think and want, since it is your project. Being able to take constructive criticism and use it to improve their project also shows that they’re able to work well collaboratively.” – John Turner, SeedProd LLC

8. They live within a compatible time zone

“The timezone in which the freelancer is located is often ignored. Collaboration can be a nightmare under incompatible timezones. A lack of proper communication usually produces project misalignments.” – Jaime Manteiga,

9. The freelancer has experience with collaborative tools

“I look for a freelancer who has experience using collaborative tools like Asana, Google Docs, Slack, etc. It’s important that the freelancer you hire is able to work with you and your team on projects together if you want everything to be cohesive. If they have previous experience and know their way around collaborative tools, they’ll be able to work well with your entire team.” – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

10. They are motivated individuals

“Look for contractors who want more than a one-off gig, which means asking questions to understand their motivation and their ambitions. Next, seek to understand what they want out of this engagement. A chance to work with our brand? Expansion into a new vertical? Anything other than money is a good indication of their intention. Finally, did they do their homework on our brand?” – Gabriel Krajicek,

11. They have high standards for quality

“Some freelancers take a transactional approach to their projects, and their deliverables reflect that. They may fulfill the minimum specifications and requirements but fail to meet the overall quality standards you desire. Copywriters leave spelling errors. Designers miss key details. In searching for the right freelancer, find someone who will go above and beyond to produce spotless work.” – Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

12. They are focused on the details

“Attention to detail is a crucial trait for a freelance hire. Adding a simple task to the middle of your job posting will help weed out the freelancers who don’t pay attention to detail. I usually have a small blurb in the middle of job posting stating in your cover letter type the words, “I pay attention to detail.” This little tip will save a ton of time and frustration in the hiring process.” – Chase Williams, Market My Market

13. They relate to the project

“Whenever possible, it is preferable to bring on a freelancer who can relate to the project on a personal level. Someone with a personal stake in the project’s success is someone you can rely upon. If you are in a position to choose between two people with the same experience, bank on the person who is more likely to genuinely care about delivering a successful result.” – Evan Nierman, Red Banyan

14. The freelancer provides a deadline for the completion of the project

“It’s usually a good idea to ask freelancers when they will be able to complete your project or offer them a strict deadline. There are plenty of cases where you might have a qualified freelancer on your hands, but they simply don’t have enough time due to other projects. Before you accept an offer, always make sure you establish a completion date.” – David Henzel, LTVPlus

15. They are available for the long term

“By definition, freelancers work for a fixed amount of time. Still, the best freelancers are the ones you believe will be around at the same time next year. While projects can be completed and freelancers can move on, having an understanding of your freelancers’ long-term goals can increase the likelihood you have a relationship that spans more than just the lifetime of a particular project.” – Ryan Bradley, Koester & Bradley, LLP/White River Consulting LLC

16. They have a high number of repeat clients

“While references can be staged and portfolios can be stuffed, it’s difficult to dispute the quality and reliability of a freelancer if they have a high rate of repeat clients. While the ideal repeat client rate will depend on the type of work, understanding how many of their clients hire them for additional jobs is a perfect demonstration of if their previous contractors would recommend them.” – Colton Gardner, Neighbor

17. They follow directions

“It’s important to hire a freelancer who will follow your directions. Some freelancers have a tendency to do what they feel is best, rather than strictly adhering to the customer’s specifications. If you receive resistance during the initial conversation or interview, it can be a sign of a larger problem. If the candidate is unable to comply with your specific instructions, then you should look elsewhere.” – Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

Image Credit: ImYanis/Shutterstock
Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber
Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Gerber is also a serial entrepreneur, regular TV commentator and author of the book Never Get a “Real” Job.