a handshake over a table

There’s a difference between finding a freelancer who can do the work and finding someone who can do it well. But what can you do to feel more confident about your decision from the start? Finding the right freelancer can be particularly intimidating if you’re new to leveraging freelancers or sourcing skills outside your wheelhouse. Adding to that discomfort, some clients worry they could face the consequences of a freelancer’s lackluster delivery.

Getting past these hurdles means trusting someone you’ve never worked with before. How can you refine your approach? Take your search as seriously as you would if hiring a new employee. The context is different and your timeline is likely shorter, but the stakes can be just as high for big projects. Here are some tips to consider as you get started.

1. Make recruiting a team activity

As they say, “You don’t know what you don’t know”—particularly true when you’re looking for someone with skills that are beyond your area of expertise. One way to fill in the gap? Turn to colleagues for help with your talent search.

In particular, you may find it helpful to find:

  • A pro talent sourcer with a history of finding top-notch freelancers. What screening tips can they share with you
  • A subject matter expert (SME) who has a deeper understanding of the skill and level of experience your project needs. What should you look for?

Consider asking your network for advice, too, including other freelancers you know. By casting a wider net, you boost your odds of getting great insights or finding someone who can lend a hand.

2. Don’t fixate on profiles, proposals, or portfolios

Profiles, proposals, and professional portfolios can be useful when you’re screening potential freelancers: they quickly introduce who someone is, the type of work they do, and projects they’ve contributed to in the past.

But these tools can also prove to be imperfect. Workers may stretch the truth when summarizing their experience, or hire a pro to make sure their marketing materials stand out. And in a global marketplace, other languages and cultures can influence how someone writes about or promotes themselves.

Besides, proof always comes from doing instead of saying. By giving these next few tactics more weight in your decision-making process, you shift the focus from presentation to what a freelancer can do when they’re hands on.

3. Pay attention to references and testimonials

One thing that can give you clear insights into the work a freelancer is likely to do is to read testimonials from previous clients. Even better if a freelancer is a referral from someone you know—follow up with questions about their own experience.

Beyond general comments, look for indications about:

  • Quality of work
  • Ability to communicate effectively
  • Level of expertise
  • Issues that came up and how they were addressed

While this feedback isn’t always particularly in depth, it can give you a sense of the reputation and client relationships a freelancer has fostered over time.

4. Interview the freelancer

Conducting interviews with a shortlist of potential freelancers gives you the chance to get into the nitty-gritty and “read between the lines”: A freelancer’s responses can indicate not just their expertise but also their organizational skills, ability to communicate, and work style.

Prepare for the interview ahead of time: confirm logistics, test your technology, and compile a list of questions to be used consistently in each interview.

By asking key questions about the project, their experience, and project logistics, you can see how well they understand the work and its potential challenges, and gain insights into your project. Find more project-specific questions and interview tips in Upwork’s Hiring Guides. And if you make the interview a group effort, you get the benefit of other perspectives.

5. Hire the freelancer for a test project

Nothing helps you go beyond the resume more effectively than seeing a freelancer in action. A paid freelancer test project is a relatively small and contained project, following either a fixed-price or hourly model. It may be:

  • Similar to your actual project,
  • A small part of your project, such as the first step toward the first milestone, or
  • A series of problems to solve that test the freelancer’s skills without being directly connected to your project

Use this process to assess a freelancers skills as well as how they approach the project, their problem-solving abilities—which may include whether they asked for clarifications about the project—and whether the timeline you’ve estimated is realistic.

It takes a high degree of trust to start any professional relationship, and that includes relying on a new freelancer to deliver the quality work you need for your next project to succeed. If you find a freelancer through Upwork, you’ll also have the benefit of the checks and balances incorporated for simple and safe hiring.

But remember: Trust is a two-way street. You’re also an unknown entity. A more comprehensive process gives both you and the freelancer an opportunity to connect, communicate, and test your ability to collaborate when needed.