A Few Thoughts About Outsourcing

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Outsourcing has been popular for years, but in the last five or so it’s become a phenomenon. Companies are cutting costs, start-ups don’t have any money so they need cheap labor, and everyday Joes are seeing that they can hire an overseas contractor to make their ideas come to life.

Ever had an idea that you wanted to try out (new site, new product) or just offload some busy work (data entry, formatting, etc.)? Well, I’ve used quite a few contractors, so I wanted to share a few thoughts based on my experiences.

There are a ton of outsourcing firms that act as clearinghouses for contractors, so I won’t go into all of them. I’ve used Elance and oDesk. For a while I was an exclusive Elance user, but recently I’ve seen the number and the quality of applicants to my job postings fall. I just hired someone off Odesk for a job I posted on Elance initially. On Elance I think it got like four or five responses and all of them were crap. I put it on Odesk and I had my pick of a lot more qualified candidates. Same for a subsequent job – not sure if this is indicative across the board, but Odesk is my current outsourcing firm of choice.

Be Picky
Hiring an overseas contractor is a lot like hiring domestically. You will see a lot of utter crap as far as resumes and applications. I can’t believe how bad some of my applications are. The one thing that’s nice about so many bad ones is that they make the good ones really stand out. You can spot the good ones quite easily.

Because you will have to weed through a bunch of bad ones, it will be tempting to just pick one after a while. Don’t. Only select a contractor you feel good about, not someone you feel less bad about.

Interview, Ask Lots of Questions
They all seem to use Skype, which is fine by me. I’ve done a few video interviews but it’s mainly Skype chat which is just like gchat or whatever you use. Set up a time to go over the requirements for your task.

If they don’t have lots of questions for you – BAD SIGN. These are 90% non-native English speakers (even though most say they are a 5 out of 5 English fluency, that’s usually bullshit), so the idea that your job posting was totally clear and needs no explanation means you don’t have a critical thinker on your hands. It means they want the job and want you to commit to working with them, and that’s it. Get them asking questions early and often.

This is also a time to get a feel for how they communicate. Obviously language will be key, and you’ll want someone who can both speak and write in working English. You’ll know how good their English is within two minutes of chatting.

Another thing to look out for is their demeanor. While it might just be a matter of different cultures, if a prospect is pushy or rude or makes you uncomfortable in any way, don’t hire them. He or she will be a pain to work with and it will suck your enthusiasm out of the project. I had a developer last year who was just a dick. He was cheap so I put up with it at first, but after a while I just dreaded working on things with him. No amount of money saved is worth your enthusiasm to work.

I’ve used contractors domestically and overseas for a number of projects, including several blogs (yup, this one), websites, web apps, and online tools like browser plug-ins. Overseas workers are usually much cheaper, but often come at the expense of quick and easy communication. Though in my experience, domestic developers have shitty communications skills too, so not sure there’s a huge loss here.

When hiring someone from overseas, take the time to thoroughly vet each person you hire. Don’t give in to the temptation to hire right away or overlook glaring red flags. If you’re patient and thoughtful about who you select, I think you’ll find that outsourcing can open up a lot of potential for your ideas. Good luck!

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Tim Murphy is the founder of ApplyMate.com - the first free web app to help you track school and job applications.

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