Building Your Dream Team on Upwork: A Step-by-Step Guide to Effective Hiring

Looking to build your dream team on Upwork? Navigating the hiring process can be tricky, but you can find the perfect fit for your agency with the right strategies.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll delve into practical strategies to improve your hiring process, whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned agency owner looking to refine your process. Expect actionable tips on profiling your ideal candidate, screening, interviewing, assessing, and finally, making the call to hire. Let’s begin!

Every agency owner on Upwork knows that hiring is a vital task. It’s not just about expanding your workforce; it’s about adding the right individuals who represent your agency’s values and uphold its service quality. But hiring can be challenging, especially without a clear, standardized process. You may have experienced this, hiring close friends or relatives, only to find they don’t meet job expectations. Or perhaps you’ve hired someone with an impressive resume, but they lack necessary skills like grammar and comprehension in practice. This guide is here to help you navigate these common hiring hurdles and build your dream team effectively.

Crafting Your Ideal Candidate Profile

Building the right team starts with knowing who you’re looking for. Here’s how to create a detailed profile for your ideal candidate:

  • Understand Your Clients’ Needs: The first step is to grasp your client’s requirements, as your freelancers will directly address these needs. For instance, if your client is a tech start-up seeking support in app development, they might require a freelancer with expertise in specific programming languages like Python or Java. They may need a content writer with strong SEO skills and digital marketing knowledge if they're an online magazine.
  • Identify Key Skills and Qualifications: Once you understand what your clients seek, identify the necessary skills and qualifications. For example, a freelance graphic designer might need proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite, creativity, and attention to detail. On the other hand, a customer service representative might need strong communication skills and familiarity with a CRM system.
  • Consider Personality Traits and Work Ethic: Don’t underestimate the value of the right personality traits and work ethic. A freelancer who is proactive and readily tackles tasks shows motivation. Someone who consistently meets deadlines exhibits a strong work ethic. Such qualities can significantly influence performance, especially in remote work settings.
  • Create the Profile: Use your gathered information to create a comprehensive profile of your ideal candidate. Here’s an example: ‘An ideal candidate for a content writing role is an experienced SEO content writer with strong research skills, a creative mindset, and the ability to meet strict deadlines. Certification in digital marketing is a plus.’
  • Use the Profile to Pre-Qualify Candidates: Use this profile to screen your applicants. For instance, if an applicant for a graphic design role mentions expertise in Adobe Creative Suite and showcases a strong portfolio but lacks the creativity and attention to detail you’ve noted in your profile, they may not be the ideal fit.

Here is an example of a hiring profile for a virtual assistant and a content writer: 

Virtual Assistant

  • Client’s Needs: The client requires administrative support for day-to-day operations, including scheduling appointments, managing emails, and maintaining records.
  • Essential Skills and Qualifications: The ideal candidate must be proficient in MS Office Suite, Google Workspace, and CRM platforms like Salesforce or Hubspot. Familiarity with project management tools like Asana or Trello would be beneficial. They should also have excellent communication and organizational skills, with attention to detail being crucial.
  • Personality Traits and Work Ethic: The candidate should be highly reliable, capable of managing tasks independently, and comfortable working within deadlines. Proactiveness, adaptability, and a service-oriented mindset are also essential.

Content Writer

  • Client’s Needs: The client needs engaging, SEO-optimized content for their blog, website, and social media platforms to boost their digital presence.
  • Essential Skills and Qualifications: The candidate should have strong writing and editing skills, with a solid understanding of SEO best practices. Proficiency in using tools like Google Analytics and keyword research tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs would be advantageous. Experience in writing for the client’s specific industry would be a plus.
  • Personality Traits and Work Ethic: The candidate should be creative, self-driven, and detail-oriented. They should be able to work under tight deadlines and manage multiple projects simultaneously.
Crafting a thorough profile for your ideal candidate might require an initial time investment, but the benefits become evident as high-quality applications start rolling in. These profiles provide a benchmark for assessing potential candidates, ensuring they possess the necessary skills and traits to perform well in their roles. Not only does it weed out those who might not be a good fit for the role or your agency, but it also brings clarity to what you’re seeking, streamlining your hiring process. Indeed, creating an ideal candidate profile is a fundamental first step toward building that dream team for your agency.

Establishing an Efficient Screening Process

Efficient sourcing and comprehensive screening are the foundation of a successful hiring process. Here’s a guide that covers key steps to identifying the best talent for your agency:

  1. Sourcing Candidates: Your journey begins with identifying platforms where potential candidates may be found. Beyond Upwork, widen your sourcing strategy by exploring LinkedIn, Facebook groups tailored to job roles, job listing websites like or, professional networking events, and even word-of-mouth referrals. The goal is to tap into diverse talent pools that align with your ideal candidate profile.
  2. Verifying Freelancer Profiles: In the freelance world, academic backgrounds often play second fiddle to experience, skills, and competencies. It’s crucial to ensure that candidates have a verifiable work history and clientele. Review their Upwork profiles for relevant experience. Be mindful of profile optimization services, where freelancers are paid to enhance a novice’s profile and fabricated jobs, reviews, and ratings. Spotting fake profiles might be challenging, but inconsistencies in work history, too-good-to-be-true testimonials, and a low number of completed jobs with high ratings can raise red flags.
  3. Resume and Portfolio Review: Once candidates are sourced and their profiles verified, review their resumes and portfolios. Look for a match with the skills and qualifications outlined in your ideal candidate profile.
  4. Social Media Screening: Social media can reveal insights about a candidate’s personality, work ethic, and soft skills. Look for professionalism, clear communication, values aligning with your agency’s culture, and active engagement with industry trends.
  5. Preliminary Interviews and Skills Assessment: Conducting interviews shows the candidate’s interpersonal skills, enthusiasm for the role, and cultural fit. Depending on the role, consider customizing your interviews and assessments to gauge job-specific skills and competencies.
  6. Trial Projects: A practical way to verify a candidate’s skills and work ethic is by assigning a short, paid trial project. This enables you to see their work in action before committing long-term.
  7. Reference Checks: Contacting previous employers or colleagues can provide insights into a candidate’s reliability, work ethic, and skills.
  8. Legal Considerations: In the global freelance market, it’s crucial to consider legal aspects, such as data privacy laws, during the screening process. Ensure you are compliant with these regulations when handling candidate information.

The screening process aims to comprehensively understand candidates' capabilities, personalities, and work styles, ensuring they are competent and align well with your agency’s culture. By implementing these steps, you’re one stride closer to building a dream team for your agency.

Conducting Interviews and Assessments

To find the right candidate, conducting in-depth interviews and assessments is essential. Here’s a more detailed look at how you can effectively use these tools:

Typing Tests: 

Depending on the role, evaluate your candidate’s typing speed and accuracy. A good score in these tests typically indicates that the candidate can handle high-volume data entry or administrative tasks. Resources for free and paid typing tests include:


Prepare structured interview questions that allow you to understand a candidate’s technical abilities and behavioral traits. For instance, for a content writer, you could ask, “Can you share your process for researching and writing an article on a new topic?” A thorough, thoughtful response indicates a candidate’s preparedness and approach to tasks. Here are some examples:

Basic Interview Questions:

  • “Can you briefly describe your professional experience?”
  • “Why are you interested in this role and our agency?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “How do you handle feedback and criticism?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?”

Behavioral Interview Questions:

  • “Tell me about a time when you faced a significant challenge at work and how you overcame it.”
  • “Can you share an instance where you had to juggle multiple projects/tasks? How did you prioritize?”
  • “Describe a situation where you took the initiative to solve a problem.”
  • “Give an example of a time when you received criticism. How did you respond?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you worked as a team. What was your contribution?”

While the basic interview questions will give you an understanding of the candidate’s general aptitude and interest in the role, behavioral interview questions are crucial for gauging how they might perform in real-life scenarios based on their past experiences. They reveal a lot about a candidate’s interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, and adaptability, all of which are critical for success in any role.

Personality Tests: 

Personality tests can be an insightful part of the hiring process for many employers. They can help assess a candidate’s work style, preferences, values, and how they might fit the company’s culture. Here are a few widely used personality tests and how to conduct them:

  • 16Personalities (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator): This test evaluates individuals based on four psychological dimensions: introversion versus extroversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving. It provides 16 personality types. The test is free online, and you can direct candidates to take it and share their results.
  • DISC Profile: This test evaluates individuals based on four personality traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance. It’s excellent for understanding a candidate’s behavior towards tasks and people. You can find this test on various online platforms like, where it’s available for a fee.
  • The Big Five (Five Factor Model): This test measures five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. You can find this test on various platforms like Truity, which offer it for free or for a small fee.
  • Hogan Personality Inventory: This test assesses seven critical dimensions of personality related to job performance. This paid test can be taken on the Hogan Assessments platform.

In the hiring process, you should inform candidates that the personality test results are just one part of the overall assessment and are used to understand their work style better. Also, comply with all local laws and regulations when implementing such tests. Always remember, these tests are a tool to better understand a potential candidate; they are not a definitive measure of a person’s abilities or value.

Skills Assessment Tests: 

For roles requiring specialized skills, conducting relevant skills assessment tests is crucial. The aim is to evaluate whether the candidate possesses the skills necessary to perform effectively. Here are some platforms where these assessments can be conducted:

  • HackerRank: This platform provides coding tests and is particularly good for assessing the skills of software engineers. You can customize challenges based on the required coding language or the nature of the problems you’d like to test. You can find this test on HackerRank’s website, where it’s available for a fee.
  • CodeChef: CodeChef offers a vast array of problems that can be used to evaluate coding skills. It’s a beneficial tool for gauging a candidate’s problem-solving capabilities. You can direct candidates to take specific tests on CodeChef’s platform.
  • LeetCode: LeetCode is another excellent platform for assessing coding skills. With a repository of questions that mirror real-world problems, it’s perfect for understanding how a candidate approaches and solves complex coding challenges.
  • Codewars: Codewars offers a unique way to evaluate candidates’ coding skills. Candidates can solve challenges called ‘Kata’ created by the community and moderated by the platform. The higher the rank/level a candidate achieves, the more complex problems they can solve.
Remember, the complexity level of the tests should match the job requirements. Also, while a candidate’s performance in these tests can provide valuable insights, it’s crucial to understand that these tests evaluate a specific skill set and do not measure a candidate's overall capabilities or potential. Always use these tests as a broader, more comprehensive assessment strategy.

English Skills Tests: 

English language proficiency is crucial for many job roles, especially freelancing, where clear and effective communication is vital. Below are some resources to assess a candidate’s English skills:

  • IELTS (International English Language Testing System): This is a widely recognized English proficiency test assessing four skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. You can request candidates to provide their IELTS scores if they’ve already taken the test. If not, asking for an IELTS certification might be a significant investment for a job application, so this could be optional.
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): This test evaluates a candidate’s ability to use and understand English academically. Like IELTS, it assesses listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. Similar considerations apply to asking a candidate for their TOEFL scores.
  • Duolingo English Test: This is a more affordable and convenient alternative to IELTS and TOEFL. The test results include conversation, comprehension, production, and literacy subscores. The test can be taken online anytime, and results are available within 48 hours. This might be a more realistic request for potential hires.
  • EnglishScore: This is a mobile English test that assesses a candidate’s grammar, vocabulary, listening, and reading skills. The test is free, and a verified certificate can be purchased. It’s a quick and convenient way for candidates to demonstrate their English proficiency.

Note that while these tests can measure a candidate’s English language proficiency, they do not assess communication skills in a practical, real-world context. Depending on the job role, it might be valuable to supplement these tests with other assessment forms, such as interview questions or written tasks relevant to the job. Always consider the level of English proficiency needed for the role when choosing which tests to use and how much weight to give them in your hiring decision.

Evaluating a Candidate's Portfolio

A portfolio is a work collection demonstrating a candidate's skills, capabilities, and experiences. It allows you to see the quality of their work, the diversity of their projects, and how well their skills align with your agency's needs.

The Art of Evaluating a Portfolio

When evaluating a portfolio, consider the quality and diversity of work. This will give you a better understanding of the candidate's range of abilities. Is there a breadth of skills or a deep specialization? Depending on your agency's needs, either could be beneficial. Also, how relevant are their past projects to the role they're applying for in your agency?

Context Matters

Contextual information is crucial when reviewing a portfolio. Look for details about each project: the candidate's role, goals and outcomes, and the tools and skills used. This information can help you gauge a candidate's problem-solving skills and ability to deliver results.

Dealing with the Absence of a Portfolio

Don't dismiss candidates who don't have a portfolio. They might be new to the industry or the platform, or their previous work may be confidential. In such cases, consider asking for samples of past work, contacting references, or providing a small, job-related task for them to complete.

Role-Specific Portfolios

Remember, the contents of a portfolio will vary depending on the job role. A graphic designer's portfolio might contain designs and artwork, while a content writer's portfolio would contain articles and other written content.

While a portfolio is a valuable tool for assessing a candidate's suitability for a role, it's just one part of the hiring process. Consider all other aspects - interview responses, skills tests, references, and intuition - when making your final decision.

Recognizing Potential in New Freelancers

When it comes to the world of freelancing, it's vital to remember that experience is only sometimes synonymous with time spent on a platform like Upwork. Many first-time freelancers bring many skills and expertise from their previous professional engagements. These fresh talents often bring innovative perspectives and an eagerness to prove their worth.

Off-Platform Verification Techniques

To make an informed decision about hiring a newcomer, you can:
  1. Reference Checks: Ask for references from past clients or employers. They can provide valuable insights into the freelancer's work ethic, skills, and professionalism.
  2. Portfolio Evaluation: Ask for samples of their previous work, if they have any. This can include projects completed outside Upwork.
  3. Presence on Other Platforms: Check their profiles on GitHub or CodePen. This helps verify their skills and cross-check their consistency.
If you cannot validate their experience through these methods, consider giving the freelancer a skills test relevant to the role. It's an effective way to gauge their capabilities.

Setting Clear Expectations

It's crucial to lay down clear expectations with first-time freelancers, covering everything from task objectives and deadlines to communication style and frequency. This clarity helps freelancers better understand their roles and responsibilities, easing their transition and enhancing performance.

Compensation: A Balance of Fairness and Attractiveness

Offering competitive rates can create a win-win situation. First-time freelancers often accept lower rates to build their Upwork profile, and you get high-quality work without straining your budget.

Casting a wider net to include those new to Upwork might feel like a gamble. But remember, everyone started somewhere. With these strategies, you're not just rolling the dice but making an informed decision that could lead you to untapped talent. It's all about striking a balance - being open, fair, and vigilant. After all, diamonds come in rough packages. Remember this, and you may find your next star freelancer.

Making the Final Decision

The hiring process has been full of insight - from clearly defining the ideal candidate profile, setting up a robust screening process, conducting in-depth interviews and assessments, to considering first-time freelancers. It's now time to arrive at the final decision.

We must recall why we embarked on this journey to make the final call. Yes, you are looking for someone with experience, skills, and potential. However, you're also seeking a freelancer with professionalism, a positive attitude, and reliable behavior. You are forming a professional relationship that could last months, if not years, so these qualities are equally crucial.

Here's how to ensure you're making a well-rounded decision:

  • Review your Notes: Review the notes you've taken during the interview and screening process. Compare each candidate against the ideal profile you initially created. Who came closest to meeting those criteria? Consider their hard skills (the technical abilities required for the job) and soft skills (like communication, problem-solving, and time management).
  • Weigh the Pros and Cons: With your shortlisted candidates, consider the pros and cons of hiring each. While one might have extensive experience, one might be less adaptable than someone new to the field but eager to learn. It's about finding the right fit for your specific requirements.
  • Trust Your Gut: Data and thorough evaluation can take you far, but don't discount your intuition. If you've been in business for a while, you've probably developed a sense of when something feels right. Listen to that feeling.
  • Consider Professionalism and Reliability: Check if the candidates submitted their requirements on time if they were punctual during interviews, and how they communicated throughout the process. These little signs indicate a candidate's level of professionalism and reliability.
  • Visualize Working with the Freelancer: Try envisioning how it would be to work with the candidate. Would they fit in with your work culture? Can they handle the tasks and responsibilities you'll be giving them? This visualization can often bring clarity.

The Future of Your Agency

Building a solid and capable team takes time and effort. It requires careful planning, a methodical approach, and a keen eye for talent. Experience and expertise matter in the freelancing world, but they aren't the be-all and end-all. Potential, professionalism, attitude, and reliability are equally vital qualities to look out for. As an agency owner, your task isn't just to hire; it's to unearth the gems, whether they're seasoned professionals or enthusiastic first-timers.

The journey to growing your team is full of challenges, but the rewards are immense. Each decision you make, every candidate you select, contributes to a collective effort - shaping the future of your agency. While this guide gives you the tools and insight to make the best choices, the ultimate decision lies with you. Embrace this process with the understanding that it's not just about filling roles - it's about nurturing talent, building relationships, and fostering a culture that resonates with your vision. That is the foundation of a successful agency, and it starts with you.


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