How to Hire a Freelance Creative

Posted by on Feb 18, 2015 in freelancers, Hiring Process | No Comments


So you want to hire a creative? Well, I can tell you from experience it can be a difficult task… and by difficult, I’m talking about passing a kidney stone. I have had 3 in my lifetime, and they easily equate to the pain of working with the wrong person. Over time, Kodis has developed a process, which is really just a set of filters, to try to separate the good from the bad.

Step one to hire a freelancer is to cut a hole in a box… wait, no that’s a different process for something else. Ok, sorry took a little detour there.

Below, I’ve outlined our filtering process for hiring. This covers everything from availability, to how detail-oriented they are, to what type of personality they have.

Brown M&M’s

We post a thorough explanation of what we need, how we work etc. Included in this posting is what we call “brown M&Ms.” History: Van Halen was one of the first bands to have major a tour that required several semi-trucks for all of their equipment. Not every venue was setup to handle the electricity needs, the weight of the equipment, and all the other technical aspects the band needed to be safe while putting on their show. While requesting no brown M&Ms in a bowl was perceived as a “prima donna” act of ridiculousness, it gave the band and crew an immediate cue as to whether the concert promoter had actually read through the contract rider, or not. You can read more here:

We have adopted this tactic to weed out a lot of people who aren’t detail oriented, caring, or observant enough to be a good match. In our last job posting we asked for a funny JCVD (Jean Claude Van Damme) video, joke, or meme. This yielded about 80 people who read and gave us a joke, out of over 150 who applied. If we got an email from a freelancer whose work we liked, but who had not given us a JCVD joke, we would send them an email and ask them to re-read the submission requirements and send us another email. If they still didn’t include a joke, they were dropped from consideration. We even had one person respond back that supplying a joke was beneath him; not a good way to court a potential employer! This person likely would have also fail our personality criteria that is discussed below.

Locally Sourced and Farm-Fresh?

We require all applicants to be in the US or Canada. We have worked with other vendors from around the world, but for the kind of work we are doing we need people with whom we can easily communicate. We also require freelancers to be available for meetings from time-to-time, so being within a few hours of our time-zone is a requirement. This is stated in the job posting but, as you probably guessed, there are many people who ignore this requirement. This also fails our “did you actually read this post” filter.

“Show and Tell” Time!

The first two points on our checklist are usually ticked-off by a project manager. Once we have used the first two filters, our creative team (usually me), starts separating the wheat from the chaff. This is subjective, but each agency has a style, look, or certain skill set that is important to the work they produce. For most portfolios, it’s a simple gut-reaction decision, “Do I like this person’s work? Yes, or no.“

Many times, I keep other agencies in my network in mind. If the person does good work, but their style doesn’t align with what I’m looking for, I’ll send their contact information and portfolio along to other Creative Directors I know.

If they do strong work and align with Kodis’s style, the next step is to set up a face-to-face (or phone-to-phone) meeting.

I like you, do you like me?

We have now whittled our list down to about 10 people who have survived the first 3 cuts. So, we need to make sure they pass the “first-impression test.” Basically, we have a conversation to get a better sense of who they are.

We ask people to tell us about themselves and projects they’ve worked on. We also cover topics like, rate, availability, freelance history, education, etc. What kind of work excites them? What other skills do they have in the industry that they could bring to the projects we give them? How do they prefer to work? If we put them on a team, can they work in-line with a lead or manager?

Another big part of this conversation is the person herself. I want to make sure that I can have a comfortable working relationship with this person. I truly care about the people with whom I work, and I want to make sure that my ideals and philosophies won’t be in conflict with them. Working with contrarian people is generally a huge waste of our time and theirs.

Please ingest this tracking device

We require all freelancers to be available from 9-5 in their time zone and on Skype, or reachable by email or cellphone anytime within those hours. I understand if they have another meeting, or if they need to work on another project that they were involved with before we hired them. But, we need to make sure that we can immediately talk with this person for meetings, feedback, collaboration, etc. If you disappear like Kaizer Soze when I need you, then we won’t be working together very long.

Here’s some rope, try not to hang yourself.

The last step is to give them a small project, like banners or business cards, or something that is internal that won’t cause any problems with a client if they flake or do bad work. If they can do that, then we will continue to give them more and more responsibility. Once they have jumped through all the hoops that are needed then, and only then, are we comfortable presenting this person to one of our clients as a member of the Kodis team.

In conclusion:

It seems ridiculous to have to be so stringent with the process, but it’s unbelievable the amount of people whose existence relies on being a freelancer, but won’t do basic things like: turn in work on time, return a phone call, be available during normal business hours, disappear without notice, or any other number of things that would really make a project get F.U.B.A.R. This ,of course, leads me to want (this part has been edited out so you don’t think I’m a sociopath) … which means I would be writing this from prison.

I’m sure many of you who are reading this post have had some pretty crazy experiences with some truly sketchy people, which is why I wanted to share the process we have developed. I know the process isn’t perfect, but it’s better than just looking at a portfolio and saying “hey you do good work, we should work together.”

Feel free to post any comments if you have any suggestions to help improve our process.

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