How To Screen And Interview ProvidersElance_Cathy | Aug 05, 2009
Some job postings can attract a large number of proposals from qualified providers. Receiving a lot of proposals is a great "problem" to have, but it can still feel overwhelming – so here are some tips to help you efficiently review, manage, and decide which provider is right for you.
Perform a first pass review
Rate your first-pass "keepers"
Consider more than just the answers
Fine tune reviews & make one last pass
Perform a first pass review. If you can, try not to wait until the acceptance period is over to take a look at all the proposals you receive. Go to the workroom, check them out every day or so, and use your first look as a quick screening tool.
When you read each proposal, check to see if it is:
- Individualized. If your job description included lots of detail – and it should – see if the provider responds directly to your specific needs. A generic-sounding proposal should raise a red flag; a proposal that covers your requirements, in detail, is a good sign.
- Within your parameters. If you state you need the work done in seven days, for example, and the provider specifies one month for delivery, they're not a good fit – unless the provider gives reasons for a longer time frame that you feel make sense. The same is true for the bid amount – if your budget is between $1,000 and $5,000, and a provider bids way outside of the range (low or high), you're probably not interested… unless their description causes you to view your budget constraints differently.
- Responsive to your needs. If you posted a project for web design and the provider suggests setting up a social networking site, they're not a good fit – unless, of course, they also provide great reasons why a social networking site better fits your needs.
Rate your first-pass "keepers." Use the "rate this" feature and your first-pass criteria to help you identify the proposals you're initially interested in. Many experienced employers rate proposals that clearly don't meet their needs as a 1, proposals they're unsure about as a 3 and proposals that have made a great first impression as a 5. You can always change ratings later, but this is a good way to help you group proposals by your level of interest.
Rating as you go also helps you stay on top of the proposal selection process. You may notice an immediate red flag in a proposal. Don't assume you'll notice that issue on a second pass – rate it now. The same is true for outstanding proposals – if they impress you, rate them. And you may have three of four proposals that intrigue you… but you're just not sure about. Identifying them as "3" proposals helps you review them as a group.
Finally, rating during your first pass will save you time later in the process.
Ask questions. While there is no need to ask questions of proposals that clearly do not meet your needs, a good proposal may still require clarification. You can ask questions online or schedule an interview.
Providers are generally happy to answer your questions: they are just as interested in a good match. Communicate with the candidates, using the Private Message Board, Chat, or Call features – whichever is most convenient for you - to clarify issues like:
- Timeline. Make sure you know exactly what you'll get and when.
- Communication. You may want daily updates, while for most projects, weekly status reports might be sufficient. Whatever your communication and feedback requirements, make sure you and the provider agree.
- Deliverables. Make sure you'll receive the end product in a usable format. If you are hiring a writer and you want Word 2007 documents, be sure the provider can and will deliver files in that version.
Consider more than just the answers to your questions. How quickly do providers respond? Do they answer your questions completely? Can you tell they've taken the time to consider your questions and answer thoughtfully? Bottom line: Do they feel like someone you want to work with?
Keep in mind the speed of response can be deceiving. A provider on the other side of the country or the world may not respond for 10 to 12 hours due to time differences. (Need a handy time zone guide? Try World Time Zone.)
On most projects, the key is to know when you can normally expect a response. If you send a PMB at 8 am and you know in advance the provider won't respond until 5 pm, that may be perfectly acceptable.
Fine tune your reviews. As you interview providers, use those interactions to help you fine-tune your reviews. And evaluate bids that arrived early against new bids you receive. Even though you may have more than a handful of bids, your ratings will keep your short list to a manageable level.
Make one last quick pass. Once you have a short list of three to four providers, take a moment and review all your proposals. Make sure you didn't miss a diamond in what you previously considered the rough.
When you're done, you'll have three to four proposals and providers you're really interested in.
But how can you narrow down your list further and choose the perfect match? If you have already interviewed the candidates, evaluated their proposals and their profiles and still are undecided, you can ask to speak with a reference. For tips on quickly evaluating provider feedback, skills, and portfolios, check out our next article: "How to Review a Provider Profile".
Finally, always ask your provider to set up milestones on Elance so you can track progress and release payment as work gets done.