How to hire an independent contractor

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If you need someone to quickly take on a project at your company but your existing employees don’t have the necessary skills or bandwidth, you’re left with two options: hire a new employee or hire an independent contractor. 

Hiring independent contractors enables you to be flexible and keep your costs low. Independent contractors take care of their taxes and healthcare on their own, which makes your overhead costs significantly lower. 

Plus, you can hire them for a single project or even a specific task, and spend minimal time and energy on onboarding — they’ll most likely already be experts in their role.

Essentially, this gives your company access to specialized skills in a large array of domains (such as technical SEO, CSS, and Laravel) without any long-term commitment or expenses. 

But how can you be sure that you’re finding and hiring the best independent contractors for your projects?

In this article, we’ll explain how to recruit independent contractors the easy way, including where to find candidates and how to evaluate their skills objectively. You’ll also find a job description template that you can use to write an eye-catching listing and suggested interview questions to ask candidates.

What is an independent contractor?

Anytime you hire a new employee, you must take into account all additional expenses (beyond salary) that will be incurred, such as benefits, taxes, healthcare, and other overhead costs. Plus, hiring employees is (in the majority of cases) a long-term commitment, so you’ll need to plan to keep them busy and engaged for months and possibly even years to come.

Contractors, on the other hand, typically work on a project basis, allowing companies to flexibly scale their workforce up or down based on their immediate needs.

An independent contractor is a self-employed individual (also known as a freelancer) or a 1099 employee or a business (such as an agency) that is hired for a specific project or on a temporary basis. Contractors are hired under contract — hence the name — which isn’t a standard employment agreement but rather a service agreement between them and your business. 

Independent contractors have more control than employees over how and when they work. They’re also responsible for their own taxes, insurance, and equipment. 

They can provide you with highly specialized skills and expertise, often without a long-term commitment. Plus, independent contractors bring a fresh perspective and lots of experience — they have likely worked with similar companies to yours and might even share ideas on how to improve your processes and be more efficient based on their past experiences. 

Independent contractors’ hard skills

Independent contractors’ hard skills will vary from industry to industry and from role to role, which is exactly why you’re hiring them: You’re looking for specialized skills. 

For this reason, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all list of independent contractors’ hard skills that we can give you. Instead, here are some examples of hard skills to look for in different types of frequently contracted experts: 

SEO Consultant

Look for contractors with a deep understanding of the best principles and techniques of SEO. They should have experience in keyword research, on-page optimization, link building, and technical SEO

Additionally, look for: 

  • Knowledge of SEO tools, such as Ahrefs, Semrush, Moz, and Screaming Frog

  • Analytical skills to measure and track website performance (for example, with Google Search Console)

  • The ability to provide strategic recommendations for improving rankings

  • SEO copywriting skills, if you’ll also be hiring them to write your web content

Copywriter

If you’re looking for a copywriter, you’ll need to prioritize candidates with exceptional writing skills, creativity, and the ability to craft persuasive copy. 

They should also have:

  • A good understanding of different writing styles 

  • The capacity to adhere to your brand guidelines and tone of voice

  • The ability to tailor their writing to specific target audiences

  • Knowledge of the most effective copywriting techniques, formulas, and principles

  • Excellent attention to detail and the ability to proofread their work

  • SEO copywriting skills, if you’re also looking for someone to help improve your search engine rankings

Software developer

If you’d like to hire a skilled software developer on a contractor basis, look for people who have: 

  • Strong problem-solving abilities

  • Experience with specific frameworks or technologies

  • A track record of delivering high-quality code and software solutions

  • Sufficient expertise in your team’s preferred programming languages (for example, Python, Java, and JavaScript)

Web designer

If you need to build or revamp your website, hiring a freelance web designer or an agency is an excellent alternative to hiring a full-time worker — especially if you don’t have other relevant projects coming down the pike.

Look for a contractor with: 

  • A keen eye for aesthetics 

  • Excellent attention to detail 

  • Proficiency in graphic design software like Adobe Creative Suite

  • Plenty of similar work experience under their belt — and a portfolio to prove it

  • Strong knowledge of design principles like composition, color theory, balance, and movement

HR consultant or recruiter

Depending on your hiring needs, you may want to hire an independent HR consultant or recruiter in lieu of a salaried employee — or simply get a new set of hands to help your HR team during busy times. 

Look for contractors who have: 

Additionally, you might want to look for contractors with industry-specific recruitment experience. For example, if your business is a cosmetics company, a recruiter with experience in the beauty industry will likely have access to a great network of potential candidates and a strong understanding of the top skills you need. 

Independent contractors’ soft skills

Independent contractors need a number of key soft skills to be a strong addition to your team (albeit temporarily). 

Here are some of the most essential soft skills to look out for:

5 independent contractors' soft skills graphic

Time management

Contractors need strong time-management skills to ensure they can deliver quality work on each of their client’s preferred timelines.

They must be able to prioritize tasks, create effective schedules, and allocate their time efficiently to balance multiple projects or clients — and meet your expectations and requirements successfully.

Communication

Good communication is essential for the success of any project in which employees and contractors work side by side. If you hire a strong communicator, you can be sure they’re able to understand your requirements, ask questions to clear roadblocks when needed, and give you timely updates on their progress. 

Organizational skills

Freelancing is a balancing act: Independent contractors must make sure they’re able to manage their workload, track progress, organize their time and attention efficiently, and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. 

Organizational skills also enable contractors to prioritize their tasks and consistently keep a clear overview of the next steps to take. 

Critical thinking

To analyze complex problems or situations and make informed decisions, contractors need strong critical thinking skills. This enables them to assess options, weigh pros and cons, and identify the most effective solution to each problem they face. 

Critical thinking also helps contractors approach challenges with a rational mindset and be open to changing course if needed.

Problem solving

When hiring an independent contractor, you’re likely already dealing with unusual problems or unexpected challenges. This makes it even more important to hire capable problem solvers who know how to tackle obstacles and find new solutions. 

Look for resourceful, creative, and adaptable individuals — these are the ones who’ll help you bring your project to completion, even when your team is struggling. 

How to test independent contractors’ skills

Now that you know the skills to look for, how do you go about assessing them? 

Well, that’s easy: with a skill-testing platform like TestGorilla. Skills testing allows you to quickly and objectively evaluate your talent pool to determine which candidates have the skills and expertise needed to succeed in their role. 

With TestGorilla, you can combine up to five skills tests in a single assessment, which you can then send to all candidates with a single click on the platform. If you’re looking for an independent contractor, we advise you to assess role-specific skills (based on the tasks they’ll be working on) and cognitive abilities. 

Since the hard skills you’ll need to evaluate depend on the role, you can browse our test library to find relevant tests, such as role-specific or programming skills tests.

Then, you can pick one or two soft skills you’d like to evaluate and add them to your assessment. Here are some soft skills you might want to assess when hiring contractors: 

Where to find independent contractors

There are several ways to find independent contractors for hire. Here are some common platforms and methods to consider:

  • Online freelance platforms. Websites such as Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr can connect you with contractors from across the globe. These platforms allow you to post job listings, review profiles, and hire talent based on their skills, reviews, and previous work. Make sure to be specific in your job ad and thoroughly vet applicants. 

  • Specialized platforms. Some platforms focus on specific industries or roles, such as Toptal, which specializes in connecting companies with top freelancers in fields like software development and design, or MarketerHire, which connects marketers for hire with businesses. Field-specific platforms can help you find the best contractors with specialized expertise and usually have a vetting process in place. 

  • LinkedIn. Many contractors look for new opportunities on LinkedIn and use the platform to network extensively with potential clients. You can either search by role, post a job ad, or even ask your network for referrals.

  • Industry events and conferences. Industry events, conferences, or meetups are an excellent place to source fresh talent, especially those geared towards businesses and freelancers alike. 

  • Local directories. Some cities or regions have directories that specifically list local contractors. This can be particularly useful if you want to interview your candidates in person or have them come to your office and meet the rest of your team. Remember, however, that you cannot ask contractors to work from your office or according to a specific schedule. 

Independent contractor job description template

Your job listing will ultimately depend on the open role, but to help you get started, we’ve provided a sample job description for a freelance graphic designer below.

You can copy and adapt this template to your own hiring needs, or use it as inspiration to write your own.

Freelance graphic designer job description template

[Your company name] is looking for a skilled and creative freelance graphic designer to work with us on a project basis. 

As a graphic designer, you will work with our marketing and design teams to create impactful designs that align with our brand identity and marketing objectives. This is a remote contractor position and you can work from anywhere. Communication will be asynchronous, except for the occasional online meeting.

Responsibilities

  • Collaborate with the marketing and design teams to understand project requirements, objectives, and target audience

  • Create visually appealing and on-brand designs for various marketing materials, including but not limited to social media graphics, website banners, digital advertisements, infographics, and print collateral

  • Develop design concepts, layouts, and artwork using industry-standard design software like Adobe Creative Suite

  • Incorporate feedback and revisions while maintaining design integrity and meeting project deadlines

  • Stay updated on design trends, industry standards, and emerging technologies to bring fresh and innovative ideas to the table

Requirements

  • Proven experience as a graphic designer, preferably with a portfolio of your design work

  • Proficient in industry-standard design software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign

  • Strong understanding of design principles, typography, color theory, and composition

  • Excellent creativity, artistic ability, and attention to detail

  • Ability to work independently and efficiently, managing multiple projects with varying deadlines

  • Effective communication and collaboration skills to work with cross-functional teams and incorporate feedback

Preferred qualifications

  • Experience designing for digital platforms, including social media, websites, and email campaigns

  • Familiarity with UX/UI design principles and best practices

  • Knowledge of motion graphics or video editing software is a plus

To apply, please submit your portfolio and a brief introduction highlighting your relevant experience and design approach. You’ll receive an email asking you to complete a skills assessment in order to qualify. 

How much does an independent contractor cost?

When it comes to determining how much to pay your independent contractors, there’s no simple answer. Contractors’ fees will vary significantly based on:

  • The role and the skills you need

  • Their level of experience

  • The industry

  • Project complexity

  • Your timeline 

The more specialized and experienced your contractor is, the more they’ll charge. The same goes for your project’s complexity or urgency: If you needed the deliverables yesterday, expect to pay a premium price. Large, complex projects also cost more to contract.

Further, fees will depend on whether you’re hiring an agency or an individual freelancer. Agencies typically cost more than freelancers because they have greater overhead costs, but they’re also able to deliver end-to-end services on tight deadlines, to which a solo freelancer might not be able to commit. 

You can choose to hire a contractor on an hourly basis, or you could opt for a flat rate for the entire project, which makes costs more transparent and predictable for you. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your talent pool with the help of skills testing, ask your top candidates for a quick cost estimate based on your requirements. 

For example, according to Upwork’s data, freelance graphic designers charge between $15 and $150 per hour, with an average fee of $35 per hour. 

Independent contractor interview questions

Most contractors offer a free discovery call, which is an excellent opportunity to get to know them and ask questions about their experience, skills, and expertise. 

Here are some interview questions you can use:

  1. Can you provide examples of projects similar to ours that you have worked on in the past?

  2. How do you manage your workload when working with tight deadlines?

  3. What’s your process for collecting clients’ requirements and ensuring your deliverables align with their expectations?

  4. Can you describe a challenging project you worked on? How did you overcome the obstacles you were faced with?

  5. How do you stay updated with industry trends, tools, and techniques in [field of expertise]?

  6. What happens if we’re not happy with your work? 

  7. Can you explain your approach to collaborating with other team members remotely?

  8. Are you comfortable making decisions without supervision?

  9. Do you have experience working with collaboration tools like Asana, Trello, or Jira?

  10. Do you work with subcontractors? Why or why not?

These questions can help you evaluate the contractor’s skills, experience, and compatibility with your project. During the initial call with them, you should also discuss your specific project and leave enough time for them to ask their own questions — after all, this is as much an opportunity to get to know them as it is for them to get to know you.

If you’d like more inspiration on questions to ask when looking for your next independent contractor, check out our 100 interview questions to assess candidates and our top 36 situational interview questions.

Hire the best independent contractors with TestGorilla

Hiring a 1099 employee or an independent contractor might sound daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before

However, with the right approach, finding the right contractor will be easy. Simply post your job ad and then evaluate your applicants with the help of skills tests to determine which candidates have the right skills and knowledge to deliver top work. 

Check out TestGorilla’s free plan to see for yourself how much easier hiring can be, regardless of whether you’re looking for a freelancer on a single project or an employee for years to come. 

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