- Forget about Asia; focus your hiring efforts in Eastern Europe.
- Start your Eastern European freelancers hourly and see how they perform.
- Build relationships with your Eastern European contractors; they will pay off!
If you’ve tried to expand your team before you know that finding the right people to help you take your business to the next level is no easy task. It seems like job board platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer are full of riff raff. Hiring often feels like a crapshoot. And the best people – the ones you really want – are either too expensive, too busy to provide any meaningful help, or both.
But don’t despair!
Because in this article I’m going to share with you how we’ve been building our team with quality Eastern European workers for the last year without breaking the bank, and without having to accept subpar performance as some twisted fact of life when it comes to hiring in developing countries…
…’cos it ain’t!
Why many online businesses are turning to Eastern Europe
If you’ve ever hired in South / Southeast Asia you may have observed that workers from these regions tend to lack a sense of ownership over their roles and responsibilities.
It’s common for contractors from countries like the Philippines and India, for instance, to make promises that they can’t deliver on, routinely miss deadlines, make all manner of excuses for poor performance, and even to disappear for days on end, reappear, and act as if nothing unusual has happened.
To the Western business mind this kind of behavior just doesn’t compute. In the USA, if you disappear you may as well stay disappeared because your job’s likely disappeared along with you! But beyond any personal annoyance you may feel from this strange decorum, the material issue is that you can’t move your business forward if your team members aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.
These quirks are well known in South / Southeast Asian cultures, and no amount of filtering, training, reprimanding, managing, or any other “-ing” will change that fact. While the burden of empowering your team to do great work is always on you, trying to turn fundamentally subpar performers into A players will rob you of time, money and wits all at once.
In a word, you’ve got to fish in the right pond.
If you want to hear some real life examples of hiring gone wrong, I suggest you listen to a bit of the podcast below. In this revealing chat, I speak with my good friend Josh Denning – CEO of AuthorityFactory – about his experiences hiring workers from all of the major outsourcing countries, over the course of nearly a decade!
Is Eastern European work culture “better”?
In contrast with South / Southeast Asia, the work cultures of the former Soviet bloc countries – and the way people are educated there – produces a different type of mind; and thus, a different type of worker.
In my experience, the Eastern European work ethos is characterized by:
- a sense of ownership…
- the use of logic…
- creative problem solving…
- common courtesy (i.e. not simply disappearing without warning)…
- clean communication…
- doggedness in finishing complex and/or unpalatable tasks…
- a strong, intrinsic motivation to learn more, produce more, and grow personally and professionally…
- a broad intellectual curiosity…
- a certain irreverence for arbitrary authority…
- A willingness to question superiors to better understand the reasons behind certain decisions…
- The ability to politely differ if their experience and understanding leads them to believe an alternative course of action may produce a better result…
- A sense of “hunger”…
…and so forth.
So yes; in general, my experience has been that Eastern European contractors do indeed possess a superior work culture to their Asian counterparts, and at comparable rates. So that begs the question: how do you find and hire these great Eastern European workers?
How to hire Eastern European “ninjas” on Upwork
Note: Upwork is one of many job board platforms. You can use this method with any platform you wish (e.g. Freelancer, JobRack.eu, Codeable, etc.) I’ll be focusing on Upwork in this article because it’s the platform I use most often and have the most experience with.
Step #1 – Post your job offer
1. Login to Upwork
2. Go to Jobs => Post a job:
Next, you’ll see the following screen:
A) If you want to use a previous job posting as a template for this posting select a previous post here.
B) Choose a category and subcategory
If you don’t choose the right category you won’t get as many relevant applicants. And sometimes it’s not immediately obvious which category you should be looking at because some of them are quite similar (e.g. “Web Developer” and “Web & Mobile Design”). If you’re fairly sure that the contractor you’re looking for will be found in a particular category you can skip this step. If you’re not 100% sure, I suggest you do a quick check, as explained below.
Open a new tab, and go to Freelancers => Find Freelancers.
Using the reference screenshot below, type in a keyword in the search field (A) that relates to your job post. In my example I’m searching for a web developer with knowledge of the Divi theme, so I typed in “Divi Theme”. Like Google, Upwork auto-completes keywords as you type them in and suggests related keywords.
Under “category” (B) pick the category that you think most closely matches the position you’re hiring for. You can click on the “see all categories” link (C) and it will show you the number of contractors in each category who have your keyword in their profiles. In the location box (D), type in “Eastern Europe”. Click “search”.
Scroll through the resulting list of candidates and click through to a few profiles. Try to get a sense of whether or not the contractors you’re looking at match the profile of the kind of person you’d want to hire for your position.
For example, if I’m looking for a Divi expert with CSS and PHP knowledge, and I see that most of the contractors in this particular search result have listed skills in their profiles which don’t really apply to my position, then it’s a good indication that I’m looking in the wrong category.
Likewise, if it looks like the core skills you need from your contractor are listed as an afterthought (to get some keyword love from the Upwork search), you may be searching in the wrong category. The contractor in the screenshot below looks great for secretarial type work, but she doesn’t seem to be a Divi designer with CSS and PHP skills despite listing Divi as a keyword in her profile:
You can repeat the process with a few other categories to get a better idea of how freelancers categorize themselves and which skills correlate with which categories. But don’t spend too much time on this step because you’ll find your best candidates by proactively reaching out to them (more on this in a minute).
Come back to the job posting you were working on and select the category you think best applies (B).
Write a descriptive title for your job posting (C). It probably doesn’t hurt to make your title a bit unique so you stand out above the noise. For example, instead of writing, “Looking for a Divi designer to help with websites” you might write something like “Work with the awesome Divi theme & get paid for it :)”
Next, post your job description (D). You may want to include some or all of the following points in your description:
- Overview of the position
- Required skills and experience
- A little bit about you and your team
- A short description of the kind of work the contractor would be doing on a daily basis
- Hours & compensation
- Miscellaneous notes
If you want to save some time and just use my fill-in-the-blank template for your job posting, you can grab it below:
[Steal our job post template – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xi5sqa5ka7_BTEDuYJ6v2lBXO_t5hUTG_SLu-MsPuW8/edit?usp=sharing]
Note: you may see slightly different fields depending upon the type of work you’re hiring for.
In the attachments field (A) include any relevant attachments you want to include. For “what type of project do you have?” (B) select “ongoing project”. For “how many freelancers do you need to hire?” (C) select “I want to hire one freelancer”. For “where are you in the lifecycle of this project?” (D) select “I have specifications”.
For the field “are you experienced hiring for this type of work?” select “YES” (A). If fields (B) and (C) appear for your posting, enter in the relevant languages and frameworks. For field (D) type in as many relevant skills as you can think of.
For the field “How would you like to pay?” (A) select “Pay by the hour”. If you’re looking for a part time or full time team member, I still suggest you hire several candidates on a trial basis using the “pay by the hour” option. This is exactly what I did when hiring our part-time WP Tech / Sys admin for our hosting company. I started out with a pool of about a dozen candidates, only 3 completed the entire sequence of assessments I assigned, and one did a standout job. Guess who we hired.
But a caution…
You’ve got be careful of asking candidates to jump through too many hoops early on because you may scare away otherwise great talent. For example, one of our rockstar contractors started out by helping us remove malware from our customers’ sites. As luck would have it, several of the folks for whom we removed malware wound up becoming hosting customers as well. We realized that our malware removal service was a great tripwire, so we formalized it and made it into a standalone product that we can now offer our customers and prospective customers!
This casual, low-commitment approach to working with this particular contractor allowed us to get to know each other, build some trust, and gradually strengthen our professional relationship. Now he’s a vital member of our team and someone who I respect tremendously for his professionalism. I suspect that if I had asked him to go through a battery of tests and trials he would have probably blown me off because an in-demand contractor doesn’t need the headache of proving his worth beyond a certain, reasonable point. He knows he’s a rockstar and it’s on YOU to court him suavely.
Moving on! For the field “Desired experience level” (B) choose “Intermediate” but don’t be too concerned about this field because it’s not that important. For the field “How long do you expect this job to last?” (C) select “More than 6 months”. Again this field isn’t terribly important because you’ll be hashing out these details with each prospective contractor individually.
For the field “What time commitment is required for this job” (A) select “Less than 30 hours/week”. For “Freelancer preferences” (B) select “Freelancers using Upwork or public search engines can find this job”. For “Do you have freelancers in mind that you would like to invite?” (C) enter in any freelancers that you’ve already spoken to, who you think would be good for this job.
In the “preferred qualifications section” (A) select the following:
Freelancer type = independent*
Job success score = 90% and up
Rising talent = include rising talent
Hours billed on Upwork = any amount
Location = Europe
English level = any level
Group = no preference
*The reason you select “independent” contractor under Freelancer Type is because working with agencies is a huge pain in the ass. They add a layer of communication, throttle their team members’ output, jack up the hourly rate, and generally perform work more slowly and at a lower standard than an independent contractor with the same skill set. Besides, you want to bring somebody onto YOUR team, and get them to buy into YOUR culture and YOUR vision. With an agency you’d be working at cross purposes and overpaying for the privilege. So just take a pass on the clunky group dynamic and stick with individual workers.
For the field “Screening Questions” (B), leave it blank. For the field “Cover Letter” (C), leave this blank, too.
Finally, post your job!
How NOT to find the “hidden talent” on Upwork
I’ll tell you what NOT to do next: do NOT sit around drinking coffee waiting for amazing candidates to pour in. You’ve got to hustle to find the best, “hidden” talent on Upwork. Here’s how.
Once you’ve posted your job you’ll be redirected to a page that shows you a bunch of “recommended freelancers”.
Your task now is to go through each of these contractors’ profiles and send them a short, personalized message such as:
Hi Boris, I took a look through your profile and reviews and I was excited to see all of the great work you’ve done for your clients. 🙂 You look like you’re pretty busy but I thought you might be interested in taking a look at the new opportunity I’ve posted. I think it might be a great match for your skill set. By the way, we have a few other awesome team members from Russia (I’m from Ukraine originally). Thanks Boris, hope to hear from you!
Founder – MemberFix
This message has 5 components:
1. I use the contractor’s name, twice. You see, people love hearing their own names. Psychological trigger = liking / rapport.
2. I really look at his profile to see if he’s somebody I might want to work with. If not, I move on. If yes, I try to pinpoint a specific piece of information I can mention to show him that I’ve actually read his profile and genuinely consider him to be a great candidate for my job posting. Psychological trigger = liking / rapport.
3. I keep it short, friendly, and respectful of his time. I even give him a little ego stroke by saying that he’s probably busy (which is most likely the case).
4. I mention that we have other Russian team members (which is true) and that I’m Ukrainian (which is also true). Usually, trying to find commonalities early in a relationship comes off as approval-seeking behavior. But in work cultures people tend to trust “their own kind” (other Eastern Europeans in this case). Psychological trigger = Social Proof.
5. I sign my name as “Vic Dorfman, Founder – MemberFix.” This adds a bit of gravitas to who I am. Sure, Boris doesn’t know what MemberFix is, and for all he knows I could be the founder of a 2-person, Mickey Mouse operation. But I’m showing him that I take our business, and my role in that business seriously. “A players” want to work with other A players who are serious about growing their businesses and advancing the interests of the members of their team. Psychological trigger = Authority.
It’s by no means required that you format your message like this. But I do encourage you to find ways to incorporate proven psychological triggers and copywriting best practices into ALL of your online content, whether it’s a YouTube video, a Facebook post, or even a job posting on Upwork.
Avoid these red flags at all costs
One tip I can give you is to go through the entire reviews section of each candidate to look for red flags. For instance, when I was hiring for our hosting company, I found one candidate who looked great. But there were a small handful of reviews from prior employers that mentioned how he’d simply vanished without warning and wasn’t reachable for days on end.
There are always 2 sides to a story and I don’t like to rely too much on previous employer feedback because frankly, some employers are jerks. It’s entirely possible that it’s their fault that a job fell through. And now they’re salty about their own fuckup, and taking it out on a contractor who did everything by the book. But in this case, because there were several reviews saying roughly the same thing, I decided to approach this engagement with caution.
So I gave the candidate a task and an assessment, which he completed with a mediocre attention to detail (I have a scoring system for this particular assessment). His inattentiveness was red flag #1. Then I gave him a small bit of non-urgent contract work. He took several days to reply to messages and to update on progress. At one point I couldn’t get a hold of him for 4 days. Instant deal breaker. And so at that point I immediately withdrew him from serious consideration.
Now, I’m not saying he does poor work. And in fact, the work he did do was actually quite good. But a company needs reliability from its team members. If you hire a guy like that and delegate an important task to him, how will you sleep at night knowing that when you wake up in the morning, the task might be incomplete, and your team member AWOL? Just say no to that kind of stress; believe me, you don’t need it!
Now that you’ve posted your job and sent off your invitations you can wait a day or two to give folks a chance to reply. As the replies come in you’ll want to start chatting with your candidates. The main aim here is to explain the kind of work you do, the kind of work they would be doing, and to gauge their interest.
You want to keep the conversation going for a while to expose any additional red flags, such as:
- An aversion to time trackers
- Excuse-making language / behavior
- A tendency to blame others / external circumstances
- A tendency to overcommit to too many projects at once
- Long response times in between messages
- Rude, presumptuous behavior
- Unworkably poor English skills
The one that alarms me the most is the refusal to use time trackers.
I completely understand an Eastern European’s reluctance to be “tracked” after almost a century of brutal communist control over what people say, do and think. I’m a classical libertarian and believe me, I get it. But I’m not the federal government; I’m not Big Brother; I’m a businessman. And I need to determine how my team is spending their time so that I can make good business decisions.
With full-time team members you can use a KPI-based system that depends solely upon results. That’s an awesome approach. But when you’re paying people by the hour rather than for a particular set of results, you want to be sure you’re not wasting your hard-earned cash. So to do that, you track time (we use Toggl and the built-in Upwork time tracker).
If you suspect a team member isn’t doing what they’re supposed to, or isn’t performing their work quickly or competently enough, you can simply visit their work diary and see screenshots from their tracked hours. This usually isn’t necessary but once in a while you want to make sure your team isn’t fooling around on Facebook or Instagram while on the clock. That kind of stuff used to happen ALL the time with Asian workers. What was most baffling is that they knew their screen was being recorded at random intervals by Upwork’s time tracker, yet they still felt no compunction chit chatting with friends on social media on my dime. This hasn’t been a problem with EE folks.
Finally, it’s quite convenient to simply have your team tracking all of their time with the Upwork time tracker. You just get billed weekly, and the fees come out of the payment method you have configured on Upwork. This way there’s no accounting, no timesheets, no nothin’. They work, you pay, everybody’s happy.
Pit your candidates against each other, Gladiator style!
Competition brings out the best in people.
So now what you want to do is to assign some real work from your business to each of the remaining candidates. I recommend you be transparent about your intentions. Tell each of the candidates that you’d like to trial them, and that you’re also giving several others the same opportunity. Let them know that while you’ll only hire one or two candidates for this position, you’d like to keep them in mind should something open up in the near future.
In terms of the work you assign these remaining candidates, I suggest you try to replicate the kind of tasks that your new hire would actually be doing. For example, when I do a trial hire of several candidates at the same time, I add them all to our FreshDesk account, and assign them all real tickets from real customers. I give them access to our SOPs, give them a quick explanation of our terms and any important notes they might need to do their job, and then let them show me what they’ve got. After a handful of tasks it usually becomes obvious who is a good worker, a good communicator, where each person’s skills lie, etc.
I must admit that in general, I’ve been consistently impressed at the quality of work and professionalism that Eastern European contractors bring to the table. Even if somebody isn’t a good communicator, you can still assign them work, and then communicate the result to the client yourself. Or if somebody isn’t as good technically but has a gift for tactfully communicating with a client, you can give them a project manager type role.
The thing about talented, intelligent, hard working people is that they’ll rise to the occasion if you put them in the right position. And even in the wrong position they’ll find a way to show their resourcefulness. It’s up to us as employers to keep a strong dialogue with our team to make sure they’re not rotting in roles that bore them to tears, and that they’re not sulking about perceived injustices. Open, honest communication is critical.
Should I give my candidates a test?
While I prefer the low-commitment approach of starting everybody hourly, letting folks show their talent, and growing the relationship at an organic pace, sometimes you need to fill a part-time or full-time role ASAP. In this kind of situation it’s useful to give your candidates an assessment and a paid trial to find out their skill level and how serious they are about a stable working arrangement.
I first tried tried this approach with a candidate from India. I was hiring for the sys admin / WordPress tech role within our hosting company, and I was excited because I thought I’d found a real rockstar. His CV was sterling, he talked a good game, and he was working for a big hosting company where he’d clawed his way up the ranks to a mid-level tech support position.
But once I put him through some tests, trials, and interviews, the facade began to fade. He was good, but not nearly as competent as he’d presented himself to be. He also told me that his plan was to leave Bangalore and move back to his hometown and back in with his family if he were to get the job. I thought that was a little odd.
By and by, I could see that he was getting irked that I’d peeled back all of these layers of pretense. Despite the red flags, I made him an offer out of necessity. (Pro tip: never hire out of desperation). I figured it was a good temporary solution for both of us because my offer was more than what he was earning with his current company, he’d also get paid to learn, grow and receive mentorship from myself and my team, and he’d acquire the cachet of having worked with a bona fide startup, which would open doors for him in the future.
For me it would be a good deal because I’d have somebody on board to take care of our customers’ updates without my having to get personally involved all the time, which was hugely time-consuming and impeded my chief duty as founder: to grow the company! However, a bad fit is a bad fit and eventually it comes to a head…
Indeed, a day after I’d made my offer, the candidate came back with a counteroffer that was THREE TIMES higher than what I’d proposed! That really pissed me off because it was obvious that his level of expertise was a mere few notches above entry-level. I found the counteroffer insulting and smacking of entitlement. He couldn’t see that I was offering him an opportunity to EARN that kind of money by leveling up his knowledge and skills while getting paid for it, and actually deserving better compensation by creating commensurate value. An opportunity, by the way, that he would never get with his current, corporate employer.
I politely balked and asked him for his Paypal email address so I could reimburse him for the time he’d spent speaking with me and doing trial work. Can you guess what happened then…? That’s right, I never heard from him again. He didn’t even have the common decency to thank me for the opportunity to meet, nor did he allow me the honor of paying him for his time (something that’s very important to me because I don’t work for free, and neither should anybody else). I didn’t fall for his B.S. so he immediately moved on to try and find a more eligible sucker.
So you can see how candidates can sometimes look good on the surface but are simply front-loading their value proposition. The analogy I use is that of a gorgeous woman who looks haughty and unapproachable. Yet when you speak with her and find that she’s kind of a shy, insecure nerd, you wonder why you were so intimidated!
Let’s recap: You give all of your candidates a scored assessment that tests them for competency, speed, and attention to detail. You’ll then end up with a handful of candidates who actually take the assessment (many balk and you never hear from them again). You’ll then score them and shortlist the candidates who got a “passing” score. Of those who passed, you’ll give them a paid trial. And based on how each candidate does on the paid trial, you’ll make one, or several an offer. Boom!
Which countries in Eastern Europe should I hire from?
Eastern Europe is broadly defined as the countries in the Eastern part of the European content where the use of the cyrillic alphabet and Orthodox Christianity exist. However, in terms of hiring, we also include several Balkan and Caucasus countries.
The best countries to hire from in my experience are:
Some countries in Eastern Europe, like Poland and the Czech Republic, aren’t on the list because workers from there tend to be quite a bit more expensive. The best countries to hire in right now are Ukraine, Russia and Romania. Ukraine, in particular, is in the throes of a serious economic crisis which has seen the devaluation of their currency (the Hryvnia) to record lows. These are unfortunate circumstances. Yet they also present amazing opportunities for hard working and ambitious workers to rise to the occasion, and for startups such as ours to bring on and nurture talented people at better rates.
Which Eastern European job boards should I use?
Personally, I prefer Upwork simply because I have lots of experience with it. It’s not the most intuitive platform but it does the job. Other good options include Freelancer.com, JobRack.eu, Codeable, and others.
I learned from my Ukrainian friend Yana – a talented artist and entrepreneur – that most Ukrainians in Ukraine actually use Facebook groups to look for remote work. I emailed Yana and asked her if she’d be willing to share the way it works in Ukraine and she kindly agreed. Here’s what she wrote for us:
English is not very common in Ukraine even though way more people of my age start speaking English now (it’s hard for me to give the stats as I haven’t been in situations where I could hear our people using English for communication in public).
We have a resource where people can find a job in different industries with an “average” salary – 200-400 USD (full time lol): https://rabota.ua
You can post jobs in English, as some companies do, see the example: https://rabota.ua/company788/vacancy6708635
But you need to know Ukrainian/Russian to use the platform and post your offers. English is not available there. Those jobs are kinda mediocre or on a contrary for super high positions such as a director of marketing blahblah. So you won’t really find anyone looking for a part-time freelancer there.
Saying that, connections in Ukraine mean a lot, so we use FB groups to find more interesting and higher-paid jobs related to digital, pr, marketing. I saw jobs there with 300-1000 USD pay (depending on skills and amount of hours). People are hiring both freelancers and full-time workers.
The groups are:
SMM UA Group
Работа в SMM – вакансии и поиск работы, связанной с Social Media
Лучшая работа для лучших людей
beFree – фріланс для українців
Digital с блекджеком и шлюхами!
Also I am a member of closed groups for graduates of digital marketing school IKRA – quite often people share vacancies from trusted employers. This school is represented in Kiev, Moscow and Minsk, I have access to Ukrainian and Russian groups to post:
*ИКРА. Moscow Family*
Ukrainians are also using Upwork a lot and I even founded a group for Ukrainian freelancers working on that platform and asking for help in various topics regarding the platform or clients.
I gave you an overview of platforms so you can get a feeling of what’s available here. Now about your questions: I think it is not a big deal if you post an offer in English because that will demonstrate that English knowledge is required to work with you. Even if I help you to hire someone, somehow that person has to communicate with you afterwards 😉 Obviously a job posted in Ukrainian/Russian will receive more attention and reach more people.
But you are right, for instance, that you don’t have access to closed groups where a concentration of professionals graduated from digital school is quite high, meaning a chance to find a reliable freelancer is higher than in open resources.
I think it is better if you check out groups I listed above and make up your own decision if it is comfortable for you to hire on your own, or do it with my help. I’m happy to help you if needed 😉
*If you’d like to get in touch with Yana, email her at info(at)yanatravelart.com
Want me to find you a Rockstar EE team member…?
If you’d like me to personally help you through the process of hiring in Eastern Europe, OR if you’d simply like me to do it FOR you, please reach out.