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How people lose jobs on oDesk

In recent years I’ve realised that I need to delegate more in order to do more and being a one man band can only go that far.

One of the services that I use the most to facilitate this is oDesk. I find that it easy to list projects and it has a large population of talented individuals. Unfortunately, like any other real world environment, not all those people go about things the right way.

I’ll give you a quick overview of how I go about it and why I eliminate applicants.

The first thing I do is draw up a job description. If it is a fixed price project, I try to be as precise and details as possible. If it is an hourly rate project then the details are generally discussed through interview stage or even after the work has started, simply because the contractor can bill those hours and does not lose out. Okay, so I post my job and about 20 minutes later, I get an influx of applications. Depending on the type of job you can get 10’s to 100’s of applicants. e.g. there are more data entry specialists than professors. So if I advertise for a data entry job, I am going to get a lot more applicants than if I wanted a professor of statistics. You get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, oDesk is a fantastic service with great talent. This article just highlights what you should and should not do and how I decide to reject applicants, in the hope that you change your application or job listing strategy to become more successful.

Here is a summary of what I’ve found…

Title Readers

I suspect that some applicants only read the title of the job description and if they think they are suitable then they apply. This becomes clearly evident during the interview stage. Some of these applicants seem to not have read it at all, not even a few lines. So what I had started doing was introducing some random but easy question inside the job description e.g. ‘What is 3×2=?’ or ‘Who is the president of the USA?’. I would then automatically reject every applicant who did not answer this question.

I was contacted by oDesk for feedback one day and had a detailed Skype discussion with them, explained my gripe and what they have done now is introduced a facility to add a custom or predefined question to each job description, sort of like a pre-interview question list. I still try to enter the random question within the post as I notice people only answer these additional questions, and still don’t read the job description. But it is still a step in the right direction….I digress.

Anyways, I would suggest that 2 things. As a client, ensure you have an appropriately detailed job description. As a contractor, please read it and understand it first before you apply.


Asking questions that were already answered

Nowadays I always add questions to the job description and always end it with a standard question :  ‘Do you have any further questions’.  I do this because  perhaps my job description was not detailed enough and I want the contractor to raise a question earlier rather than later.

This opened up another way for me to eliminate applicants.  Here are the reasons why.

  1. Some applicants copy paste the same response as an answer to each question. This tells me they didn’t read anything and are blindly applying. So I eliminate. How to counteract this?… Read the question and answer it appropriately.
  2. A few contractors would ask a question that was already explicitly answered in the job description. Hence, I eliminate.

So again, read the job description and answer the questions. Answering with a simple ‘No’ is better than copy pasting. This leads me to the next issue.

Copy Pasters

This is easy to spot. I find that some applicants copy paste part of the job description into the cover letter. Most of the time it sticks out and is out of context…Eliminated. I’d rather you not provide a cover letter than copy pasting part of the job description.


Fake Offers

One really annoying thing is the Fake offers that seem to crop up now and then. Admittedly, it is not as frequent but there are people out there that just want to get your attention to start an interview stage. These contractors will generally out bid everyone with a deal so low, it’s too good to be true. Then they want to have an instant message chat via Skype or Google only to reveal that they think that the price is slightly higher, and by slightly, I mean a lot higher.

This distracts from all the realistic offers and generally good applicants that apply to these jobs. So if you are a contractor that employs this technique, you are just wasting time. Try and motivate your potential employer with a great application cover letter specific to the job. I’ve always leaned towards contractors who have taken the time to provide a well thought out application, and in most cases, I’ve employed them.

So be realistic, don’t distract clients because more often then not it will probably come back and bite you.


Non responders

I’ve had two non responders so far (out of dozens of good employed contractors), both were extremely unnecessary. It comes after a great interview and initially good communications. But immediately after the offer, the contractor does not respond to any communications. Now I understand that in some circumstances, there could valid reasons for a non response. Internet down for a few days, illness, family problems etc. I can deal with that and I am very flexible with all the contractors I’ve dealt with. But what oDesk does show is the contractors activity, when they were last seen and when they last worked. You can see this in the individual contractors profile as well as when feedback was provided.

So I had a look and after many repeated messaging over a few days, I can still see that they are active. So I simply send a warning and terminate soon after. I think there is no need for this kind of behaviour from a contractor. As a contractor, you are entitled to change your mind if you don’t want to do the job. I would suggest that you simply let the client know in a professional manner. If you have a professional client, they will understand. I would prefer that someone tells me ‘Sorry, I really think I can’t do this and would prefer you find someone else’, rather than me waiting days for a response to repeated requests.

So what I do nowadays is a place a statement in some of my projects which indicates as such about non responsive contractors.

I must also say that I’ve had great experiences with the many other contractors I’ve worked with and think that these non responders are a minority.


All in all, I think that as a contractor or as a client, you can use my experiences above to modify your oDesk online working methods for more streamlined success. This is not limited to oDesk, there are other companies out there that facilitate working online. I think that you can apply similar tactics to improve to outcomes.

I would love to hear some of your experiences either as a client or contractor on oDesk. Share them below so we can help the community out.

Good luck!

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  • Shafaq Talqeen

    I totally agree with this post … I have started to use Odesk like two months ago mainly as a freelancer. I have noticed that if I apply to only a few jobs and establish a niche, I get that job! and get great reviews.

    Nice blog btw.

    • Dee

      Thanks Shafaq. It’s my little contribution ;-). I think you have summarised it well. The most successful people in this world adopt the same strategy. Identify you niche and stick with it. I’m glad it works for you and I hope that others reading this take note.


      • Shafaq Talqeen

        spot a small typo where can I message you pvt-ly? i’ll delete this later.

        • Dee

          Thanks. Feel free to pop it in here. I’ll fix it.

          • Guest

            under Answered Questions …
            second pt – replace “as” with “ask”

          • Dee

            Thanks. Well spotted.

    • Zahid Prince

      hi plz help me m new here

  • Darlene Strand

    I believe on every job. It is recommended to listen and follow orders, best you can. I haven’t worked o desk. But I have been a apartment manager in the past. I had to deal with new duties and responsibilities than before. Three years. By the time I got the hang of it, I was burned out from the anxiety of collecting rents from stubborn tenants and tenants having financial issues. Lost of a job, can be devastating and alarming, when not ready to receive it at such time when you so depend on it. My faith strength, is ‘to keep going on’. I have been rejected by a few sites on line, but I am learning from my mistakes. No matter how well you write on a Blog site. No matter the disappointment that may come of it, for whatever reason. I hope other readers will agree on some level, don’t give up!

    • Dee

      I think no matter how good we all are, there is a bit of luck involved too, don’t you think. Being in the right place at the right time, with the right combination of words. :). The main thing is (as you say) to learn from your mistakes and try to do better next time. Hopefully it will get you noticed.