Frustrated with UpWork etc. anyone had any success?

I am putting out a fairly straightforward graphic editing job onto UpWork and Fivver (experiment with that, not expecting it for $5, contacted a few likely candidates with the spec and ask for quote).

In all cases I’ve sent a detailed 1 page spec in both text and PDF attachment - I know its IMHO but its pretty good and straight forward spec, covers

  • 1 paragraph overview
  • List input files I am giving them + links
  • Explanation of what I want doing and a dodgy MS paint mockup
  • Exact format of output files I want delivering.
  • When I want it by
  • Simple question I want answering from them when they apply (typical filter tactic).

I didn’t put it in public view just invited (contacted on Fivver) people with reasonable hours/ratings.

The responses, every single one of the 6 from the 8 I contacted, have been absolutely shockingly dismal.

Not ONE answered the filter question and most of them after saying “Yessir I can do your project the best” when prompted with “Do you have any questions?” asked basic questions that were clearly covered in the spec.

Wow. Just Wow.

Sure it got worse since the last time I used oDesk 2 years ago.

Has anyone had any success with finding contractors on UpWork recently and for what types of jobs?

There is this issue, true. But frankly, the pre-selection was fully yours, so I’d also suspect you are falling for this type of candidates :smiley:

Put your task into open in UpWork and simply ignore those who do not answer your filter question. Chances are you’d get a couple of passable candidates. Worked for me a year ago.

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Without seeing your job ad or knowing your selection criteria, I’d say the the issue seems to be the number of candidates you invited.

I usually invite at least 20 and sometimes up to 50 candidates for each position.

I’ve had great success on UpWork finding developers, designers, and VAs. Some have been working with me for 3+ years.

What have worked for me was adding somewhere in the job description something like: “Please start your reply with Hello XXXX”

If the person do not follow that request means that either do not read carefully or cant follow a simple instruction. I automatically reject the proposal, dont even open it.

After the initial filter I usually try to talk over skype with the best 2/3 if they cant comunicate in English, that is a red flag.

Always start with a tiny request to test drive and move from there.

With this simple process I’ve found a few good ones.


Haven’t used UpWork, but Fiverr has crap customer service.

One the people I hired wanted extra money, so I decided to cancel the order. He was okay, he let me cancel the money, but I never got the money back from fiverr. And their customer service is a textbook example of how not to do it:

  • Forcing users to fill in captachs to complain? check
  • Then forcing the user to click on a link in their email because Fiverr doesnt trust you? check
  • Not responding for hours? Check
  • Blaming the user (you didnt follow our T&C, so too bad)? Check
  • And then pretending we are best friends now, what was the problem again? Check

I described my experience on my personal site:

For those who dont want to read the whole thing, here’s a summary:

If you do use Fiverr, do so with the risk that not only will you not get what you paid for, you wont even get your money back. See it as a gamble, a risk. Don’t spend too much money there.

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What have worked for me was adding somewhere in the job description something like: “Please start your reply with Hello XXXX”

Yup did something very similar as a quick filter. They all failed to read the 1 page spec that it was in.

OK so I dumped the first 6 as and invited another 10. So far 1… ONE of the 16 I’ve now spoken to actually read the job description. Its looking better and he’s got the job so now see what comes out of it.

(Also dumpted Fivver, its just not setup for anything but really really simple jobs that are throw away money).

So - looks like my problem is that I am not playing the numbers and getting frustrated too early.

People who’ve had success - what are your estimates of

Invites / Applications to Interviews to Hires to Successful Hires

So far I am 16 : 6 : 1 : ?

Can I ask, what project is IT?
Can we see the details, if possible? :slight_smile:

At PodcastMotor we’ve hired every one of our team members from either Upwork or similar boards. The key, like @conradomaggi said is to ask them to answer a question at the top of their reply. A quick filter to just make sure you’re not getting a canned response.

From there I have a series of 3-5 questions I’ll ask everyone. If those responses come back in a timely manner (less than 24 hours), i’ll move straight to a skype chat, then call if it goes well.

Josh Pigford wrote a great article about how they hire, but it’s a bit more in depth than you may want for a short term project hire.

We’re looking at solving this problem with a tool that will let you screen applicants to a job, but right now not sure the best way to do that. I suppose it’s sort of replicating the process many of us are going through manually, but with software.

I also look at other similar job postings to get a good feel for what sort of language people are using. Problogger job board is really good for content, Dribbble for graphic/UI stuff.


As a person from the other side of the field - my web-dev team work via Upwork - I can relate to the problem. Times and times again I win project bids JUST because of normal communication with clients. And yes, it’s a reality there that only 5-10% of candidates will actually read your description and are qualified to help.

So yes, good points by others - you have to have a quick filter (like a phrase in the proposal), and then some other filters like additional questions etc.

Also your budget should be probably a little higher to avoid attracting only those who “work for food” - if you want freelancers from Europe or US then it should be at least 15-20 USD/h rate. Then it’s totally different game.

Actually, same goes with clients - only 5-10% potential clients on Upwork are worth working for and don’t want to rip you off, and actually understand what they’re doing. So usually I pitch only 1-2 jobs out of 200-300 web-dev offers a day.


I did use a very easy filter question - my mistake was not inviting enough prospects that someone got through that filter.

I know there is the same problem on the contractors side too - I’ve seen some outstanding job descriptions “make me a facebook for cats, budget $100” sort of thing.

Is there a market for a an e-book teaching people how to win jobs on Upwork? Guess the problem is the cut and paste brigade wouldn’t bother reading that either…

Yes, good example with FB/cats/$100, so true.
Books on winning the jobs exist, like this:
And a lot of articles / blogs /podcasts on successful freelancing too.

I guess there are two potential audiences here:

  1. Yes, cut-paste brigades who won’t change even if they read the book
  2. New freelancers who are afraid to start on Upwork because they are afraid to compete against those brigades. Imagine a real situation - you are a professional, you offer your services, and 50 more people bid on the same project within an hour, with lower rates. You probably would feel that you cannot compete. So a lot of people give up. A lot don’t even start.

So I guess there is a market for an e-book with two angles:
“Upwork from client side: how to win me as a client"
"Don’t be afraid of competition on Upwork, it’s possible”

Something like that.

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The great developers aren’t waiting around for your job post, they get snatched up within a day or two. So you have to catch them during that small window of time.

I first hire someone whose sole job is to invite developers to my job post (a few hours each day). That’s how I’ve been able to catch great developer who are between contracts.

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BTW, several things I did:

  1. In the “please start your reply with …” I said: “Thanks for reading the whole spec. That puts you way ahead of the competition. Let me know you read it by starting your reply with…”

  2. I find that most vworkers respond to unclear instructions in two ways: they assume/guess, or they ask a zillion questions. What I want is someone who will re-read and re-read . So I plant two things in the spec: One deliberately vague bit (so they SHOULD ask for clarification) and one seemingly (and glaringly) unclear bit that is clear if you read the whole spec.

What helped me a lot is to make a task on upwork very specific:

not: looking for web developer

but: Looking for flask/python developer with solid third party javascript experience

This makes that fever people apply, and many are quite qualified in principle.
Then I usually to a paid test, for a few hours. The test is similar in spirit how I would give later tasks.

This lets you find developers who are up to the task. This still leaves open communication issues and shifting priorities for the developers on upwork. They can basically just disappear. From their perspective, the same can happen with you.

Designers and illustrators on Upwork have very weak portfolios on average plus the site’s UI is not meant for a search of visual-heavy portfolios – too many clicks are required.

Dribbble, Behance, Cartrdge are the places to find top professionals in this field and I had a great (but expensive) experience with recently.

Upwork is nice for software development. I hired there and worked myself for 2+ years. Just search candidates by hand instead of creating public jobs. is quite good. Also I got great results from I find you are better looking through people’s portfolios and contacting them directly.

I find these work sites annoying as you get endless bids from companies who claim they can do everything from graphics to coding and tend to be terrible at everything.

Designers are always the hardest people to hire. Creative types can be a complete pain in the ass. Slow to respond, sulky, lots of silence. A good designer will be next to impossible to get as they will already be super busy.

I look for good designers still at college or just starting out.