Nov 6, 2015

Job warning signs - for Freelancers

Thanks to Upwork Forum

by Moderator 
When reading a job description, what causes you to go "Ut-oh!"? What red flags do you see in applications that at least puts you on your guard, if not actually skip to the next one? Here's some of mine (and others):

First and foremost The work is yours until you are paid in full. You own the copyright until you have been paid the agreed sum. If you choose to work for 15 cents per hour then that's your problem. If it takes longer than you thought..again, down to you. BUT. If you have done your bit according to the contract that you agreed, then the work is yours until it's paid for.

Asking for payment or to use your own accounts (Thanks Dave!) Money comes from the client to you; anything else and you're doing it wrong. Do not ever (unless you know the client really well, and give it second thoughts even then) pay for something for the client unless you have received the money from them first. Deposit for something; webhosting accounts; domain name; subscription for site X that is "essential for the job" etc etc. No money. Ever. Similarly, do not use your own eBay, Craigslist etc. accounts to list things for sale...chances are high that it will end badly and wreck any good karma you have built up there. And it'll be you in the frame if it turns out that it was illegal.

"Bait and Switch" (Thanks Selcalmel!) Clients advertise one job and then offer a different job at interview. Now there can be valid reasons for this; but a big difference between the job description and the work you're being offered should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Mostly on oDesk it's either jobs that you wouldn't have applied for if the job was described honestly or changing the rules to try and get the price down.

Too many people being interviewed This can be a sign that the buyer is dividing the job up and giving the various parts as a 'test' to applicants...with the intention of getting the job for free. It could just be that the buyer is looking for a very specific set of skills, or other innocent motive, but maybe not.
NOTE: (Thanks Brandon!) This also applies to the client's history...check the total number of jobs posted versus people hired. If there are a load of jobs posted but few contracts awarded, then proceed with caution.

Only low bidders being interviewed If you're not one of the low bidders on that job then it's probably not worth applying.

Long list of demands, silly budget We've all seen them; the jobs for an all-singing, all-dancing website for $100, followed by either a HUGE feature list and/or a long list of qualities required by the contractor. Luckily for you, the buyer is advertising the fact that they are a wanker (behaviour which is unlikely to change if you were unfortunate enough to land the contract). This buyer knows the market well enough to know exactly what they want; and must therefore know that the budget is exploitative...move on. And as a corollary to the above (Thanks Louis!):

People who bellow orders, often in capitals "SUCH SUCH WILL NOT BE READ I IF [insert term].... OTHERWISE I WILL DELETE YOUR APPLICATION IMMEDIATELY". Or "MUST ATTACH SUCH AND SUCH OTHERWISE YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME". Some people -presumably after watching Alan Sugar or that twat Trump- think that this is how bosses should behave. I see it mostly as a sign of either someone being new to being in a position to call the shots and is a bit insecure about it, or someone who is a natural git. In either case your job will be more difficult because of it. Also, these types of application are frequently paired with a ridiculous budget. Any buyers who are reading this should note that this isn't the way to go about things...also all capitals make it harder to read and you're increasing the chances of applicants missing an important detail. Annoying people before they've even applied for your job cannot possibly help. Am I the only one, by the way, who feels the impulse to reply in kind?: "Listen up bitch. I reckon I can do it in 10 hours which'll cost you $450 and if that isn't good enough then you can just f" would be a fairly short application, probably.

Mention of half-finished job/previous contractor/s There are two factors here...sorting out what someone else has done often takes longer than just doing whatever it is from scratch. You will very probably be inheriting a hairy-arsed nightmare. The other factor -and a question you should be asking yourself (and the buyer, come to that)- is exactly why the previous contractor didn't finish. It does happen that buyers get a run of bad luck with contractors (often after playing in the lower budget ranges), so it isn't necessarily the buyer's fault. On the other hand, it could be. Rescuing a client from a wall-to-wall catastrophe at the 11th hour is one of the best smug feelings you can get as a freelancer; but these jobs are need to ascertain for yourself that the buyer is genuine before getting in too deep. A note to any buyers reading this: If you've already been through two or more contractors and you still don't have a result, you need to seriously consider throwing a match in and starting with fresh code. I've had jobs where it took significantly longer to find out what the hell the previous guys had done than it would have taken to just bin everything and do the job. And with other people's code, you can never be 100% sure that you haven't missed something important/broken/nasty.

One-line descriptions Buyers quite often don't know the information that a contractor needs in order to produce a final product the client will be happy with; that's not a problem and it's the contractor's job to ask the right questions. But when you see a job like "I need a website. Plz replie", just move on. If they can't be bothered, then neither can I.

Payment method not verified Sign either of a first-time user or a scammer. If the unverified user is overly familiar with the way oDesk works...warning! If it's a first time user, you may well have to do some unofficial oDesk support and talk them through it. And you might still get scammed at the end.

Anything where you have to create a user account on another site (that isn't the site you're working on) before you start. No. Just no.

Business plan with failure built in As a webdesigner, I hear 10 plans for world domination before breakfast. Some job descriptions have fail built into the very fabric of the scheme. The worst ones are the ones where you have to mess around with NDAs and soothe the buyer that you're not going to be over the horizon with his masterplan (which often as not turns out to be another bloody facebook or youtube clone). *sigh*

Jobs where 'clients' are mentioned I don't really like sub-sub contracting. Firstly there's there's the thought of the buyer sitting on his arse collecting cash for my work; which rankles a bit. Secondly -and more important- is the 'Chinese Whisper Effect'; where the original client's specs is filtered through the middleman's idea of what the end-client wants. These specs may well not be accurate. You *will* be doing extra work because of this. The same applies to large companies where an underling has been given the task and is now offloading it onto you; but in this case the specs are more often written down. The worse case in this latter scenario can be where it's a committee and everyone present has to get a design change in there -no matter how pointless- just to get their name in the minutes of the meeting.

"It will only take 5 minutes" No it won't. No job in the history of contracting has ever taken only 5 minutes. It takes longer than that to liase with the potential client, for a start.

Jobs that aren't worth it ((Your hourly rate) * (Number of hours you think it will take)) + (Say 10% safety margin for extra missions/unexplained bits) = (Your price for the job). If there's not enough money or not enough time, then it's usually best to move on.

Anything that mentions CAPTCHA or removing watermarks It's naughty. Don't.

Web scraping Nah. Probably illegal (copyright) and definitely immoral. You're stealing someone else's work.'re automating stealing someone else's work.

Jobs where it looks like a reasonable budget for the job until you read the description and it turns out that the budget is a monthly wage for full-time work of the same type This is annoying and wastes time.

Non-profit organisation (Thanks Mahesh!) A non-profit organisation is not the same thing as a charity. Some are, of course, but some are tax dodges, some are for groups of people, with the aim of the organisation being something you don't necessarily approve of..."Mothers in support of the ruthless oppression of Brits in Spain"; "White supremacy"; "Black supremacy"; whatever. Or -as Mahesh points out- it could just be weasel-wording for the fact that they haven't made any money.

Buyers asking for free work samples/tests (Thanks Anna!) It is the buyer's right to ask, just as it is your right to refuse. It's also discouraged by oDesk. All the veteran contractors (including me) will advise against free samples and in any case that's what your portfolio is show previous examples of work and the standard that you're capable of. For contractors it just is not worth it...if there's 30 applicants to the job, you're spending time doing work for a 1 in 30 chance of getting a job. You can spend your entire life doing this and not make a penny. Now that I've said all that, a free sample is what landed me my first job on oDesk...someone wanted a graphic vector conversion and -having some free time- I just did it and sent an (unusable) sample graphic in. The buyer didn't demand a sample (I would not have applied if that were the case), but I proved I could do the job by doing it. Traditionally in design work, it used to be the case that the designer offered several alternate designs; but those were for *much* larger-budget jobs. It isn't worth even considering for the sort of jobs that are at oDesk. If you do choose to give free samples, always watermark them (Thanks Ernesto!). In the case of writing samples, send them as a graphic or locked PDF so that the text can't be used without paying you.

Free work samples - Part II If the buyer is asking for free samples and if it's the sort of job that can be broken up into smaller tasks then pay extra attention; and also look closely at the number of people being interviewed.

"Great opportunity for newbies" (Thanks Judith!) This means that a buyer is offering a risably small budget for work in exchange for giving you feedback. This is either feedback blackmail or investing time in order to get in the game, depending upon your point of view. You are definitely being taken advantage of; but really it's your long as you go into it with your eyes open and as long as it's all agreed at the start. Buyers trying to use feedback to change the terms after the job has started, however, should be reported.

Vague specifications (Thanks Louis!) It's harder to work with vague specifications, mostly, but you see quite a lot of jobs with insufficient detail. If you're extremely lucky, it's a buyer who wants this Thing to perform this Function; is busy; has correctly assessed your level of competence; and trusts you to get 'er done. This is rare. It is, however, also difficult to write job descriptions with exactly the right amount of detail. Insufficient detail could be due to laziness; unfamiliarity with the oDesk system; lack of knowledge (which is after all why the buyer is getting a professional in)...lots of reasons. The best way of approaching this -I believe- is to use the application letter and interview to clear up any ambiguities and to focus in on the specs so that you and the client both agree on what the job actually is and where the boundaries are. If you start the job and only have a vague idea of what the client wants, you are going to have problems. Possibly big problems if the job description also states...

Unlimited redo A job description containing these words should be approached with caution. Particularly with website work, as you're essentially agreeing to maintain it forever as part of the deal. Add a bit of mission creep to a contract like this and you're in a world of hurt. I always specify 'reasonable amount of re-do' in the cover letter. It's a contract and you should never agree to something that can suck up an infinite amount of your time for free. I understand that buyers want their work the way they want it and the 'unlimited' is mostly just a way of ensuring that their needs will be met. You, the contractor, also needs to ensure that you're covered, so best to renegotiate this phrase.

"Send us ID" This is not needed to work at oDesk. Don't do it or you will be very sorry. Verify who you are through oDesk, if you must, but ***NEVER*** send ID; bank account details, PayPal, eBay or any other information that can be used by ID-theft types.

Write to me outside of odesk This isn't necessarily a problem...everyone has their preferred methods of communication. At the first hint of paying outside of oDesk you should run away quickly: It's against oDesk rules; will get your account terminated if you're caught; and you will probably get stiffed by the buyer anyway.

Phishing (Thanks Santos!) The way this works is that someone sends you a link (usually an obscured one like ""). This takes you to a page that *looks like* a login page to a common internet service (Gmail, Paypal, Amazon, whatever), but isn't. What the page is, is a copy of that login screen and the idea is that you type your password in and it gets captured by naughty people. It's then standard practice to use that email/username/password on lots of other common services to see if they work. If you 1) fall for it and 2) use the same password everywhere, you're stuffed. Don't trust an obscured link; and ALWAYS check the URL on a login screen, just to make sure you're in the place you think you are. Personally, I go a little further than that and keep a link with my (encrypted) password file and I only use my local link to visit web services.

Good luck out there!

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