Melissa Morgan, an award-winning freelance designer and marketing strategist specializing in digital technologies, knew early on that she wanted to freelance. She's one of many young experts who have abandoned the traditional corporate career map. With COVID-19 pushing even more people toward remote and freelance work, organizations must rethink their talent acquisition strategies to address this new way of thinking.
You can hear more from Melissa Morgan on The Talent Economy Podcast.
Why Young Professionals Leave the Office
Morgan started her first business at 19 while attending the University of Waterloo. Her idea—to create a platform that connected postsecondary students with job opportunities—came from seeing the disconnect between her own primary field of study, psychology, and her other interests. “I didn’t know that I wanted to be a designer, but I loved to solve problems,” says Morgan. “I knew I was on the right path when people were willing to pay me to solve problems creatively.”
However, she found that her business model was not sustainable, so she moved into a “comfortable” corporate job after graduation. The job didn’t satisfy her, and she realized she wasn’t growing in the role. “Every choice that I make for one thing is a choice not to pursue something else,” says Morgan. “It’s a constant tradeoff. The minute I realized that I’d rather be somewhere else was the minute I realized I had to leave.”
Every choice that I make for one thing is a choice not to pursue something else. It’s a constant tradeoff. The minute I realized that I’d rather be somewhere else was the minute I realized I had to leave.
Top talent make the rules in the talent economy. They have their choice of who they engage with. Companies that cling to the traditional talent model have less access to talent as a result—a growing problem for entrenched legacy organizations. According to Toptal’s 2019 State of the Remote Workforce report, finding the right talent was the most critical challenge for more than a quarter of surveyed companies, with half listing it in their top two or three.
Without incorporating on-demand and freelance talent into their company culture, traditional organizations lose out. Yet hiring freelance talent is a process unto itself and can create additional issues if not approached correctly or through the right platforms. Morgan suggests hiring managers address the problem by reconsidering what they look for in talent and understanding how top freelancers evaluate companies.
What to Look For in Top Freelancers
Evaluating potential talent is more than just reading a resume. Companies need to look not just at relevant experience and technical capabilities but also the attributes that help teams thrive— values, attitude, and energy.
Morgan says there are several traits that companies should look for during the interview process when hiring premium talent:
1. Entrepreneurial drive. The definition, according to Inc, is “a true passion for building something great from nothing,” being “willing to push . . . to the limits to achieve big goals.” This includes the willingness to see things from different perspectives, be optimistic about possibilities, and be vocal when needed.
The only thing that makes me any different is being fearless enough to take the risks and place a bet on myself.
– Melissa Morgan
2. Strong and persuasive communication. Companies should look for freelancers who can articulate their ideas to a range of stakeholders in various roles, including CEOs, project managers, and various internal teams.
3. Continuous learning. Companies should seek talent that are continually reskilling and diversifying their skills. Morgan builds time into her schedule for reskilling. This allows her to bring something new to the table that a company may be lacking.
4. Fluently shares new knowledge. During the hiring process, companies should seek candidates who are engaged with leading trends and new developments in their field—this is often evident from a portfolio or published articles the talent has authored. They can test this capability by candidly presenting candidates with the problem(s) they are trying to solve and asking talent to offer some initial suggestions on the spot. Morgan offers her perspective: “I had this one company that was considering doing some work in augmented reality (AR) and they were trying to figure out what platforms to use. What I like to do is actually give interviewers some stories that will allow them to think about Augmented Reality (AR) in a very unique way: so basically offering them value, giving them a preview of how knowledgeable I am just because of some of the things that I'm reading so they can actually envision me working for them.”
5. Business acumen. During the interview, strong freelance job seekers will ask questions about the problems a company is facing. They will want statistics and user information—specifics. They will also want a good handle on what milestones they’re expected to hit and when.
What Freelance Talent Want from Companies
One reason companies may not be finding the right talent is that they aren’t providing what the talent needs. Morgan says that she often passes on opportunities if the fit isn’t right. Here are some of the things she looks for:
1. Flexibility. Freelancers put a high value on location independence and work-life balance. They want the flexibility to work from anywhere with flexible hours. They’ll balk if an employer edges toward micromanagement. “For a lot of my video calls, I’m in PJs from the waist down,” says Morgan. “I can take vacations and travel the world. And in the future, when I have a family, I want to be able to work from home and be with them.” Companies that embrace a remote workplace culture have a competitive advantage in this regard.
2. Experience. As a highly rated professional on Toptal’s network, Morgan looks for companies that have done their research. Company owners must be willing to treat the business as a business and not “as their baby,” she says. She doesn’t want to fight over decisions she’s being paid to make. Morgan says projects get derailed when new entrepreneurs have sentimental attachments to their vision and forget why they hired her in the first place.
You don’t take your car to a mechanic and then ask the mechanic to do things differently because you think it should be a certain way.
– Melissa Morgan
3. High expectations and mutual respect. Freelancers look for companies that share their work values and ethics, but they also crave challenging opportunities for skill and career growth. Morgan says she prefers when she and the company are on the same page “. . . not just about the business but about the values that we have. It's very important for my clients to feel comfortable telling me when they would like something changed or when they disagree with me. It's very important for me to feel comfortable giving feedback and for them to look at it purely from a business stance.”
What Companies Should Avoid When Hiring Freelancers
According to Morgan, companies should avoid:
1. Looking for a unicorn of unicorns. “For me, a big red flag is when HR lists every possible coding language they have ever heard of in their lives when posting a job description. They say they are looking for one person that can do all these things, but it just shows me that the company has no idea what they need.”
Companies are more likely to find the right talent if they:
- Have a vision for the outcome of the project. You need to have an idea of where you’re going before you can hire the right individual.
- Create an accurate job description. This is done by determining what you actually need to be done. What task are you trying to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? Why do you need to bring in a freelancer? How long will you need a freelancer? What skills do you need that you don’t already have within your team?
- Provide examples. There are thousands of ways to design something, for example, so having some references or inspirations to share gives the freelancer a place to begin.
- Give freelancers everything they need to be successful. For a finance expert, this might include market research like a business plan, marketing plan, competitive analysis, and/or SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis so they understand the goals for the project. For a designer, this could be a brand kit and reference materials.
2. Not using a trusted network. Morgan suggests using trusted networks like Toptal or Business Talent Group or asking within your own network for resources, especially when first beginning to work with freelance talent. As you progress, it’s as important to establish trust within the talent pool that you’ve repeatedly engaged with. This occurs naturally over time by setting clear expectations around specifics like project goals and when and how you will communicate.
“The last thing you want to do is hire a freelancer that doesn’t have experience solving a problem that you need to have solved,” says Morgan. “Most trusted networks guarantee that the freelancer you’re paired with will be able to do what you need them to do.”
Attracting Top Talent
Today’s talent is no longer satisfied with the traditional “hire and hold” job market of the past. Instead, they seek to work with companies that understand their wants and needs. As companies and HR departments transform their culture to embrace the talent economy and adjust their recruitment methods, they will have the opportunity to attract top freelance job candidates like Morgan and fuel their teams for exceptional performance.
On the other hand, companies that make mistakes like the ones Morgan describes may find that they do not have, or cannot find, potential candidates with the right skill sets to complete critical projects. Without capturing premium on-demand talent, these companies will struggle to remain competitive and may ultimately fail.