How To Ace Upwork’s Interview Process (And Obliterate Your Competition)

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Let's face it, nobody likes interviews.

Having to prove yourself to someone you likely don't even know is tough. And when it goes wrong, it's demoralizing.

But what few freelancers realize, is that Upwork's interview process is far from a typical job interview. And, once you fully understand how it works, you'll see that it's actually not all that scary.

In today's post, I'll reveal how interviews truly function on Upwork, and more specifically, some core principles that allow you to breeze through Upwork interviews every single time.

The Initial "Interview" Phase

There's a reason I put the word "interview" in quotes.

Not because I like quotes (who doesn't like quotes?). It's actually because the term is a little misrepresented on Upwork, specifically.

In the real world, an interview would be defined as:

"A somewhat formal discussion between a hirer and an applicant or candidate, typically in person, in which information is exchanged, with the intention of establishing the applicant's suitability for a position."

But on Upwork, that's not strictly the case.

In fact, the official moment an interview begins is when a client responds to a freelancers application (or proposal). You can even see this publicly.

A response doesn't necessarily mean they want to interview you per se, and in many cases, it means:

  • Scenario 1: The client wants to give you more information about the task
  • Scenario 2: They're already sold on you and want to ask some general questions (ideas, availability, etc.)
  • Scenario 3: They're looking to negotiate (price, deadline, scope of work, etc.)

All of that stuff just relies on basic communication and negotiation skills.

Of course, there will occasions where the client prefers to do a separate, slightly more literal interview to help narrow down their options.

Lewis's Note
It's even possible to skip the "interview" process entirely if the client sends a hire request in direct response to your proposal. It's quite rare, though.

2 Types Of Dedicated Interviews

So let's assume the client does want you to prove yourself, how does that actually translate?

In my experience, it can be broken down into two core types.

  • Type 1: The Call
  • Type 2: The Sample

In this post, I'll only be breaking down 'Type 1' since that's the area people tend to struggle with, and it's also what most people would associate with being
"an interview."

(Don't worry, I plan to a release a separate post on samples soon. I'll update this section when I eventually hit publish on that bad boy.)

The Call

In this case, the the client will reach out to request to have a call with you. Usually on a separate platform (although you can actually call directly through Upwork now.)

Here's how that might look:

A key thing to keep in mind here, is that most clients will assume this to be an unpaid offering of your time.

Now, there are very few cases where I recommend working for free, but given how well these calls convert, I'd say it's very low-risk on your end -- providing you execute properly, of course.

That said, there are a couple boundaries I'd recommend you communicate to the client from the offset.

Boundary #1: Date And Time

As you can see in the screenshot above, the client will often suggest a date and time for the call.

Since Upwork is an international marketplace, it's very likely that clients will suggest times that are super inconvenient for you. And, if that's the case, don't be afraid to offer alternatives that better suit you.

In fact, you can even use a tool like Calendly to give the client a visual overview of your availability, and they can book themselves in. (This is also great for positioning yourself a high-level, in-demand freelancer.)

Lewis's Note
If the client doesn't show up and fails to give you notice of cancellation, I recommend taking that as a pretty big red flag and considering passing on the opportunity entirely.

Boundary #2: Duration

This is a BIG one and something I was always reluctant to do when I first started out, but it's a necessary part of establishing yourself as a professional and learning to respect your own time.

Most invitations for a call are open-ended. They have no specified duration and could last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour (or longer).

That's why it's your responsibility, as the service provider, to communicate the allotted time-frame of the call. Especially if you're not being paid for you time.

Not only does this BEAM authority, but it forces both parties to get all their ducks in a row before the call and make it a highly-focused and productive 10...15...20 minutes.

How To Pass With Flying Colors

Ok so you've had a response to one of your proposals, and you've successfully scheduled a time to jump on a call.

What next? 

Well, one of the best ways to ensure a smooth interview (and to almost certainly bag the job) is to be irrationally prepared for every scenario.

Now, as I said before, these interviews are almost never like traditional job interviews. They tend to be a lot more informal and sometimes even require YOU to take the lead.

As long you're prepared, that will never be an issue. In fact, taking the lead is often something you want to strive for. Being able to direct the conversation in a way that hits all the right notes is exactly what you want.

Being Irrationally Prepared

I don't care how nervous or inexperienced you are for a call, being unreasonably and irrationally prepared is the only way to overcome the negative emotions and absolutely blow your prospective client away.

Look, 90% of the interview takes place before the interview even starts. The rest is just executing on what you've already laid out for yourself prior to jumping on the call.

Okay, I've got a lot to share so this will a bit of a quick-fire section:

#1: Just Ask

Once you've scheduled a call with the client, you should always ask if there's something they'd like you to prepare for the call.

Even though you'll already be preparing everything you could possibly need, their answer can often give insight into what kind of interview the client wants this to be.

(Whether it be a casual chat, a strategy call, or a more traditional, question-by-question grilling.)

This is more of a mindset thing more than anything else, and going in with the right mindset is another form of preparation that should never be underestimated.

#2: Reread The Job Description

Rereading the job description you applied for is a great way to get a quick refresher on what the opportunity is actually about.

It can sometimes be weeks until you hear back from a client, let alone end up on a call with them, which is why it's crucial to remind yourself of why you were interested in the first place.

This also ties in heavily with the new few points...

#3: Research The Company

The job description rarely offers enough information to get a complete understanding of the clients company and their goals.

A great place to get that information is from the company website. If the client didn't mention their website anywhere on Upwork, take a note from the first point and just ask.

You don't have to spend hours combing through each page of their website, but a quick read over the home page and about page will likely give you more insight than you know what to do with.

#4: Always Be Taking Notes

As you do your research prior to the call, you should always be taking notes. It sounds obvious, but you'd be amazed by how many people skip this part.

Relying on your brain to recall information at just the right time is a risky move, and the payoff for getting it right is significant enough to warrant going the extra mile to have it all written down.

Trust me, something as simple as reading back a clients mission statement in the midst of a conversation will earn you HUGE brownie points.

#5: Have Samples Ready

Often times, even though you've likely provided a sample prior to the call, you will mention something that ties in closely to something you've done previously.

For example, that might be a particular strategy you recommend the client take, which is likely something you've executed in the past. Wouldn't it be awesome to back up your advice with a proven case study?

It's all well and good saying "I'll send that to you after the call", but walking the client through it right there and then has significantly more impact than letting them figure it out solo. (And that's if they even remember to check it.)

#6: Watch Your Connection

I won't jabber on about this because it's fairly straightforward -- but it's so important to take the call on a stable internet connection.

There's nothing worse than having to repeat yourself countless times (or worse, asking the client to repeat themselves) because you couldn't be bothered to check your WiFi capabilities.

No matter how prepared you are in terms of what to say, none of it matters if you're not able to properly communicate.

#7: Don't Dodge Questions

Very occasionally, you'll get that one question you're not quite sure how to answer. It may be that you don't know how to phrase it, you're not confident in your ability to explain it, or you simply don't know the answer.

It happens. Don't sweat it. But the last thing you should do in that situation is try and dodge the question. Just be straight about your concern in answering that specific question.

Being upfront and honest is something that anyone (and especially clients) will appreciate, and maintaining authenticity is always a good substitute for when you don't simply don't have the answer.

Wrapping It Up

As I'm sure you've gathered by now, Upwork interviews aren't something to get your knickers in a twist over.

At it's core, the key is to understand the true definition of an Upwork interview and how it actually functions in comparison to a traditional interview.

From there, success simply comes down to your ability to be irrationally prepared for every possible scenario. And believe me, few freelancers are taking advantage of this crucial phase of client acquisition.

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