How to Interview and Select the Right WordPress Developer for You

Posted on September 20, 2015 by in Tips & Tricks | 18 comments

How to Interview and Select the Right WordPress Developer for You

It’s fair to say that clients tend to take a lot of heat sometimes. We’ve had a few articles right here on Elegant Themes that covered dealing with problem clients. And if that wasn’t enough, there always seems to be a funny story in the comments about a particular client encounter. Heck, we even have the well-known website, Clients From Hell in case you feel like you’re in need of even more sympathy.

It’s probably about time for us to look at things from a different perspective. The client’s perspective.

Hiring a WordPress developer or designer is never an easy task. The sheer number of potential applicants for a job posting can make it a real challenge to find someone who is both qualified and a good fit.

Part of what makes the process of hiring a WordPress developer so challenging is that a developer is not always what you need. We also have other categories of WordPress professionals that need to be considered and making sure you hire the right person for the job is an important first step.

If you’re looking for someone to help you with your WordPress project, this article should help you select the right WordPress developer (or other WordPress professional) for your specific job.

Know What Kind of Help You Need

The first step in hiring someone to help with your WordPress project is to understand what kind of help you need. Some WordPress professionals are pretty attached to a particular label such as designer or developer. The last thing you want to be doing is referring to a developer as a designer, or, you had better be prepared to run.

All kidding aside, there are some distinct differences between the two (as well as some sub-categories) and knowing exactly who you are looking for will make the hiring process much easier. I’ve decided to break your potential options into four categories. So let’s take a closer look at what they are:

WordPress Designer

I’ve listed designers first because if you’re building a custom WordPress website, the first step is usually to figure out exactly what it’s going to look like. Designers are typically masters when it comes to working with:

  • Photoshop
  • Fireworks
  • Illustrator
  • WordPress

It also not uncommon for designers to have a little or even extensive knowledge of HTML and CSS. So what does all this mean? It means that a designer can help you create the overall look and feel of your website. Site architecture, layout, colors, fonts, design elements and more.

Once they’ve finished designing your website, the Photoshop files are typically handed off to a developer for coding. If you’re working with a premade theme, a designer can help you change some of the specific design elements in order to customize your site.

WordPress Developer

Good WordPress developers are in high demand. Finding one who has time available to handle your project is not always an easy task but that depends largely on the size and complexity of your project. An individual who considers themselves to be a developer will usually have skills that include:

  • An in-depth knowledge of WordPress core, themes and possibly plugins
  • PHP
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JAVA
  • JQUERY
  • MYSQL

Once a developer receives the Photoshop files from the designer,  they can get started coding the website. The Coles Notes version of a developers job is essentially to take a visual representation of your site and turn it into a functional and fully-interactive website.

Sometimes, although not always, you might find a front-end developer being brought into a project in order to help with a specific part of the development: Those aspects that visitors directly interact with such as menus, sliders, and portfolios. Front-end developers might specialize in HTML, CSS, Javascript, and JQuery.

Developer-Designer Hybrid

This is actually more common that you might imagine – especially on smaller projects that are typical of a small to medium size business. If you’re a business owner who is looking for a custom website or if you want to have a template customized, chances are you’ll end up working with someone who has a mix of both design and development skills. It’s also pretty common for a designer-developer hybrid to bring in some outside help for areas of a project that might be beyond their skill level although there are certainly times when this isn’t required.

WordPress Site Builder

The premium WordPress theme market has created yet another category of WordPress professional. Some people call them website builders or architects. Most of the time these individuals will work with themes from a particular theme company. For example, Elegant Themes.

Although not technically a developer or designer, that doesn’t mean this WordPress professional isn’t a force to be reckoned with. Someone working in this category will probably have some rudimentary knowledge of design principles, HTML, CSS and maybe even a little PHP although they are probably classified as more of a hack than anything else.

As a business owner, this can actually end up being one of the best types of WordPress professionals to work with, and for good reason. Similar to hiring a general contractor to build a home, site builders often have extensive knowledge of which specific skills are required to complete a particular task. They understand when you’ll need help from a developer or when a particular design element will require help from a full-time designer. You might also find that they’re well versed in things like conversion optimization, email marketing, and social media.

Important Qualities to Look For

Important Qualities to Look For

Important Qualities to Look For – image by liravega / shutterstock.com

There are seven things that are worth looking for in your quest for successful project completion. These are all things that you could assess as a layperson, knowing little or nothing about code, design or WordPress in general. This is very different that if you were well versed coding yourself. In that case, you could simply share a screen and watch them troubleshoot or solve a predetermined task.

Chances are you don’t have that luxury so you’ll find that the following work just as well:

Are They Communicative

Good communication skills are probably the number one most important quality when you’re trying to hire someone to help with your WordPress project. Even the best developer or designer in the world will have you pulling your hair out if they are not good at communication.

I’m not suggesting you should be able to email them six times per day asking for an update and get a response each time. But if you send an email on Monday, and it takes longer than 24 hours to get a response, it’s not acceptable. Establish and agree upon communication guidelines before the project starts and hold them to a standard.

Personality Fit

Regardless of the size of your project, it’s important that you get along with your developer or designer. If you’re butting heads early in the project, things will only get worse. In most cases, I think you can get a very good feel for how the relationship will be with just one or two meetings. Trust your gut, and if things don’t feel right, look for someone else.

Flexibility

Almost as important as communication is the ability to be flexible. Small changes here and there are to be expected. As long as you’re not having them redo perfectly good work on a regular basis, everyone should be a happy camper.

As well, set the tone for what’s acceptable and what’s not. Any developer or designer with a successful business will understand the importance of customer service. Whether it’s setting convenient appointment times, choosing a method of communication or being generally available, a degree of flexibility on both side will help to ensure a well-run project.

If your developer or designer tells you they don’t take calls from clients, look elsewhere.

A Portfolio of Appropriate Projects

If you’re going to hire someone to develop an eCommerce store, it’s reasonable to expect that they have some experience developing eCommerce stores. Likewise, if you’re hiring a designer, a portfolio of print items does not demonstrate the ability to design a user-friendly website. As you’re looking at their portfolio, make sure it contains projects that are comparable in size and scope to your project.

Quality References

References are another critical piece of the puzzle. But not just any old reference will do. In the same way you looked for a relevant portfolio, make sure that the references provided are relevant to your project.

Skill-Set and Scope

Accurately assessing skill-sets or scope can be difficult to do when you don’t have the skills required to complete the project yourself. We covered some of the specific skills a little earlier, and it’s a good idea to confirm that your developer has the prerequisites to get the job done. Some of this assessment is going to require a degree of goodwill, particularly if you’re hiring someone who works with a team.

What Do They Ask For?

One of the best ways to figure out whether you’re hiring the right person (once you’ve answered the questions and concerns above) is to sit back and wait. What are the first steps proposed by your potential new hire?

Do they present you with a contract or an honest conversation that covers contractual terms, milestones, deadlines, time to completion and ongoing support? If these kinds of topics are addressed, there is a pretty good chance that the person you’re dealing with has been down this road once or twice before. That’s a good sign.

Anytime a developer or designer seems eager to start your project and get a first deposit in their hand before discussing all of the above; it should be a warning sign. You might want to dig a little deeper into their project and work history.

Wrap-Up

Finding the right developer or designer for your project doesn’t need to be a complicated process. Once you understand what kind of help you need, it’s just a case of making sure you’re hiring someone who has the qualifications that are required to see each stage of your project through to completion.

Just because you don’t understand WordPress best practices, how to design for the web or what the heck PHP is, this doesn’t mean you can’t hire the right people to get the job done.

If you have recently hired a developer, designer or WordPress professional, what challenges did you face when making your hiring decision?

Article thumbnail image by Vige.co / shutterstock.com

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18 Comments

  1. As many designers are forced into dabbling in development, we spend more time and frustration in a field (html, css, databases, email configuration, installs, backups, etc.) in which we haven’t any interest, aptitude nor talent.
    Where does one look for a WordPress talent who can handle all of the basic set-up and do some troubleshooting? I’d love to pay someone who is more advanced than I will ever be.

    • We can discuss this 😉

      -V

    • Hi Joel,

      We fall in the WordPress Site Builder category, as mentioned in the excellent article by Joe Fylan.

      We already fulfill many digital agencies’ orders using Divi from Elegant Themes, including installation and plug in configurations.

      You can reach us at http://www.dZaine.in or @dzainein

      Cheerios,

      Devin

  2. Sometimes we need to be something of a hybrid.

    I design some sites where there is plenty of exiting material and design elements leaving the more open ended designs to a graphic artist.

    I can do simple CSS but need to bring in someone with more expertise when needed.

    I can resize/reformat images and believe that we all should be able to do that with programmes such as Gimp or Paint.net. I plan to spend some time up-skilling my ability with CSS over the next few months.

    Another website developer said to me recently that we cannot know everything – how true.

  3. Spot on read. The hybrid description almost made me laugh out loud. Easy to identify with that one. Great advice for my clients too, I would imagine all the points made were accurate…as I have run across many of the things described as a Web Designer, and Developing at times, as well as hiring for advanced Javascript/PHP needs that were security risks if done poorly.

    Love working with Elegant products, and the posts are great. Thanks!

  4. Sorry, why JAVA?

    • I want to know this too. Please answer.

      • Javascript allows for popups and non-flash animations of elements of a website. The parallax effect is a perfect example of javascript employment on a wordpress theme.

  5. I like your definition of website builder/architect. I’ve been in this role for many years but didn’t have a label for it.
    Another part of the role is being a project manager and facilitator for the client, designer and developer. That means understanding the whole of the client’s business objectives, and where their online presence fits in to their overall business plan.

  6. Thank you for this excellent overview. I’ve just shared it with a friend who needs help with her site, and this article helps her better understand whom she needs to seek.

  7. This is the challenge right now, getting right WordPress Designer, developer or website Builder.

    One should understand business and requirements first, I see many people say they do WordPress design, but when I see their portfolio they using ready made theme (its okay) but not using theme elements or a page builder supplied with theme LOL.

    For a WordPress business Its easy if one is handy in design and building part (Hybrid). But become tough when we are dependent on other hybrid or designers.

    -V

  8. Joe thanks for sharing this wonderful post. We as a web designing company and offering our clients with WordPress websites we have always desired to find the right WordPress candidate, who will be well suited for us. Many a times we have realized that the candidate we have chosen is not the one we were looking for and as a result it added to the blues. Reading this we have now some important factors which we can look into. Thanks for sharing the important qualities to look for.

  9. Thanks to Joe for sharing such detailed report, and I hope every one faced such things.

    Yes, Its true to find a suitable hybrid person who knows designs and the basic WordPress reated development things. We have been facing such issue from a long time, so started training both parts in-house, and around 1 yr started getting results.

    Designer needs to be also trained about basic of WordPress theme/plugin related elements, so that while desinging layouts/templates he can use those basic things that WordPress website must have or are in-built by default.

    Thanks again!

  10. you added some valuable information. I will keep these tips in mind while selecting wordpress developer. Thanks a lot.

  11. Great advice, here. I’m looking to hire a WordPress Developer/WordPress Builder within the next couple of months and I’m a bit anxious about the process. First, because I need to be certain I can pay them. Second, because it’s my first hire and so it is extremely important for the continued growth and success of a small company like mine.

    Thanks for sharing these tips and strategies.

  12. As a designer/developer, I’d totally rearrange those qualities and add one more.

    1) A Portfolio of Appropriate Projects

    2) Quality References
    (Previous work talks more than anything. You just need to confirm that the work is actually done by them. These two alone can change your decision completely.)

    *) Budget fit (Sometimes this becomes the most important one. I have some prepared packages to overcome this difficulty. I can offer a website for $300 but my clients know that they won’t get SEO or page speed with that package.

    3) What Do They Ask For? (This is basically a reality check for everything the freelancer claims. For instance my second and third step after the initial contact is to send them a business objectives and design survey to understand their needs better.)

    4) Skill-Set and Scope

    5) Are They Communicative (Important but not the first thing. I’ve seen so many project managers in this business who does the talking and selling but the team behind them may not be that qualified. So if someone is overcommunicating or saying stuff that are too good to be true beware.)

    6) Personality Fit (Important but not as much as the others. Plus you can’t assess the personality fit as easily as the others considering that most of the contracts in this business are signed after online meetings.)

    7) Flexibility (Sometimes people do business the way they do because of a reason, not to be a pain. And this may actually show that they’ve been in the business for a long time to come up with some principles. So I don’t agree with this point that much.)

    Wow this was a long one, I should put this in my blog instead 🙂

  13. I am planning to select one WordPress developer recently. This article can be kept in front while interviewing him. Thanks a bunch.

  14. thanks for sharing this worthy article, i will certainly keep these points in mind while hiring any wordpress developer for my next project.

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