If you’re looking to hire a freelance virtual assistant, you might be wondering the best place to find a rockstar VA.
Two of the largest platforms for online workers are Upwork and OnlineJobs.ph. Both of these sites have a deep talent pool and your diamond-in-the-rough virtual assistant is probably out there somewhere — it’s just a matter of finding them, or them finding you.
Note: This article focuses on the employer’s perspective. If you’re a freelancer looking for work, the information below will give you some insight into the hiring process, fees, and protections on each of the platforms, but doesn’t speak to how difficult securing work is or the types of clients you might encounter on either Upwork or OnlineJobs.
For disclosure, links to OnlineJobs are affiliate links.
Intro to Upwork and OnlineJobs.ph
While the two platforms share some similarities, there are a few key differences you should know about.
Upwork is the love child of Elance and oDesk, two Silicon Valley startups that helped pioneer the virtual freelance marketplace model.
When these one-time competitors combined forces in 2015, they rebranded as “Upwork” and created the world’s largest freelance marketplace, with more than 12 million registered freelancers.
OnlineJobs is the largest job board in the Philippines, with more than 250,000 members. What started as a side project for founder John Jonas in 2008 has turned into a massively successful platform that connects Filipino workers with employers all around the world.
Quick Upwork vs. OnlineJobs Comparison Chart
|Number of Workers||12 million||250,000|
|Platform Fee||5-20%||$69 per month|
|No Ongoing Markup|
($500 one-time fee)
| Escrow Protection /
|Best For||One-off projects||Long-term hires|
|Learn More||Learn More|
What kind of roles can you hire for?
On both sites, you might be surprised at the breadth of skills and workers available for hire. If the role you’ve envisioned for your virtual assistant can be done remotely, you can find someone to do it on Upwork.
The site has several broad-strokes categories of remote work, including design and creative work, programming and development work, administrative support, marketing and sales work, and more. And of course beneath each of those are dozens of highly specialized areas of expertise.
For example, here are some of the skills listed under Sales and Marketing:
Once you click on any one of those skills, you’ll be presented with a pretty-looking grid of freelancers in that category. For example, when I click on SEO Specialists, this is what I see next:
These little profile previews will show you how many hours the freelancer has completed on Upwork, their hourly rate, where they’re located in the world, and an indicator of how well they’ve performed for past clients.
Once you create a free Upwork account, you can contact these professionals directly, or post your own job to see what kind of bids you get back.
OnlineJobs has a similar array of skills listed, but I think their upfront filtering is a little better.
As with Upwork, you can narrow your search by skill, but you can also select whether you’re looking for someone part-time or full-time, their expected salary range, and their ID Proof score (more on that below).
You can use Google to find out the current exchange rate and filter by budget accordingly. When starting out, I’ll usually leave the salary pretty open to see what comes back. For reference, at the time of this writing, 20,000 pesos is around $400.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is being able to filter by more than one skill at a time, like to find someone who’s great at English AND SEO, or someone who knows both Android AND iOS development.
For example here’s what comes back when I search for people with 5-stars in both English writing and SEO:
Out of those 250,000 resumes, only 225 meet that criteria. See, you can narrow this down in a hurry!
Note: OnlineJobs has an important “throttle” in place here as well, and that’s that workers are limited to giving themselves 5 stars in only 3 different categories, and 4 stars in 6 different categories. So don’t blanket your filter looking for that 5-star across-the-board unicorn, because your search will turn up empty-handed.
For that reason, you can prioritize your most important skill requirement with the one you assign 5 stars. Because you know those 5 star skills are a really hot commodity!
Rating themselves 5 stars also requires an additional explanation. I mentioned to one candidate that his skills looked pretty weak, and he explained he didn’t want to be bothered with writing the justification for the 5-star rating.
Just a heads up to any aspiring freelancers or virtual assistants—if you’re too lazy to spend 2 minutes explaining why you’re “the best in the world,” why would anyone take the risk of hiring you full time?
The Date filter refers to the length of time since the candidate was last active on OnlineJobs. It stands to reason someone who hasn’t been on the site in 3 months has probably already been hired and isn’t actively looking for work, so you can use that to narrow down your pool a little further.
If you’re constantly on the hunt for new hires, you can use this filter to find a fresh batch of profiles each time.
In the case of OnlineJobs, you’ll need to register for a paid membership (starting at $49/month) before you can contact any workers or post a job of your own.
How Upwork works
How OnlineJobs works
Employer protections in place
Both platforms have a number of “safeguards” in place to protect both workers and employers. I’ll go through them below and show you why they’re important.
The hallmark of many peer-to-peer platforms is a two-sided rating system, in which buyers rate sellers and sellers rate buyers — popularized by ebay in the mid-90s.
Upwork and OnlineJobs have similar systems in place so as an employer, you can see the feedback each worker has received from past clients.
This is much more robust on Upwork than it is on OnlineJobs, in part due to the nature of the platform. Because workers tend to be hired for shorter-term projects, there is a lot more client turnover, which amounts to more opportunity to collect positive (or negative) feedback.
One thing to be aware of, beyond the cumulative 5-star score, is the number of jobs completed with no feedback given. Many employers (myself included sometimes) subscribe to your mom’s old adage of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
(A $66 job still “in progress” from 2012 probably isn’t a good sign either.)
Upwork also shows you the “job success rate” of each freelancer, which measures the percentage of gigs they’ve done resulting in “a great client experience.” Naturally, the higher the percentage, the better.
Although I had a successful project with the developer shown, a 59% job success rate is pretty poor and I’d be hesitant to hire someone with that kind of track record.
On each freelancer’s profile page, you’ll also find a summary of their work history on the platform, which is meant to give you an indication of the “safety in numbers” of how many other people have hired them and how experienced they are.
In contrast, here’s an example of an excellent profile page. Her “in progress” jobs are hourly and have hundreds or thousands of hours completed, and she has a 99% job success rate:
Take all these metrics with a grain of salt. They’re there to help you with your hiring decision, but I’ve found great workers with almost no feedback or work history, and had horribly painful projects with contractors with glowing reviews. Past performance is no guarantee of future results and every job is different.
On Upwork, freelancers also have the opportunity to review you, the employer. These metrics aren’t visible to you in aggregate, but you can view your client feedback on each contract and when you post new jobs, potential candidates can see some of your employer metrics.
For example, before people bid on your job or project, they’ll be able to see what previous hires said about you as well as how much money you’ve spent on the platform and the percentage of job postings you’ve made that have resulted in a hire.
These are safety metrics for the freelancers; if you only hire for 1 out of every 4 job postings, it might not be worth their time to submit their application because it looks like you’re not that serious. On the flip-side, if you’ve spent thousands of dollars on Upwork and each posting results in a hire, you’re a very attractive employer to apply with.
On OnlineJobs, there is a feedback system but it isn’t nearly as prominent as Upwork’s. The vast majority of workers have no feedback ratings, and you shouldn’t let that deter you from hiring them.
Since the platform is more geared toward long-term relationships, there is less opportunity for great workers to collect positive feedback — because they’re still working and not looking for new gigs. In that way, the system may be unfairly skewed to negative reviews, since happy employers have little incentive to leave a review and only unhappy ones will feel the need to vent.
Still, if you find an assistant with one or more negative reviews, that’s probably a red flag and something to at least question during your screening or pre-interview phase.
The OnlineJobs rating system is one-directional, meaning workers can’t rate you as the employer.
Pro Tip: If you’re hiring for a long-term position on either platform, ask for references and actually call them.
Freelancer Tests and Self-Ratings
The bread-and-butter of OnlineJobs is in their filtering system, but what’s driving those filters? At the end of the day, the star-ratings given are self-selected. (Though the throttle mentioned above prevents someone from 5-starring themselves for every skill on the list.)
Beyond these self-ratings, OnlineJobs has added a layer of testing to give some objective measure of intelligence, English skills, and even personality traits.
For example, here’s a candidate with an excellent virtual assistant profile:
She measures an impressive 138 on the IQ test, and at the mastery level on English, as “administered by a credentialed language academy in North America.”
The DISC scoring system is designed to help you gauge the compatibility fit with your company and the role you’re hiring for. As you might imagine, a “good” score will depend on the role you had in mind.
If you’re trying to hire a persuasive copywriter, I’d look for a high Influence score. For a web developer, a high Compliance score may indicate a detail-oriented nature and adherence to W3C standards.
Upwork also gives workers a chance to beef up their profile by taking certain skills tests. For instance, here are the test scores of Marjorie above:
If you click on the Details link, it will show what specific subcategories were included on the test and how they performed on each of those.
As someone who was “an A-student” and a good test-taker in school, these tests and their results appeal to me as an employer, even though I know from real life I didn’t always make the best employee.
On both platforms, I might use these tests as a “tiebreaker” between two equally talented candidates, but would hesitate to completely rule someone out on the basis of their test result or their lack of taking the test in the first place.
Like some of the other metrics mentioned, it’s almost more of an indicator of how much effort they’re putting toward their online job search. The platforms are giving them this as an extra opportunity to showcase their skills so it’s only natural the “hungriest” candidates will use that to their advantage.
ID Proof on OnlineJobs
You might be wondering about the ID Proof metric on OnlineJobs. Every member of the site is assigned an ID Proof score, which is basically a measure of confidence the candidate is who they say they are.
It doesn’t measure skill or talent in any way, but I DO use it as a filter because I think it shows a candidate is serious enough to jump through a few hoops to make their profile look more attractive.
To me, it’s an indicator the candidate is making an honest representation of themselves online and is taking the virtual assistant career path seriously.
Both platforms provide a “Big Brother” work monitoring solution in the form of a screen capture software tool.
Upwork calls this Work Diary, which takes screenshots of your virtual assistant’s screen at roughly 10 minute intervals while they’re on the clock.
The OnlineJobs version of this is called TimeProof, which is free to use even if you don’t maintain a paid OnlineJobs.ph account.
Both systems allow to look “over the shoulder” of your virtual assistant and get an idea of how they’re using their time — or if they’re goofing off.
In practice, you probably have better things to do than pore over these screenshots every day or every week, but they’re nice to have if you notice a dip in productivity or if things are just taking longer than you think they should.
Upwork offers escrow payments as a way to protect both you and the virtual assistant in the deal. For fixed-price projects, you’ll deposit the funds into an escrow account controlled by Upwork, and release payment to your freelancer when certain milestones are completed.
This shows the freelancer you’re serious about putting up the money and paying them, while still giving you some protection if they flake and don’t deliver the goods.
One advantage of Upwork is their dispute resolution service. With OnlineJobs, if your virtual assistant disappears or doesn’t perform, you’re pretty much on your own. (Which is another reason it doesn’t make sense to pre-pay.)
If you and your freelancer can’t come to terms on a particular project or you think they may be fudging their hours, you can file a dispute through the Upwork platform.
A mediator will review both sides of the story and potentially help you get some of your money back or stop payment altogether. One thing to note though is the mediator isn’t necessarily going to be a judge of the quality of the work, especially for hourly jobs. Instead, they’ll look at the Work Diary logs and make a decision accordingly.
What happens after you hire?
When you hire a virtual assistant through Upwork, you pay them through the Upwork platform, and Upwork takes a cut for facilitating the connection. See below for more information on pricing.
With OnlineJobs, you hire the assistant directly, and OnlineJobs is no longer in the picture. You’ll pay your worker directly via PayPal or via Payments.ph (a money transfer tool owned by OnlineJobs) according to the terms you mutually agree to.
For project-based work on Upwork, it’s standard to pre-pay a portion of the total project into an escrow account. With OnlineJobs, I’d caution against pre-paying for any work as that’s a common way to scam you out of your money.
Think about your day job; you don’t collect your paycheck until you’ve already put in the time. The same rule is generally true for virtual work.
To reduce risk for the assistant, you can set up weekly or bi-weekly payment cycles.
My interview with OnlineJobs founder, John Jonas
Advantages of Upwork
- No membership fee; free to get started.
- Global talent pool, not just the Philippines.
- Escrow protection and dispute resolution.
- Best for one-time projects.
Advantages of OnlineJobs
- The company doesn’t take a percentage of your worker’s salary.
- Super affordable labor pool.
- Optional recruiting service.
- Best for ongoing virtual employees.
Both sites represent huge talent pools, and earn money by playing matchmaker, though they go about this in different ways.
Upwork makes the bulk of its money by charging a fee on every project completed on its site. This fee ranges from 5-20%, depending on how much work (in dollars) a particular freelancer has done for you. This fee is baked into the price you pay, but comes out of your virtual assistant’s pocket.
Theoretically, they pass that cost on to you, the employee.
For instance, if you sign on for a $1000 engagement, the first $500 will have a 20% Upwork platform fee, netting the freelancer $400, and the next $500 will carry a 10% platform fee, leaving them with $450. In total, they’d earn $850 and Upwork would earn $150.
This graduated pricing structure makes sense, as it rewards Upwork early on in the relationship for making the connection, and rewards the freelancer with lower rates for continuing to run work through the platform (vs. “going rogue” and taking the relationship offline).
On top of your $1000 payment, Upwork will charge you 2.75% as a payment processing fee.
In contrast, OnlineJobs.ph operates on a membership model, charging you, the employer, and not the virtual assistants. You have 3 pricing tiers to choose from:
The only point of the free plan is to see if anyone responds to your listing. That’s pretty much it, since you can’t even see those applications or contact potential workers.
Where the magic happens, at least for me, is at the $69/month Pro level, where you can post jobs instantly, view the applications, and contact candidates directly.
If you really have a ton of positions to fill, the $99/month Premium membership might be worth a look. It allows you up to 10 job posts per month and adds on some cool features like OnlineJobs’ background data check, video training course, and worker coaching service.
The background data check is a smart “big data” way to protect yourself from fraud. It looks at the worker’s data on the site and other publicly available information online to try and detect if they’re a scammer or not.
The worker coaching service is something of a new-hire mentoring program, where your new virtual assistant is paired with an OnlineJobs-vetted mentor to help them understand the rules of engagement for a successful remote work relationship.
If you don’t want to do the posting, screening, and vetting yourself, OnlineJobs also offers a done-for-you recruiting service for $500. They’ll screen candidates per your requirements, run potential hires through a skills test to verify they can do what they say they can, and conduct background checks.
Then, they’ll present you with the top choices to interview and you select your favorite as your next virtual assistant. Considering the time it can take to do all that work yourself, it’s not a bad option if you’re super busy. And if you’re thinking about hiring a VA, my guess is you are!
The recruiting service comes with a one month guarantee. If something doesn’t work out with your new hire, the company will help find you a suitable replacement at no charge.
In terms of what rates you can expect to pay your worker, OnlineJobs gives this graphic as a benchmark (in U.S. Dollars):
Full-time virtual assistant support for as little as $350 per month is pretty tough to beat!
Naturally, the more specialized the skills, the more you can expect to pay. For instance, top-end developers, designers, and SEO experts will earn over $1000 a month for full-time work.
My experience w/ Upwork
My most successful Upwork project hire was actually for the late-2012 redesign of this site. If you go to the Wayback Machine and check out the old version you’ll get an appreciation for how big an improvement it was.
The developer was awesome – super responsive on Skype, hammered out the changes really fast for what I thought was a very good price.
I re-hired him later for another small project, which was also very well done, but when I needed something else done a few months after that, I couldn’t find him. He’d disappeared. Poof.
I’ve also used Upwork for some low-cost web research, which was OK, nothing like mind-blowingly amazing or anything.
For ongoing work, some of my best hires have come from Upwork (actually back when it was Elance). Even though it’s primarily a project-based platform, I found a couple long-term hires that worked out really well for almost full-time employment, including one virtual assistant I ended up working with for more than 2 years.
On the flip-side, I’ve also been burned for north of $10,000 on this platform on web development projects that never got fully completed. It was an incredibly painful, stressful, and expensive experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
In the first case, the dispute resolution safeguards didn’t apply because I foolishly agreed to work with the developer “off-platform.” In the second case, we agreed to end the contract after a few of the milestones were met but technical incompetence prevented the development company from finishing the job. It sucked.
My experience w/ OnlineJobs
I used OnlineJobs to source a couple senior level web developers and also a VA. Since technical skills like web development are in such high demand, it was a bigger challenge than I’d anticipated.
My interpretation of “senior level” and the candidates’ often was not on the same page!
One of the developers we hired was someone I had initially singled out and contacted proactively during my search filters because of his impressive profile.
Like Upwork, you’ll get a lot of unqualified applicants with every posting.
You want someone with at least 4 years of experience? Well, I only have 1 but I guess I’ll apply anyway.
On the one hand, I admire your optimism and proactiveness, but on the other hand, it adds up to a waste of time in filtering out the irrelevant responses.
For the VA posting, I didn’t do any proactive outreach, but listed some requirements in my job descriptions — among them, being detail-oriented. In the posting I asked applicants to make sure to start their cover letter with “Hey Nick, you’d be dumb not to hire me because…”
And as you might guess, about half of these “detail-oriented” applicants missed it entirely. I guess it makes it easy to thin down the crowd!
I’m not sure if this is the smart way to do it, but I reasoned I could also get a general idea of a person’s experience based on their requested salary. I understand there will always be exceptions to the rule, but if someone is quoting a salary that’s half the going the rate, to me that’s a sign of desperation or a scam.
Another thing I learned – If someone replies to your job listing but does not include a link to their profile, it’s probably because they have a bad review or incriminating comment. Sometimes you can find their profile by searching on your own using the Specific Jobseeker Search.
Using the platform can definitely feel like a needle-in-the-haystack search at times, but I’ve found several excellent “needles” and will continue to come back to source new hires as the needs arise.
Overall, I really like the OnlineJobs resource and have definitely gotten more than my money’s worth out of it over the years.
Note: To check out what other OnlineJobs users have to say, check out the reviews here.
Which should you choose?
For project work, probably Upwork.
For ongoing work, probably OnlineJobs.
What do you think? When hiring virtual assistants, do you prefer to work through Upwork or OnlineJobs? Or another platform entirely?