Background Screening for the On-Demand Economy: What Every Freelancer Needs to Know

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Background checks are a common component of the standard employment process. These days, if you want to get a traditional full-time job, you should expect to submit an application and resume, go through a phone interview, nail an in-person interview or two, and submit to a background check.

At the same time , our concept of what a job or career can be has begun to shift. No longer is everyone working full-time 9-5 positions – nor do many people even want to. Instead, we’ve witnessed the rise of the on-demand economy, in which many are making their livings through freelance jobs and contract positions.

The on-demand economy has made possible careers that go far beyond our traditional notions of freelancing. Today, a freelancer can be anyone from a writer bidding on projects on Upwork to an artist selling unique items in an Etsy store or a driver meeting customers through Uber. Marketing, Web development, accounting, teaching, tutoring, and graphic design are also among the most common freelance jobs.

The Hiring Process for Freelancers

It’s a good time to be a freelancer. It’s becoming both a more lucrative and more socially acceptable way to pay your bills. The Internet has made it possible for freelancers to find gigs in a variety of fields through specialized job boards, websites, and apps.

The process of applying for a freelance job will vary fairly dramatically depending on your field, the job at hand, and the individual or business offering the job.If the application process varies this much, you can bet that employment screening processes will vary a lot as well. As I discussed previously, the screening process is more or less standard for traditional full- and part-time roles. When it comes to freelance gigs, however, no such standard exists.

That being said, there are a few things freelancers should be aware of when it comes to the screening processes they may face:

Your Client Might not Require a Background Check

A good number of people and organizations looking for freelancers aren’t going to ask for a background check. There are two reasons for this.

phoneFirst, criminal background checks cost money. Someone hiring a freelancer probably doesn’t want to make that kind of investment just to hire someone for a one-off marketing project or website development job, and asking the freelancer to pay the cost of the background check is an efficient way to scare off prospects.

Second, background checks take time, and freelance hires tend to happen pretty quickly. A job gets posted on a freelance board, the person/company that posted it gets a few dozen resumes in the first few hours, and the poster reviews those resumes to choose someone for the job. People looking for freelancers generally want to get their projects started as soon as possible, and freelancers themselves want and need to find work ASAP to maintain their income streams.

Your Online Profiles Matter

Because criminal background checks are not really a part of the equation for most freelance jobs, your online profiles are going to matter even more than they usually would. A potential client who wants to get a sense of your character and temperament might check your social media profiles and Google your name. Cleaning up your Facebook and Twitter accounts and Googling yourself to see what comes up are good steps to take to help you prepare for these possible checks.

Another factor that will make a difference is your profile on your job board of choice. For instance, on Upwork, freelancers have pages where past customers can rate and review their services. What’s most important to a person or organization hiring a freelancer is the quality of the work, so if your ratings are high, taking a look at your profile could be the extent of your “background check” on their end.

You Are Going to Have to Submit Work

Background checks aren’t all about digging up criminal histories. They can also reveal information about a person’s education, work history, and professional credentials.

If you are looking for a freelance job online, however, your potential client probably isn’t going to spend a lot of time scrutinizing the accuracy of your resume. Instead, the quality of your work is going to take precedent. You will need to create a portfolio of past projects relevant to the kind of work you are looking for. Some freelance job boards will allow you to upload these portfolios to your profile. In other cases, you will have to email samples directly to your clients.

For larger projects, a client might ask you to complete a small part of the project as a proof of concept. The goal is to make sure that your skills are a match for the job at hand. This kind of test isn’t uncommon and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for you. You should, however, make sure that the client is ready to pay for sample work. Asking a freelancer to complete any part of a project for free is considered bad form in the freelance community.

padYou Should Be Ready to Submit to a Background Check, Anyway 

It’s true that few companies run background checks on their freelancers, but that doesn’t mean the tide isn’t turning. Some studies have suggested that 40 percent of all American workers will be freelancers by 2020. As this career path becomes more common, it’s likely that a more standardized freelancer-screening strategy will emerge. The national debate over whether or not drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft should be fingerprinted is proof that the shift is coming.

If you are a freelancer, it’s a good idea to stay open to background checks. Bigger companies hiring freelancers will probably ask for background checks as a means of protecting their brands. Being willing to submit to a background check will widen the pool of jobs that you can get.

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for

By Michael Klazema