How NOT to Hire a Freelance PHP Developer for Your WordPress Projects

PHP is everywhere. It’s the most popular and widely used server-side programming language by a large margin and that’s in large part due to its low barrier to entry. Because PHP is so easy to use, you’re going to find a plethora of developers on online job boards who are going to say they have a background in PHP and are ready to help you out with your WordPress project.

But when you’re looking for the right freelance PHP developer to take on your WP challenge, their ubiquity presents a challenge. It can be really tough (especially if you don’t have any engineering expertise yourself) to distinguish between an amateur and a developer with an advanced command of the language.

The wrong freelance PHP developer costs you time, money and can leave you with a broken WordPress site. Below are common missteps people take in the hiring process. Take a look at these mistakes and their fixes so you can feel confident that you’re bringing the right expert onboard.

Job Descriptions That Are Too Generalized

Your job description is often going to be your first point of contact with potential candidates. Because PHP developers are everywhere, you should use your job description as a way to narrow down the candidate pool. If you have a generic post along the lines of “looking for an advanced PHP developer,” that doesn’t take you very far.

On the other hand, if you focus on specificity you’ll:

  1. stand out among other postings.
  2. steer away amateurs who can’t keep up.

In your job description, you should introduce yourself and/or your company, explain exactly what your WordPress challenge is (are they focusing on the back-end components alone or are they going to be integrating front-end elements too?), and lay out what skills and qualifications you’re looking for.

Keep it neat and concise, but know there’s no such thing as too much attention to detail here. A well-crafted job description signals that you’re a serious and thoughtful client. This will go far towards attracting top-notch developers and weeding out beginners.

Too Much Focus on the Résumé

Just like job descriptions are candidates’ first point of contact with you, their résumé is going to be one of your first points of contact with them. But take it as that: a first point of contact.

Don’t focus too much on a candidate’s educational pedigree – sure, a shiny degree with honors looks nice and is an indication that someone is hard worker, but when it comes to software development, that’s sort of all you can take from it.

In today’s tech world, high quality learning about engineering comes from all sorts of places, not just the classroom, so zooming in on someone’s university accolades isn’t the right place to focus.

You should also tread lightly when someone says they have “experience with” or are “knowledgeable in” PHP or any other language. What on earth does that mean? Think back to your high school and college foreign language classes. How long did you have “proficient in French/Spanish/Mandarin” because you went to a class once or twice a week?

How’d it go for you when a native speaker launched into conversation? These sorts of claims mean very little, and that’s why you need to consider the résumé as simply the jumping off point for further digging. If you like what you see, then move on to test projects, skills reviews, and live screenings. These are much more surefire ways of understanding a candidate’s true grasp of PHP.

Failure to Prioritize Soft Skills

You’re hiring someone to write server-side web logic. True. But their role doesn’t start or end there. Your developer needs to understand the ins and outs of your company, it’s channels of communication, and the way the team functions. They need to share your core values and have the type of personality you want to work with.

Otherwise, you risk the danger of not being on the same page when problems arise. Worse, if you haven’t vetted them to make sure they’re an excellent communicator, you may not even be made aware when problems come up, what’s going on, and how you can arrive at a solution.

From the start of the interview process, you should focus on how quickly candidates respond to your messages, how well they do at explaining their decision making-process without using tech-jargon, and you should constantly consider how they will jive with the team members that are already working together on your project.

You Didn’t Pick Up The Phone or Meet In Person

This goes hand in hand with the last point. You need to vet candidates either on the phone, in person, or both. There’s so much you can pick up on in terms of fit, personality, language and communication skills, and problem solving abilities by hearing them think through questions aloud.

Especially if you’re working with a remote freelancer from abroad, use the phone screen to make sure they have great English skills and communicating capacity. This is also a great way to do some on-the-spot skills testing to make sure they have the technical chops they say they do and to get a window into how they make decisions and arrive at solutions under pressure.

You Ask the Wrong Questions

Tech is a rapidly changing industry with updates and transformations happenly constantly. This makes it difficult to figure out the right interview questions to ask candidates so you can narrow in on the developers who are capable of producing the best, most cutting-edge software.

When you pose questions that are too vague or demonstrate your lack of understanding the role of a PHP developer, you’re in danger of turning the best talent off. Remember, even though PHP developers are everywhere, there are few at the top and they have the pick of the litter when it comes to choosing their next project.

Take a look at Toptal’s PHP developer hiring guide to make sure you’re asking the right questions and keeping the experts engaged.


It’s essential you look at the full picture when you hire freelance PHP developers. Never hire a candidate because the price seems right without doing thorough screenings and considering how they fit into the larger landscape of your team. By following this guide, you’ll be well on your wide to landing an expert freelance PHP developer.

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