Toptal Review: Is Toptal Worth It For Hiring?

Jason Quey
June 29, 2024

Hiring a quality worker is vital to growing your business fast. That’s a lot easier said than done. Perhaps you don’t know the skills you need. Maybe the freelancer doesn’t finish their project on time. Or the freelancer can’t effectively handle clients.

What if the freelance platform did the heavy lifting for you?

What if the freelance marketplace vetted freelancers who don’t have the right skills? Then once they understand your project needs, they filter the freelance talent to make sure they have the background you want?

For example, maybe you’re looking for a full-time, front-end software engineer who came from Google to make your iOS app look snazzy. Unlike Upwork, the Toptal team will help you source top-notch front-end developers from San Francisco to New York. They may find the best freelancing talent outside of the United States.

This is what makes Toptal an excellent freelance marketplace. They help you find top talent by sourcing the top 3% of freelancers and matching you to the right person so you don’t have to.

Toptal praise and pros

Toptal screens 3% of the talent may or may not be entirely accurate (I’ll discuss Toptal’s vetting process in a moment).

What matters is Toptal saves you time spending hours filtering through freelancers for their performance. After all, if Toptal didn’t have hoops for freelancers to jump through, then their available talent would dilute. As a result, their market differentiation would be… the same as almost any other freelance marketplace.

Many entrepreneurs hiring on Toptal note their support staff is very hands-on. Toptal also has a fantastic UI and billing process. 

What sets Toptal apart is their freelancer screening process

What’s Toptal’s vetting process to make sure you get world-class workers?

Toptal uses a 5-step screening process to vet freelancers:

  1. Language & Personality - In this phase, Toptal is looking for candidates who read, write, and speak English fluently. They also look for personality traits, drive, and passion to see the work through to completion. According to Toptal, an estimated 26.4% of applicants pass this test.
  2. In-depth Skill Review -  Here, Toptal screens freelancers for technical knowledge. It’s common to use a codility test or an automated test of one’s programming skills. According to Toptal, only 7.4% of total applicants make it through this round.
  3. Live Screening - After testing the freelancer’s skills, Toptal does a live screening test. Toptal supplies an expert in each domain to do a video chat with the applicant. During the screening, the candidate receives a test while an expert watches how and what they code. If they fail, they may be asked to re-apply in a month. According to Toptal, only 3.6% of applicants pass this round.
  4. Test Projects - Over 1-3 weeks, a freelancer must complete a test project related to a real-world scenario. Here, the candidate puts everything into action, testing everything from competence to their professional style. According to Toptal, only 3.2% of applicants pass this round.
  5. Continued Excellence - Once the test is complete, Toptal freelancers are expected to maintain high-quality work. If work quality slips or there’s poor communication, the freelancer is let go. According to Toptal, only 3% of applicants continue to their high standards.

Even with this level of screening, Toptal has a wide pool filled with a specific talent set. Instead of asking for a DevOps, Toptal can help you find an “AWS DevOps engineer who understands Docker, Jenkins, RDS...” and any other needs you may have. 

The dollar per hour will often increase when you need a specific skill set. But you’ll also know the freelancer better fits your needs than finding a freelancer for yourself on Fiverr.

See what Toptal can do for you.

The Toptal network also has the best talent non-developer skills you can hire from too...

As of this writing, Toptal has vetted:

  1. Designers, from graphic design to UI/UX.
  2. Finance experts, from business model experts, blockchain consultants, to part-time CFOs.
  3. Project managers, from agile project managers to technical business analysts.
  4. Product managers, from enterprise product managers to scrum product managers.

One entrepreneur wrote on Quora, “After Toptal announced their financial service expansion, I asked for assistance in validating and refining my business pitch. This was the best ROI I could have ever done.”

“Toptal matched me up with an expert, and now a friend, who asked me the hard questions that VCs ask and challenged me on everything... The result is that I have 6 VCs interested in my company. Tremendous ROI from a brief engagement.” (Source)

What else do entrepreneurs find valuable hiring freelancers on Toptal?

Toptal has a fast placement process. According to Toptal, “In a typical engagement, we’ll introduce you to candidates within 24 hours. And 90% of our clients hire the first candidate we introduce.”

Toptal sets high standards for freelancers. Freelancers must maintain high customer satisfaction ratings. Otherwise, Toptal will remove them from the platform.

A no-risk test project. The first time you work with your freelancer, you get a two-week test period with your new hire. If you’re not satisfied, Toptal will take the loss and won’t charge you for the freelancer’s work. (Please note: this is not a “free trial” in that if you accept the project, you will pay for the hours billed).

Toptal’s screening process 3% will weed out some quality workers. But it’s better to miss out on a potential A player than to waste precious time on a borderline freelancer who turns out to be a B or C player.

Toptal isn’t the perfect freelance marketplace (none are). Which brings me to my next point...

Toptal complaints and cons

The main complaint entrepreneurs had about Toptal was a misunderstanding about their “No-risk trial period.” 

Toptal requires a $500 deposit which applies to your first bill. If you get a freelancer you are not satisfied with, you are not required to make any payment. You can choose to either part ways with Toptal or restart the hiring process.

Most Toptal complaints come from freelancers who did not pass Toptal’s interview process. 

As I mentioned in the last section, no hiring system is perfect. Still, it’s worth considering how Toptal treats freelancers because this indicates the quality of workers they attract.

Some senior software developers may be tested on small projects that junior developers may do, such as setting up tables. Senior developers tend to outsource these development projects to newer workers. These boilerplate exercises feel like telling an expert carpenter to hammer 50 nails into a board in a minute, then disqualifying them as “too junior” if they fail.

The issues with the screening process are fair. But I’ve talked to senior developers who have had this hiring experience outside Toptal. Most can swallow their pride and practice doing low-level skills to get another job. If a developer isn’t willing to do grunt work when necessary, perhaps you do not want them to lead your team.

The other complaint freelancers give are receiving lower pay than they expected. 

Toptal doesn’t charge you a fee to hire a freelancer. Instead, they provide freelancers at market rates and take a percent from the freelancer. 

Taking a commission from freelancers is reasonable because Toptal does the marketing and sales for the freelancer. Doing this on their own may account for 10-30% of one’s budget.

While a freelancer cannot set his or her hourly rate, he or she can ask their recruiter to increase or decrease their rate.

What does Toptal charge? That brings me to the next section.

If you feel Toptal is not right for you...

Check out our list of Toptal alternatives.

Toptal pricing - What’s Toptal’s fee structure?

Toptal does not charge a fee above their regular pricing. Instead, they add a profit margin above the freelancer’s rates. 

Most rates you’ll pay are what you’d expect to pay outside their platform. 

Toptal offers this pricing chart:

Toptal pricing - What’s Toptal’s fee structure?
  • For a developer, expect to pay $60-$150/hour or more
  • For a designer, expect to pay $70-$150/hour
  • For a financier, expect to pay $90-$250/hour
  • For a project manager, expect to pay $90-$180/hour
  • For a product manager, expect to pay $90-$200/hour

What you pay your freelancer depends on:

  • The tech stack needed for your project.
  • The necessary skill(s) to complete the task.
  • The project size.
  • What market you are in.
  • General market demand for the type of freelancer needed.

Toptal sends invoices twice a month. Each invoice includes net-10 payment terms, or 10 days to pay an invoice. This allows you to review any time billed before paying.

Finally, Toptal also requires you to deposit $500 upfront before you begin. This amount comes out of your first invoice. If you reject the test project, they return the money to your account.

Is Toptal worth it for hiring?

You could spend thousands on a recruiting agency. You can also do-it-yourself and invest hours to find freelancers, weed out bland templates, and filter through resumes.

Or you could let Toptal do the hiring for you.

Toptal tests and screens freelancers skills. Further, Toptal proactively removes any freelancer who isn’t delivering high-quality work on time.

If you believe “you get what you pay for” and want one less thing to worry about, then Toptal is a fantastic choice for you.

The Product Marketing Agency Serving Entrepreneurs From Idea to Scale

Jason Quey

I am the CEO and Founder of Growth Ramp. I enjoy helping high-growth startups on their journey from idea to scale.

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