Standing out in the global online job marketplace: knowledge and skills for global competitiveness in a winner-takes-all market


Niels Beerepoot

Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research

University of Amsterdam

Nieuwe Achtergracht 166

1018 WV Amsterdam


Global online job marketplaces (e.g. Upwork, Freelancer) have recently emerged as new venues for the offshore outsourcing of online service work and are increasingly popular as meeting places for buyers and sellers of labour. Online job platforms lead to a shift from competition being confined by geography to global competition between individuals. Despite an emerging body of literature describing the phenomenon of online job marketplaces there are still gaps in knowledge on how online job marketplaces function and what it takes for contractors to be successful here. Being independent contractors in online job marketplaces requires a broad skills set that includes entrepreneurialism and negotiating skills. For example, a distinctive feature of online contract work is the need to continually seek employment and market oneself and take efforts to preserve your online reputation. A key difficulty is that many of these skills needed in online service work can only be learned on-the-job or the competence can be shown while working via the platform. This makes it more challenging for new entrants who haven’t had the ability to show their capacity in these domains. Online job marketplaces are a prime example of how markets in goods and services that are susceptible to digitalization inevitably evolve into ‘winner-take-all’ distribution. Small differences in performances can lead to great differences in rewards and a skewed market share distribution. In this setting, evaluation reports and performance scores have even become essential for contractors to stand out among their peers and serve as the main guidance for clients. 


Feedback texts on online platforms provide a wealth of information for researchers on along what lines an transaction between two distant parties is evaluated and the relative significance of different types of knowledge when performing (and evaluating) online tasks. Based on the analysis of a large number of feedback texts collected on one online job marketplace, this paper identifies which knowledge and skills are considered of key importance by clients when working via such platforms. The paper uncovers the significance of occupation specific skills, generic skills and personal competencies when working via online job marketplaces and how these different skills-sets are regarded to be important in the performance and evaluation of work. This paper adds to academic debates on the functioning of online job marketplaces by examining the knowledge and skills for individual competitiveness in a setting with a high level of uncertainty and global competition.

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