How NOT to Apply for a Freelance Position
There are some mythical freelancers who like unicorns that prance in open fields and sasquatches who lumber through the forests… have fully booked schedules and are never in need of finding new clients and work. For the majority of us though, we’re always on the hunt for new leads.
Jobs boards like the one here on FreelanceSwitch are a great place to find clients looking for some freelance work. I recently posted a job opportunity for a freelance designer on the board as well as on several other boards and in light of how many application emails I received that left a little to be desired, I wrote this post to share the insights I gained when looking to hire a freelancer. Now this may come off a little tough, but remember that I’m trying to give you an honest assessment from the point of view of a hiring client. If you’re finding your job applications aren’t hitting the mark with clients, consider the following tips:
Read the Entire Job Description
I know that some job listings are really long and boring, but from a clients point of view if you can’t stay focused long enough to read their employment listing… chances are you’re not going to stay focused all that long with the actual job either.
The reason that some listings are long is that the hiring manager wants to give you all the relevant information. The hiring process can be long and painful and the more information they put in their ad, the more likely they are to cull applicants to the job – saving inappropriate applicants wasting their time applying.
I can’t stress this one enough. If the job listing has specific instructions for how to apply for the job you must follow them in order to be considered. You’re shooting yourself in the foot if the first reaction from a hiring manager is “wow, this guy sure doesn’t listen.”
My job post for a graphic designer had short and sweet application instructions:
How to Apply
To apply, please send an email to email@example.com with:
- A list of links to your recent work, or a link to your portfolio.
- Your rate for user-interface design.
- The best ways to contact you
3 Simple instructions… But out of all who applied ONLY 10% actually provided what was asked for. So in effect those people who didn’t follow my instructions wasted both my time and theirs – they’d in effect written me a pointless email to clog up my already bursting inbox.
Know Your Limits
Everyone should have big dreams and I have nothing against taking on a challenge to help yourself grow. After all, how do any of us develop in our professions without pushing ourselves? But you should probably think twice before applying for a job as a fighter jet pilot if all you can list as experience is being able to quote the entire script from Top Gun. This is Tower rejecting your request for a fly-by Maverick!
I was clear in my job posting to outline that I am looking for a “top-notch graphic designer” for our future projects and that our main project was one of the top sites on the web. Many of the people who applied were beginners in their industry, and many weren’t even technically designers. Although it is possible to get a job outside of your primary occupation, you will of course be far less likely to get the job if you’re competing with a suitably skilled applicant.
Your First Impression
When writing your email application be short, personal and informative. Don’t send a pre-packaged response. Often when one is applying for many jobs it can be tempting to write out a generic spiel and send it to everyone, but it is easy to tell when you’re received a canned response. If the client doesn’t feel that their job was special enough to warrant a personalized response, they probably won’t think you’re going to give their project the TLC it deserves.
When I posted my job I got hundreds of applications, and many of them said nothing more than “sounds interesting, tell me more.” … Let’s face it, you’re much more likely to have people telling you less not more with that sort of response, especially when there are others who do send the required information in their initial email.
Let Me See Your Goodies!
When applying for any sort of “Design Position”… #1 Priority: Include samples of your design work.
If you’re only including a CV / Resume it better be so beautifully styled it makes me cry rainbows. I have no interest where you studied, I just want to see what matters – your work. When you first start freelancing you should have your samples ready to go, to be viewed either in your portfolio website (ideal) or in a downloadable PDF (passable). Even URLs to your work will do the trick.
As long as you have your portfolio up and running, there should be no problem including this in your initial email, which will help a potential client see why they should hire you with little effort on their part.
Your Portfolio Site
This is your chance to shine! It is your opportunity to show me you get design and have the skills to create beautiful designs… I saw very few actually useful portfolios. Easily allowing a visitor to find the most relevant of your work is absolutely key. Your portfolio site doesn’t have to be in any way complicated, it just needs to showcase your best work in a practical way. Innovative navigations can be wonderful – as long as I can find the work quickly.
No Love for Slide Shows
If you insist on showing all your work in a sideshow with no other navigational controls than Forward & Back… Your first few showcased works better be sock-blowing-off amazing. If your potential client is looking for packaging design and they have to click through 20 web designs, chances are they’ll never even get to the work you want them to see.
More Bevels, Pixel Fonts & Chromeless Pop-ups than a 1999 Website Reunion
If your portfolio is using design styles that are older than 5 years then update your portfolio. This will be a good chance to hone your skills and it is paramount to have a nice portfolio site if you want to get hired for the good jobs.
Be genuine and write personal content on your portfolio. If “We & Our Studio” is “You & Your Mom’s Basement” just say that you are full time freelancer. I want to know who I’m working with and it makes it difficult to figure out who you really are if you’re hiding behind your company name of “#Insert Noun# Creative Media Design Studio Group.”
I placed my job listing on several job boards and received a good number of emails, but less than 10% of the responses I received even met the criteria in my ad. Only a small number of applicants warranted a follow-up.
Being a Freelancer and striking it out on your own can be a scary and stressful endeavor. I hope some of the above was helpful to you and that you all find your open field to prance in or forest to lumber through.