These are not some baseless tips from someone who works as a freelancer. This post is about how to actually impress a hiring agent from someone who hires freelancers all the time. I have spent now at least six figures on different freelancers in my career, from small $10 projects to ones where I paid out over $18,000 to a single freelancer. If you are a freelancer who is struggling or just someone looking for more work, you really need to read and digest what I have to say about this all. You may think you know what we are looking for, but often times, you will be missing a small element that may disqualify you from the running.
So many times people gloss over a cover letter when applying for a project, and it truly blows my mind. The cover letter is where you get to sell yourself on why you can do the job and why you should be hired for the position. It is not just a regurgitation of your resume or portfolio. I can see your portfolio or resume, but I will only look at it if I am intrigued by your cover letter. Also, if you are missing a requirement that I ask for in the description and you don’t explain how you can get around it, I will not even glance at anything else. You can get jobs where you don’t have every single skill, but you better be extremely prepared to sell yourself on why you are the right person without a critical skill. Here are some quick tips you can take away to use on the cover letter:
- Don’t use a form cover letter.
- Read the entire description and make sure you cover every single point in there. I may make an exception if the person is qualified, but if you are on the fence and you miss something, it is getting deleted.
- Don’t be boring.
- Make it personal but professional.
- Tailor your tone to the job you are applying for. If you are applying at a small start-up marketing agency in the marketing department, you better be fun, quirky and creative with your cover letter.
- Make sure there are no spelling or major grammatical errors. I am not an English major and I often don’t proofread my blog posts, but I am a stickler when it comes time for me to write proposals to clients. I expect the same of my workers. I will let small grammar mistakes slide because I make them too, but spelling errors are a big no-no.
If you have written a compelling cover letter, then a hiring manager will next look at the portfolio and/or resume that you have provided. The portfolio and cover letter go hand in hand, so make sure they flow together really well. Think of these two as a two-step sales process. The cover letter is the sales pitch where you get to boast about all the good things you can do and then the portfolio is the close, where you show the proof/product that proves all your statements true.
Like most people, you probably have a large skill set that you are offering to employers. While it is nice to see that you are skilled in many different areas, I only care about the area that you are applying for. Please, when you are a freelancer, make sure to have a portfolio for every major skill set that you are applying for. If you are a programmer. make sure I can see examples of the major languages, especially the one I am asking for in my posting. If I am looking for articles about the stock market, please don’t send me a sample on Traveling to Sweden. At least make it about the same generalization, like business articles to show you understand the business world if you are applying for stock articles.
Some quick thoughts on portfolios:
- Make sure it is your best work
- For the love of God, make sure your work if error-free
- Make it relevant to the job
- Highlights all areas of the job you are applying for
This is just a short section. References are huge to me when I am hiring someone for a larger job. If I am paying someone $25 to $40 an hour for specialized work, I want to make sure I know what I will be getting. Sure, seeing a portfolio and a website or two is great, but I am always just worried that the work might not be their own. That is why I always ask for at least two references I can contact from previous jobs. If it is on a site that has a good feedback system, I will settle for one reference, but to me, I need to talk to someone before I hire them. Make sure your references know you are using them and will have nothing but positive things to say about you.
I do all of my interviews over Skype, and while most of them I do are just in chat, I do like to talk to people sometimes. If you are applying for that higher paying position, you have to understand that you will need to be able to talk to people as well. Many freelance employers are in the corporate world, and they want to talk and not chat. For me, chat is okay, but again, I need to talk sometimes, so you need to prepare yourself for the interview. I know some people will just send an initial list of questions before they talk live, and I am one of those. Most employers will send out a weed out questionnaire to probe you a bit more about the specifics of the project and how you will complete them. Answer them to the best of your abilities while not giving away the farm. You don’t want to give out too much info, as that can hurt you because they can just run with your ideas on their own.
Some quick thoughts about interviewing, either through email, chat or live:
- If live, make sure you look presentable
- Talk clearly and with confidence
- In chat, make sure to respond promptly and answer the question that is given
- Don’t mess around with people’s time
- In email, make sure to read the requirements more than two times and really dig deep to make sure you give the perfect answer
- Proofread your final answer
- Always match the tone of your employer. People want to work with others they feel comfortable with.