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7 Mistakes You Might Be Making in Your Search for Online Work

Updated on October 9, 2013

Are you looking for online work?

Are you one of the many, many people who are seeking online work? Perhaps you are looking for online freelance design work or online freelance writing jobs. If so, chances are that you have come across freelancing websites. Freelancing websites are sites where employers post a project and potential freelancers / contractors place a bid on that project to win that contract. It can be a great way to earn an online income, however the competition on these sites can be quite high and contrary to popular belief the lowest price won't always win the bid.

How "not" to get online freelance work

This article could have easily been titled: How Not to Get Freelance Work. Most of the points covered are pretty logical things not to do in a job interview, yet it would be fair to say that it is quite common for a prospective employer to receive such applications.

Over the last few years I have hired freelancers from sites such oDesk and Elance for things such as transferring my wordpress site to a new host, doing some graphic design work and website promotion.

After all this time, it still surprises me the way in which some contractors will apply for projects. People who are trying to make a living out of online freelance work are wasting their chance by being careless.

If you are a freelancer bidding on jobs take a few moments to have a read of the following. The tips might just help you secure your next (or first) freelancing job.

1. You waste those first two important lines on your application.

On most freelance jobs sites (at the time of writing) when you see an overview of your applicant list, you only see the first two lines. Make those lines count. Be different. The goal is to make potential employers open up your full application and read your cover letter. You’d be surprised how many applicants actually fail to mention the project which they are applying for and instead use generic terms; this project, this website, this design. If I see that someone has mentioned my project in the first two lines, I will likely want to hear what they have to say.


2. You copy and paste your application

If I can see that your application has been copy and pasted there is no chance, no matter how skilled you are, that I will give your application the time of day. It will go in my delete pile right away. Why? If you can’t even show interest in my job specifics on a cover letter, how do I know that you won’t get bored of my project days or weeks after being hired. Or worse, how do I need that you have even read my project's details?

I am not against contractors using a template cover later as a starting point, but for goodness sake, at least edit it so it doesn’t sound so generic and spend a few minutes at the very least customizing the letter to reflect the job which you are applying for.

5. You assume that your folio will fit all my needs

A typical oDesk project can attract 20-30 applicants, if not more. That’s 30+ folios for your prospective employers to look at. The problem is that the folios hosted on freelance sites such as oDesk or Elance can contain anywhere from one to hundreds of samples.

Make it easier for the employer to find examples of your work that relate to the project that you are applying for. If you are applying for a brochure design contract, then make sure that your potential employer does not need to sift through 5 pages of web design samples before finding your brochure work. Be sure to only include the highest quality samples of your work in your folio. Never include samples that is not a fair representation of your current skills.

How often do you apply for online work?

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3. You assume that I am a mind reader

As a prospective employer, nothing irritates me more than receiving an application with a mere few words and absolutely useless words at that! As hard as it is to believe, the following is actually a full extract of two cover letters taken from two different applications for a recent job I posted. The letters had no introduction, didn't mention the project which they were bidding on and failed to mention their skills.

Cover letter #1

I can do job. Hire Me.

Cover letter #2

This job is easy. Let's start.

Really? How is this job easy for you? What are your skills? I would rather read on a cover letter how your skills match up to my project requirements. The last job I posted involved some graphic design and illustration skills. Out of about thirty applicants only about three actually mentioned (with example) that they knew how to draw. The successful applicant told me that she had drawing skills and had specific folio examples to back up her claims. She was hired. She was charging more than 95% of all the other applicants, but I way also buying peace of mind, which is very important when working with contractors globally.

4. You assume I am a man

I have lost count of the number of times that an application I receive is addressed Dear Sir. I am not, nor will I ever be a sir, so unless you are positive that you are corresponding with a male, do not make gender assumptions.

That’s not to say that I won’t definitely hire you. However if it comes up between you and another applicant that hasn’t called me a man, you know who I’m picking!

6. You lie to me

One of the most important parts of the employer-contractor relationshiop is trust. If an employer finds a trustworthy applicant, they are more likely to be rehired or at the very least, leave a glowing review for that freelancer.

Don’t ever lie on an application. You will be caught. One of the things that really gets under my skin is when someone applies to my job and I later find out that they applied on behalf of a staffing agency and outsourced my job. I prefer to work with individuals so I know that the person I am dealing with gets the full payment. Always be upfront with your prospective employer , because if you get a contract based on lies, the truth will, and always does come out.


Which freelance website do you commonly use?

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7. You demonstrate poor English skills

Communication is the key to a successful contractor and employer relationship. The major freelancing websites ( oDesk, Elance) all use English as the primary language, which is why the better your English skills are, they better your chances are at being hired as a contractor.

If your employer’s first language is English, they will want you to be able to have a good level of English skills. I don’t care so much about grammar and typos, unless I’m hiring someone for a writing job, however If I receive an application with a bad level of broken English, I cannot even consider that contractor, as I would be concerned at whether my project specifics were being understood.

Treat online work the same way as you would your offline work

When writing your cover letter try to remember that applying for a contract on a freelancing site is exactly the same as applying for a job in the offline world. If you can remember that, your chances of securing a freelance project is bound to increase significantly.



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    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for your comment MsMentor. It's a great point to raise. I absolutely agree and this too is my pet hate as I both hire and apply for freelance jobs so I have seen both sides.

      My job descriptions are very detailed. I include samples, timeframe, delivery schedules, what work is involved and anything that a potential contractor would need to know to qualify themselves as a suitable candidate and weed out anyone who is not right for the job. I still get cliched responeses

      I stay clear from any non-descriptive job descriptions - it's not worth the time it would take me to write a detailed and concise job description as from experience often this leads to very muddled communication when actually completing a project.

      However, I don't think that a detailed job description guarantees concise job applications. I think that it would raise the number of focused applicants, but I dont think that it would completely eradicate unfocused and generic applications. I wish it would!

    • profile image

      MsMentor 3 years ago

      While all that you say is valid (and some of it, you'd think, would be common sense), employers also need to consider also the "other side of the desk" when they write a job description. After literally thousands of job applications on oDesk and a substantial number on Elance, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have a potential employer put such a minimalist description of the job in their ad that there's no way I can either give them an accurate price quote nor know what they really want. You'll see ads that say, "I've just written a book and I need it edited." Well, kudos to you--but how can you hire intelligently from THAT description? Is it fiction? Nonfiction? How long is it? What's its audience? What's your deadline? What's your target market? How much work do YOU think it needs? (etc., etc., etc.)

      So if you want a focused, intelligent application, you need to take the initiative and put a focused, intelligent job listing out there! Otherwise, if you get "generic" responses, guess whose fault that is? :-)


    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi Danny

      Thanks for your comment. You must be one of the few freelancers out there who has success with the copy and paste method. Glad to hear that its working for you.

      It's not so much the copy and post approach which I dislike. I am all for efficiency so ofcourse having a core few sentences on hand that can be repeated can save time. However as the projects I usually post are quite pricey and specific, if the applicant does not mention or make any reference to my job requirements they wont get a second look in. When I first started using oDesk I wasn't so strict on that and ended up loosing money. That's my personal hiring guide but what works for me obviously wont work for others.

      thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Dannyk1982 4 years ago

      I have to admit I'm lazy when it comes to my applications. I've been using the same "copy & paste" application for nearly three years now. It's only about 4 sentences long but it works like a charm, so I have absolutely no intention of changing it. :)

      Great hub, voted up!

    • profile image

      Lily 4 years ago

      Good pointers. I am about to apply for my first online job so reading this article has made me feel a bit more confident - thanks!

    • roysyas profile image

      closed profile 4 years ago from Earth

      Good point!

      From my experience, what I don't like most is "outsourced my job." Worst part was he gave it to unprofessional.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 4 years ago

      I learn something new every day on Hub Pages. Thanks WebsiteConfetti for a very informative hub. Well written, too.

    • lolaestrella profile image

      Dalila C 4 years ago from Denver, CO

      I'm new on Elance and I'm still trying to win a bid. Reading this has been an eye-opener. Hopefully I will get a job soon. Voted up for the article.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 4 years ago from Australia

      Hi emsweb thanks for your comment. Getting called "sir" frustrates me and it is probably my biggest pet peeve. Granted, my profile doesn't have my picture, but why should that assumption be made.

      That's why these days I try to stick the same freelancers where possible, as it can be quite tiresome to keep rehiring new people all the time and going through that process each time!

    • profile image

      emswebs 4 years ago

      Amen. I complete several projects a month on Freelancer and Odesk and when I get into a sticky situation, I outsource little bits and pieces to get he job completed. My profile photo *Clearly* shows that I am a female, but I get called "sir" all the time. My other pet peve is when I post something like "CSS expert required for a small change in wordpress" and I get a list of 40 websites completed by the coder, and they are not necessarily done in wordpress. I stumbled on this blog entry tonight and was nodding in agreement the entire time.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for your comment creativegenius. I can't stand when I get an application that doesn't address what the project requirements are. Why would I even consider hiring someone when they have failed to even refer specifically to my project.

      Many people on these freelancing sites think that offering the cheapest price is all they need, but I would much rather pay more for someone who has quality to offer me and knows what they can offer my project.

    • creativegenius profile image

      Brian Scott 4 years ago from United States

      I frequently hire freelancers from and and the bids that I immediately delete or conceal or the ones with horrible grammar and ones that don't even address ** specifically ** what I am seeking.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for stopping by Cardisa. I post for jobs quite often on oDesk and it still amazes me the amount of half-written applications I get! People really do need to treat job applications on oDesk the same way they do in the 'real world.'

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

      As a freelancer on both oDesk and Elance I am still amazed at how contractors portray themselves even on their profiles page.

      Sometimes, especially with clients who have used either site before, their job description will state that contractors should not ask them to go through their portfolio, a simple attachment or link should do.

      The first job I applied for on oDesk was awarded because I was precise in my proposal and I offered samples relevant to the job description.

      Recently I posted a job for assistance with a short story on Freelancer.con and was amazed that people were sending article samples. Some were even written very badly, I might add.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 5 years ago from Australia

      Thank for the comment. Good luck with getting freelance work if you end up giving it a go!

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for the useful advice regarding going after freelance work on the Internet. It's not something I've tried to do yet, but your advice seems very solid and useful, and I will take it into consideration, if someday I start looking for freelance work online.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 5 years ago from Australia

      Hi Irc7815. You are absolutely right I have no patience for lack of interest it's just a time waster really. Thanks for dropping by!

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

      It sounds like you are about as tolerant of apathy and lack of interest as I am. lol Great hub!

    • profile image

      mm 5 years ago

      Yes I Agree it.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for stopping by Catpajamas and good-luck with your first Elance job!

    • catpajamas profile image

      Laurie Clark 5 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Good tips. I just got my first job on Elance and am excited to start! I can't wait to try for more work.

    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for your comment. It's true so many freelancers are wasting precious opportunities for success. I guess at least it leaves room for better quality freelancers to get work.

    • Brilqntin profile image

      Diana 5 years ago

      Nice Hub - thanks for writing it!

      I am so glad to see there are other people out there that believe communication and honesty are a must for a successful collaboration. I myself am a freelancer on oDesk and sometimes hire other contractors for the needs of my projects. ALL of the above is so true and it makes me sad when i see how people throw out of the window their chances for success because they are too lazy to think or just didn't bother to make a step further. But something else i have noticed is that a lot of contractors jumped applying right away without completing their profile... and truth is the profile is equally important as the cover letter. I've written a hub about profiles - Freelance Resume: What Is It? - if you want to have a look and leave your thoughts there! :)

      Voted up your hub - great writing, looking forward to your next one!


    • WebsiteConfetti profile image

      Ness 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for voting and commenting pinoymmafan!

    • pinoymmafan profile image

      pinoymmafan 5 years ago from Philippines

      Good tips..Voted up