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Freelance Writing Jobs Secret #1 – Follow The Instructions!

finding freelance writing jobsWhen, as an editor, and actually posted ads hoping to fill a few freelance writing jobs, I was astounded at how hardly any of those applying every followed the directions I’d taken time to spell out.

I was even more surprised when I discovered many editors felt exactly the same way.

None of us could  figure out why so many who said they wanted to work with us, ignored how we wanted them to apply for freelance writing jobs.We all agreed, however, that folks who didn’t apply the way we asked never got hired.

Typical instructions for applying for freelance writing jobs

The kinds of instructions about how to apply include:

  • Submit resume in body of email
  • Resumes in .pdf only
  • Send links only
  • Add 12345 in the subject line.
  • Tell us why you are the perfect person for this job
  • Write a sample article
  • Apply using this link
  • Submit through agent only
  • Query only

What the writing client wants

When someone takes the time to spell out instructions, they do so for two reasons.

  1. First, it’s a mini-test. If you can’t follow instructions why in the world would they think you could write what they want and need?
  2. Second, they’ve set up a procedure that they believe will make it easier to find the right person to hire.

You may think it’s really dumb that they ask for a .pdf or insist you fill out an application on some website or other. It doesn’t matter what you think. That’s what they want it, so, if you want a shot at the gig, do it their way. Truly, it’s the only way to even get considered.

Objective and not so objective reasons

Some of the directions address how the computers are set up to process the job applications in the potential employers workplace. Attachments, for example, may be removed automatically before the email is delivered as a way to help protect against spam and phishing attacks. They may perceive .pdfs as safer than Word files. Filling out a form on a website helps protect against spam and may provide sorting capability.

The request for an odd number or phrase in a subject line is another way they are testing for both ability to follow instructions and giving themselves a way to sort their email.

Other requirements you find when looking for freelance writing jobs are much more subjective.

When you’re asked to say why you’re the best person for a freelance writing job, the prospective employer is hoping to discover a bit about your writing style and something about how you perceive the offered writing gig. You can only do your best.

The request to write a sample article, or several, is best viewed with suspicion, at least when it shows up in an ad. I generally ignore those ads, or if I think it’s something I want to pursue, I send them a link to an article I’ve already written. (Yes, even I sometimes ignore certain instructions when looking for freelance writing jobs, but not often.) The risk, of course, is they will use your article sample and never pay you.

On the other hand, if we’ve had some email correspondence or a phone call and they then ask for a sample, I may very well give them one – totally a judgement call. I know successful writers who won’t write a word without being paid.

When you’re looking for freelance writing jobs, give yourself a leg up and follow the instructions. That already puts you head and shoulders above the crowd.

Find two more secrets at 3 Secrets To Responding To A Freelance Writing Job Ad

What’s been your experience following or not following the application instructions when looking for freelance writing jobs?

Write well and often,

freelance writer



Image: Found on flickr, Some rights reserved by deanmeyersnet.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Dennis

    I often use content mills due to absurd large content needs and budget restrains.

    At least 70% of the writers ignores my instructions, I put a simple request to insert a certain anchor text so I can later on hyperlink that (as most content mills don’t allow for the insertion of links). Half of the writers ignores it, the other half includes it like “anchor text: best headphones”, with the word anchor text in the middle of the article.

    Others write headphones.com when I clearly wrote http://www.headphones.com/, then again others write a website name like it are words from a normal sentence while I told them in the instructions that when the first letter of each word is capitalized that it’s a name of a website and it should be written in a sentence in that context.

    Few seem to understand that, which makes me think, are most writers at content mills really that dumb found?

    • No, they aren’t dumb, but you are getting what you pay for I suspect – low rates often attract poor writers.

  • Totally agree: the number of people who don’t bother to read the instructions is astounding. Most of them are those people who want to be spoon-fed, though, so it’s no big loss as the employer. You know, the people who see the ads that say writing is “easy” and “anyone can do it”, then expect work to fall in their lap, not have any requirements and pay $100 an hour. 🙂

    One thing I will add is that asking for a sample is bad practice unless they can submit something already published. That’s the oldest scam in the book – ask 25 writers for a sample, refuse them all the job and keep all the samples as free (or very cheap) content.

    • Hey Spike, glad to see you here again. And yeah, usually asking for a new or original sample is a scam.

  • I am thorough about reading the writers guidelines – when submitting article pitches – simply because its good practice.

    Time is money, as a freelance writer… and the writers guidelines help you to save a lot of time by being exact in their requirements.
    Katherine James recently posted..5 Lessons Stephen King Has Taught Me About Freelance WritingMy Profile

  • It’s so unfortunate that people don’t take the time to read directions. I don’t know if it’s more prevalent now than a decade or more ago. I wonder if the shortened attention spans from Internet and cell phone usage is partly to blame?
    John Soares recently posted..How I Chose My Freelance Writing NichesMy Profile

    • John, I started editing long before the net…yes, I’m that old and even then most of the writers who wanted work seemed to ignore the directions… willfully, or out of ignorance or too many phone calls… I don’t think it’s shortened attention spans, at least not completely…

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