I had originally rolled this into another post, but I’m going to pull out the ongoing discussion and give it its own place on the blog. Here’s what we’ve seen so far:
I included in my materials for the Washington Independent Writers Freelance Success Seminar this article about responding to online ads to get work. One cool cat e-mailed me and shared that he had more or less the complete opposite experience with online job banks in general and Craigslist in particular, so what gives?
Here’s my reply:
Sounds like you haven’t had very good luck with Craigslist at all! My guess is that it’s about timing and averages. When I say that I e-mail job possibilities to myself and then blast out replies for 30 to 60 minutes, I’m talking about a dozen or more ads in one shot. Sometimes I don’t hear back from any of them, and sometimes I hear back from 4 or 5 immediately. In some ways, it’s the luck of the draw.
Because I’ve done so much of this kind of job seeking, I have a good sense when I read an ad of how likely it is that I’ll hear back from someone, and I target my messages very carefully to the specific position or project. I also avoid ads that don’t list specific pay and have rather nebulous descriptions to begin with, but I don’t shun those that provide no pay info but are clearly listed by an individual/organization who knows what’s what and will be expecting to pay something resembling market rates.
Here’s an example of an ad I’d consider targeting (identifying information removed):
Freelance Editor Needed
Date: 2006-11-09, 11:03AM EST
We are currently seeking an experienced writer/editor to work on several special sections in nationally known publications. Candidate should have experience writing journalistic pieces and conducting professional interviews. Excellent communications / interpersonal skills and attention to detail are required. Candidate needs to be easily accessible during business hours. One year’s experience copy editing is required. Interested candidates should submit a resume and an example of past work to: (email@example.com)
The first thing I’d do is check out the hiring organization using the extension in the e-mail address to get a better sense of what they’re looking for. Turns out that they put out several trade-specific magazines and websites for legal, financial, real estate, and business professionals. Great, I’ve got some experience there. I’ve got the other stuff they’re looking for, too. This is a strong possibility.
SUBJECT: Full-time freelance writer with national clips
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Dear Jim Bob:
I’m a full-time freelancer with an eye for detail, a flair for language, and 5+ years of experience writing and editing for business and publication. My work has appeared in such national publications as the Journal of Oncology Practice, Science Editor, and Emerging Growth Magazine. Attached please find a brief resume and credit list for your review, along with a recent article. Additional samples are available on request.
- BA in English
- Extensive interview experience in multiple media
- 5+ years of professional writing/editing experience
- Local, regional, and national publication credits, both in print and
I would be delighted to add ABC’s list of publications to my portfolio. Would you please contact me at your convenience to discuss how I can help you meet the demands of your diverse professional readership? You can reach me via e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 540-220-2184. I look forward to hearing from you.
If anyone else is confused, I hope this sheds a little light on the situation. And for the heck of it, I’m going to go ahead and actually send this response to the advertiser and see where it goes. Hey, I could always use some new clients! I’ll let you know the outcome. In the meantime, post your questions in comments and I’ll either reply there or create new posts to respond.
The attendee then responded with some more questions, the answers to which appear below.
A1: It’s less about YOUR timing than about timing in general. Sometimes there’s a ton of work that’s right for me. Sometimes there’s very little. I have no idea why this is the case, but I imagine it’s true for many folks. Stuff seems to come in waves, so if you’re not checking consistently, you could miss your wave.
A2: I don’t think applying to a lot of ads means that I’m not discriminating. I peruse the listings and e-mail everything to myself. THEN I go through the listings I sent and do the replies in one shot. I don’t find a listing, send a reply, find another listing, send a reply, find a third listing, send a reply… It’s not efficient. I do the looking first and the sending second. The letter below is quite tailored. It mentions national publication experience and interview experience, it points out that I’ve been doing this a while, its tone is both conversational and professional, and the clip I attached demonstrates that the tone in the letter wasn’t a fluke and that I wasn’t kidding about the interview thing because it cites 10 sources. It also subtly indicates that I am indeed highly available because I identify myself as being full time in the biz and include two ways of contacting me. This took me approximately 5 minutes.
Here’s the basic format that I follow:
SUBJECT: Eye-catching subject line that makes direct reference to their ad [[avoid stuff like "Your Craigslist ad"]]
Dear NAME [[if provided or available]]:
Grab their interest, specifically about the position being advertised [[phrase it in a way that ameliorates the position and labels you as that awesome person who's going to make their life easier]]. Tell them in a single sentence who you are and why you’re contacting them.
Quickly summarize your general experience by selecting only the most pertinent details from your resume–that which is relevant to the job, and then if you can, something a little extra from your resume to show them that you’re not only good, you’re great.
Bulleted list of skills
- specifically answer their requirements
- keep it short and simple
- three or four items is best
Make a specific reference to your resume if you attached it. Also be sure to mention that they can see what you’ve done. If they refer to an assessment in the ad, be sure to mention it as well as offering general samples. “I’d be happy to show you what I can do by taking your editing assessment.”
End on a positive note with a call to action. Tell them exactly what you want from them (information about their needs), recap why you’re the person for the job (you rock!), and give them your contact info *right* in the letter so they have no reason NOT to call you. Then standard closing and a nice “I look forward to hearing from you” to remind them that you want them to contact you.
A3: Blind ads are an “it depends” kind of thing. If this ad hadn’t had an organizational e-mail address that allowed me to check up on them, I still would have replied to it because these folks sound like they know what they’re talking about. However, I would have said this instead:
“I would be delighted to learn more about your publications. Would you please contact me at your convenience to discuss how I can help you meet the demands of your professional readership?”
This works because the ad tells me that they have multiple publications and that they need someone available during regular business hours who can conduct professional interviews, so they’re clearly writing for folks in the biz.
A4: I didn’t say “I respond only to ads that advertise $65 to $85/hour and up,” I said that I GET $65 to $85/hour and up. Come to think of it, I don’t believe most of the ads that I respond to list compensation, because the ads that DO list compensation are the “$5 and a puppy” or “$200/60,000 words” kind, and obviously a waste of time.
I look for ads from folks who sound like they have the money and good sense to pay me what they’re worth. The example I used is definitely one of those ads. The contents and structure of the ad title is often enough to narrow the field considerably, like if it’s vague, scammy, or riddled with errors. When I do click on an ad, it takes me less than 30 seconds to see if it’s worth reading thoroughly or has any red flags:
- sounds like it was written by a 15-year-old girl in remedial English
- overly concerned with “getting ripped off”
- no clear idea of exactly what they want
- interest in splitting profits
- inappropriately small budget
- anything with the word “exposure”
There are lots of other things that will turn me off about an ad even if these factors aren’t present, but they’re more an instinct kind of thing than something I could put in a list. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right even if technically I could do the work. It generally comes down to not thinking that I wouldn’t be paid enough, so responding wouldn’t be worth my time.
Hope that helps.
This is a great discussion, folks. Feel free to jump in at any time, preferably in the comments.
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