How to Respond to an Online Job Ad

Written by Celine Roque.

581572_working_dayI've noticed that many new freelancers tend to be nonchalant when responding to online job ads. Maybe online applications appear more instant and casual when compared with the traditional alternative of showing up for a series of interviews. Even though applying for a freelance job online is fast, it doesn't mean it's easy. You need to consider several issues before rushing your application for a prospective project.

Learn how to read between the lines.
 Job ads often give away more information than most people see. Be diligent when it comes to finding any clues about the type of freelancer that best suits the job, as well as the best way to apply.

Know exactly what they are looking for.
 Spend some time researching the company (or the individual) that posted the ad. Doing this helps you choose the appropriate tone and approach for your application. When I applied as a blogger for WebWorkerDaily, I knew from the tone of the blog that I shouldn't be too formal or serious, so I kept my cover letter brief and casual. Also, your research can help you select the best items, case studies and web site links to include in your portfolio.

Follow directions. This might seem like common sense but, as someone who's been on the hiring end, I've noticed that many applicants still fail to follow directions.  If you don't follow directions from the ad, you're telling your potential client that you will have a hard time following job instructions as well.

Get a name, if you can. "To whom it may concern" is never a good opening line. Most job ads include the name of the contact person, and it's a mistake not to take advantage of that. If there's no name attached to the ad, look at the company web site or call them to get the name of the person you'll address the application to.

Keep it as short as possible.
 Even if you're required to answer several questions, keep the text concise. You're competing with dozens of applicants, most of them writing paragraph after paragraph about their unrelated work experience and maybe even their life story. As someone who prefers receiving short but clear messages, I do my best to keep outgoing messages that way as well. It pays off, too. Many of my clients have replied to my applications by saying, "What a breath of fresh air! I was getting tired of reading 40 long emails about this job."

If you're worried that you might not be saying enough about yourself, remember that your portfolio and work experience will speak for you.

Have a template ready, but always modify it before sending. Templates are useful for freelancers, but sending these without customization gives off the wrong impression. Unmodified templates indicate that you're sending the same application to several other potential clients, showing that you're not that committed to a particular job or project. Whenever I hire contractors, the template applications go straight to the trash bin.

Know how to follow up. When I was looking for a researcher two years ago, one of the applicants immediately emailed me the day after, "Do I have the job?" I politely told her that I'm still going through applications and, as I mentioned in the ad, I will contact all applicants within the week. Again, she emailed me the day later, as well as the day after that. While I understand how excited and anxious one can be during the application process, it's best to keep these feelings to yourself. Constantly following up on your application can drain your energy and annoy your potential client.

Still, you have to be responsive when you're asked to submit additional requirements or to schedule a phone interview. One of my friends is so afraid of phone interviews that she doesn't reply to such requests. If you're not comfortable with some of the requirements, communicate with the prospective client. Don't leave them hanging.

Although you have to keep several things in mind when responding to online job ads, it gets easier with practice. Don't get intimidated by these things, as they're part of the reality of online freelancing. After all, it's still easier than wearing out your shoes by rushing from building to building and spending long hours in the waiting room for an interview.

Do you have any special tips for freelancers responding to online job ads?