Guest Post by Ross Hudgens of Billy.com.
Making money as a freelance content writer isn’t easy. If you aren’t running your own blog or website, turning content into cash can be a difficult thing. But there’s opportunity out there – you just have to try a little harder than normal to find it.
One of the best places to look is the Problogger job board. Here, potential employers are looking for people like you – writers serious about their craft, with a strong content-creation skillset that often develops from reading a website like this.
Because of these potential employer’s high standards for Problogger readers, this won’t be the kind of cheap, outsourced content creation you’ll have to scrap up pennies and quarters from – it’ll be real, well-paid writing gigs with some of the best and biggest websites and content hubs on the internet.
Of course, with better gigs come higher standards – so you, as a potential applicant, need to spice up your resume and take note of the intimate details that’ll make your application pop.
How I Found a Content Writer on Problogger
My friend at another company recently created a posting for a content writer on Problogger and told me about his success. As a Marketing Manager at a new company with many quality content development needs, I decided to create a posting as well.
Overall, I was rather impressed with the quality of applicant, but what also shocked me were the glaring problems with many of the resumes and cover letters in my inbox. Similarly, I was equally impressed with some of the ways the better applications “stood out” in ways I wouldn’t have previously thought of.
Both of these revelations made me realize the necessity for this post – since I know the plight of a job seeker who often wonders – “Why wasn’t I picked?”—I thought I could help improve your application process in some way, and also, the chances you get picked up as a content writer on your next application go-round.
Common Application Mistakes Writers Make
1. They had zero attention to detail. One of the classic ways to weed out auto-applicants is by using a “use this” subject line. For example, specifically requesting that the applicant include the job description as the subject. Amazingly, by including this simple detail in my job description, I automatically weeded out 15% of the applicants. Similarly, other applications would announce they were using a templated cover letter due to the appearance of two different fonts, or that they had found my application on Craigslist.
How can I possibly rely on you to complete a content piece with exact specifications if you can’t do it for a simple, straightforward application?
2. Their application was too bland. Yes, employers are hiring you on your content writing skills, but when I get 200 applications in my inbox for a position that isn’t full-time, it would be an immense waste of effort to scroll through 600 content pieces to find the best writer. I, like most employers, have a sifting process that involves automatically disregarding many of these applications.
If your cover letter was too brief or non-personal, this implies a disinterest in the job. Although you might have been aware of enough to post the “use this” subject line, you were also not with it enough to customize your application to look anything different than 5 million other similar ones that have made their way into employer’s inboxes.
3. Their content samples were not specific to the application. Although you may be a great writer, I would need to be extremely impressed with your prior history to choose you if you had not written about the subject I was asking for. Again, by disregarding many of these applications that don’t have a specificity, potential employers save a lot of the hassle, and to be blunt, being a “great writer” does not mean that you are cut out to write about green technology, fashion, or marine biology. Sorry.
When businesses come to Problogger looking to hire, it’s not because they want to find a generic person who can pump out articles about anything – they want expertise in an area. The cheap, bland kind of content creation can be found elsewhere.
If you’re really interested in a position that creates content green technology, write a sample article about it for submission. That’s the only way you’re going to get hired unless you’ve got a stacked history of creating viral, amazing content.
4. They only linked to their own blog. You might be able to write well about stuff you care about, but are you skilled enough to think outside the box and also meet the specifications of a certain job description? By linking to just your blog, you’re telling me you don’t have experience writing according to other’s specifications. It’s great that you’re a good writer, but there’s more to the job description than that. Ability to follow directions, attention to detail, and domain expertise are all things that can put an average writer far above a good one.
5. They lacked effort. Some people just flat out didn’t try, asking for payment information, more job details and etc. before supplying additional details. Don’t waste your time making these kinds of pitches! Employers have to pay $50 to get on the job board, and they do it for a reason – there is a wealth of quality potential writers that read the site. By making this kind of inquiry, you are not only wasting the employer’s time, you are wasting your own.
In this way, applications work like the below graph. At a certain effort level, the chances of being hired are rather low, not because you’re a bad writer – but because everyone makes that level of effort. Once you’ve hit an imaginary line – somewhere between 10-20 minutes of effort when applying, your chances jump dramatically. Before that, every second added does little to improve your chances.
How to Make Your Application Stand Out
Beyond the failures in the application process, there are also plenty of application “pluses” I stumbled into that made me stop and say “let’s talk”. Getting an interview among 200 applicants is more than just not being bad – it’s about being really, really good too.
1. Create a Customized, PDFed Resume. As a freelance writer, there’s a good chance you’re going to be applying for lots of these positions. As such, if applying is something you’re constantly doing, you should take steps towards investing in this process – and that means creating an amazing, aesthetically pleasing resume. One applicant sent me a PDF with their work history, a professional photo, and content examples, all in one aesthetically pleasing package. I was immensely impressed with the time and effort they put into this package, even if it wasn’t customized directly for me. Showing an immaculate standard for quality and great presentation is something I want to see reflected in writing, too.
2. Be Creative with the Cover Letter. You’re a content writer, right? This shouldn’t be too difficult. If your opening line says “I saw your BLAND JOB position at BUSINESS posted at X and I was extremely impressed”, you’re telling me that yes, you do care enough to change those custom fields in your template, but you’re also telling me that no, you don’t care enough to try any harder.
If you know the company, find some interesting detail about it and open with it. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the person you’re applying to, you can go even further to pique their interest. Not only will you likely stroke the ego, you’ll also show you possess the creativity and wherewithal to create quality content.
3. Have content specific to the application. This is straightforward, but the more focused the content is on what the job description asks for, the more likely you are to be seriously considered. The better this content is, the more likely you are to get picked up.
4. Tagging your application e-mail as “High Importance”. This is a minor detail but I found myself opening these e-mails first, and any time you get seen first in a batch of 200 e-mails, that’s a good thing. This function doesn’t work in Gmail, but there’s a good chance you’re sending your application to a business address – so there’s a high probability they’re using Outlook.
5. Be a great writer – everywhere. Again, a rather straightforward thing, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night not mentioning it. Every piece of text in a content writer’s application is important, so make sure every bit of it is a direct reflection of your ability to create great content.
If you can’t properly format paragraphs in the cover letter, you’re not getting hired. If your punctuation is shoddy, you’re not getting hired. If your presentation is subpar, you’re not getting hired. You’re a great writer – why not be one all the time?
Now that you know how to get hired, get to the job board, check out those job descriptions and start applying! If you have any other stories, tips, or suggestions on how to get hired as a content writer, please share them in the comments!