For those of you who don’t know, I work for a company that has created a comparison website called This or That. We’re a soon-to-be four person operation and have gone through a few different design iterations since we launched in June. Our most recent design change mixes user-generated comparisons with blog posts and news items in different categorical feeds. This shift means we’ll need a lot of content for the site, and since I’m the only content creator, that means a lot of work for me. Considering I, like many people in small companies, have a lot of different responsibilities, I can’t necessarily spend all day writing content when there’s other stuff on my plate. What’s a girl to do?
Fortunately, the boss man is behind the idea of hiring freelance writers to contribute blog posts, lists, charts, editorials, and other interesting content to This or That. One Problogger ad and several Craigslist postings later, I was up to my eyeballs in emails. I’m not kidding — I received over 700 emails from people who want to write for This or That. Hunting for writers was quite a learning experience for me (which I’ll cover in next week’s post), but I also learned a lot about freelance writers and the application process in general. Once you sift through hundreds of emails, you tend to recognize what works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting noticed and seeming fit for the job.
I thought I’d outline some tips for freelance writers who apply for blogging jobs — hopefully this will help any of you who do freelance writing and are constantly on the hunt for new jobs or opportunities.
1. Have a Catchy Subject Line
Unless the job posting specifies a particular title you should use for your email, think of something catchy and creative. If someone is sifting through tons of applicant emails, a unique subject line will catch their eye and make your email stand out among the rest. Instead of “Applying for the blogger position,” think of something a little less stale that showcases your creativity and ability to think outside the box.
2. Be Font-Smart
Be mindful of the Three Golden Rules when it comes to email font: Type, Color, and Size. Don’t customize the look of your emails because you think it’ll be fun and you’ll stand out. Oh, you’ll stand out all right, but not in a good way. I’ve had emails in Papyrus, Comic Sans, and other craptacular fonts that make me question the professionalism of the applicant. If it’s a stupid, unreadable font, I’m judging you as someone who doesn’t make good decisions. It’s akin to showing up for a job interview in sweatpants. You need to make a good impression because this email is the only reflection of you I have. Pick something simple, professional, and readable. The same goes for font color — I’ve seen pink, blue, purple, you name it. This isn’t a forwarded gif-laden chain letter from your great aunt, it’s a job opportunity. Stick with basic black and keep it simple, stupid.
Lastly, font size. I received one email with a font size so small, I’d need a jeweler’s loupe to make out what the person was saying. On the other side of the coin is font so huge, it makes me want to ask you what it was like living through the Great Depression instead of wanting to hire you to write for me. Pick a standard font size — it’s not that hard.
3. Personalize the Email
If you know the name of the person who will be reading the email, use it. If not, make references to the site or company you’re applying to write for in a way that makes the reader think you’ve done your homework. I’ve seen some really lazy emails where people have blatantly used search and replace to fill in the name of the website (all distinguishing details were in bold or italics). It doesn’t take long to do a little recon of the site or company and highlight some things you love about it in your email.
4. Get the Details Right
Of course, if you’re going to use someone’s name or the name of the company/website in your correspondence, don’t make any mistakes. When we were hunting for a new programmer, I had applicants email me and call me “Kelley” (my last name) or “Kelly” instead of Rebecca. I received a few emails from writers who referred to the site as “This and That” instead of “This or That.” Sure, they’re small, honest mistakes, but it’s the inattention to detail that makes me dismiss you as a viable candidate.
5. Show Some (Appropriate) Personality
Your personality should complement that of the site you want to write for. If it’s a serious site, be serious. Crazy right wing conservative site? Make Glenn Beck look sane. This or That is an entertainment site, so I want to see people who are, duh, entertaining. I don’t need to hear what boring awards you earned in high school and college or how you’re working on your third self-published novel about existentialism. I want people who seem fun, laid-back, and witty, and if that doesn’t shine through in your email, it makes me wonder how it’ll come through in your work. Remember that what you write in your email is just as crucial a writing sample as the ones you attach or link out to.
6. Follow Instructions Outlined in the Job Posting
When I posted the job, the only thing I asked for a writing sample. You’d be surprised how many people didn’t comply with my one request. If the job posting asks for something, supply it. Do they want a resume? Provide one. Are they looking for writing samples? Include them. Don’t make it hard for me to determine whether you’ll be a good fit for the site — if I don’t have everything I need in that one email from you to determine if I’ll hire you, I won’t. It’s as simple as that. If you can’t follow basic instructions outlined in the job description, what makes me think you’ll be a reliable writer?
7. Include Web-Appropriate Writing Samples
Your sample should reflect the tone of the site you’re applying to write for as closely as possible. I’m not a book publisher, so I don’t want to see excerpts from your Great American Novel. The same goes for poems, speeches, essays, dissertations, etc. Writing for the web is different than cranking out a paper for your college Literature class. Even if your writing sample is well written, it doesn’t show me how well you can craft content that’s succinct, to the point, audience-appropriate, and interesting. I want to see editorials, lists, and content that has the potential to be viral/share-worthy. Your emo-angst poetry isn’t something tens of thousands of people would want to bookmark and share with others.
However, if you’re applying to write for an emo-ansgt poetry site, your poems are perfectly appropriate. It’s all about context and relevance. Don’t send misogynistic ranty editorials to a women’s rights website, profanity-laden lists to a family-oriented site, or boring, dry reading material to an entertainment or comedy site. While I personally don’t want to read your book excerpt because it’s not relevant or appropriate for This or That, there are some instances where that type of writing is an appropriate sample. You need to be smart and know which writing sample from your portfolio is best for that particular job you’re applying for. Pull an Indiana Jones and choose wisely (and forget that the Crystal Skull turd of a movie ever existed).
8. Provide Your Three Best Samples/Links
I don’t need a list of everything you’ve ever written in the history of ever. Compile your three best samples that reflect your talents and are relevant/appropriate to the site and include those in your email. If you include a dozen links, I’m just going to randomly click on two or three and ignore the rest.
9. Highlight Specific Topics of Interest/Areas of Strength
If you’re applying for a site that has various topics or categories, highlight which topics interest you the most. This or That has several different categories, and it really helped me out when someone would specify that they really enjoy writing about politics or sports. If you’re especially awesome at writing about a particular niche or topic, make sure you say so because you’ll end up standing out more against the 300 people who all want to write about the more popular stuff.
10. Proofread That Shiz!
I’m an editor, so I understand that people make occasional spelling and grammar mistakes. Misspelling a word doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer. However, if your email is rife with spelling and grammar errors, there’s a point where I’ll stop thinking “Eh, everyone makes mistakes” and start to think that you just suck at writing. Err on the side of caution and be as typo-free as possible. You’ll make your editor’s job much easier and will appear more professional and legit as a writer.
I hope you enjoyed my 10 tips for freelance writers who are applying for blogging jobs. Next week I’ll go over the same process from the job poster’s perspective and will highlight some do’s and don’ts when it comes to hunting for freelance writers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some emails to sift through…