Don't Judge a Job Ad by the Way It is Written

Your relationship with a client starts off when you make contact with them for the first time. When you are answering ads looking for writers, you may not know exactly who you are contacting. The ad may be sketchy, and you may know only that the person doing the hiring needs a certain type of writing done.

It may be tempting to give your response to an unclear ad less than your most polished response because you are assuming that if the client can’t or won’t take the time to be clear about what they need, this isn’t a quality gig. That would be a mistake. Writing an ad and trying to put into words what you need in a concise manner is something that is challenging for many clients. It doesn’t mean that the client is not a good one or that they are going to offer you less than what you are worth for your work.

The truth is that you really don’t know who you are communicating with when you answer a blind ad. If you are going to spend time answering one, it’s worth your while to write your cover letter with care and tell the client why they should consider you for the opportunity. When you get a response back, you may be very surprised who you have been communicating with.

All clients appreciate it when someone takes the time to take the opportunity seriously, no matter how the ad is written. Have you ever been surprised when you got a response back to an ad that you have answered?






12 responses
  1. Lisa Avatar

    This is interesting. Generally speaking I’ve avoided ads that say things like “Need grnat writer immediately, must have expreience.” To me this says “Want free cash right now, can’t or won’t pay.” I always assume that a quality client will check spelling, include requirements, and request specific information. Have you had different experiences?


  2. Jodee Avatar

    @ Lisa,

    I have been hired by people who are great clients but who don’t communicate well in ads. Even if you respond to an ad and a potential client gets back to you, it doesn’t mean that you have to take the gig if it doesn’t feel right to you.

  3. Kathryn Avatar

    I’m guilty of this – I tend to avoid ads that are written with bad grammar, bad spelling or in all caps. I’ve recently started to avoid the generic ads as well. It helps me to know something about the company or gig to see if we can be a good fit before I waste everyone’s time.

  4. Dev Avatar

    I would be careful of this. While you may be right that some of those sketchy ads will turn out to be okay, some certainly will not. Look at Craigslist. There are so many ads out there that say “Need writers for [insert topic] magazine. Send two samples.” I have never responded to those ads, but have reason to believe that they are what I would call “content farmers.” That is, they exist to collect as many article ideas as they can. With an ad that provides insufficient detail or proof of legitimacy, I would recommend contacting the employer with a sublte and diplomatic email asking for more information so that you “may choose the most relevant sample material.”

  5. Brian from ArcticLlama Avatar

    I completely disagree. I even wrote an article to help educate people who hire writers how to get a good writer to respond to your ad just to help those who are serious avoid the “junk” ad.

    There is a difference between someone who can’t communicate clearly, and someone who can’t be bothered to communicate clearly. The first is a good potential client, the second is not. Anyone who is serious about hiring a quality person will put at least a little bit of effort into any ad to try and get the right person to apply (and the wrong person to not apply) whether you are hiring a janitor or a CEO.

    If the ad is a little muddled and vague about what they want, that might be because they know that they need help, but not in what form. Again, this is fine. I’d apply to an ad that said, “Need professional writer to assist with different types of projects that we might need done for our electronics company.”

    If the ad is a two sentence, “Need writer immediately, send resume to…” you’ve hit someone who is probably either not serious, not willing to pay more than pennies, or worst of all, someone who doesn’t value what you can do. Otherwise, they would have put some effort into getting you and not just any writer they can find.

  6. Lisa Avatar

    IMHO a client who doesn’t really know what he needs from a writer is not going to be able to do a very good job of working with a writer.

    “Need professional writer to assist with different types of projects that we might need done for our electronics company” tells me “these folks have no clue what they need, why they need it, what is a reasonable fee, or how to communicate expectations.”

    Personally, assuming I am not absolutely desperate for ANY work I can possibly get, I respond to ads that say “we are looking for a blogger who can produce two 500-word posts per week on the topic of XYZ for our site, We pay $50 per published piece. The ideal candidate will have professional experience in XYZ, and/or have written on the subject of XYZ for professional publications. Submit resume and links to writing samples.”

    To me, that says “we know who we are, we know what we want, and we have a vision of the sort of person we are seeking. we intend to pay, and here’s our pay range.”

    I’m not at all sure why a prospective client is unwilling to say who they are, what they want, and (ideally) what they intend to pay! What’s the point in hiding that info, unless there’s a specific confidentiality issue? And even then – why not at least provide enough info to ensure that candidates are appropriate? If you say “we need writers,” you’ll wind up having to sort through hundreds of inappropriate resumes to get one or two that meet your needs!


  7. Alik Avatar

    I currently have clients that, even though they’re amazing clients, pay well, and are very agreeable, can’t compose even a short email with good grammar and spelling (I do sometimes wonder how they function in the business world that way). Some people just don’t have the grace of good English skills, and frankly that is why they hired me. If all of my clients could write well, I’d be out of a lot of gigs! If an ad has poor spelling or grammar, I’ll still usually answer it.

    However, I mostly avoid answering very vague ads because when potential clients write “need freelance writer’, they don’t realize that there are a lot of different kinds of writers out there and a lot of different types of writing projects. I only answer ads that I know I’m qualified for and fall into my niche market. So if an ad doesn’t tell me what the scope of the project is, how am I supposed to know if I can do the job if I’m awarded the project?

  8. Jodee Avatar

    Love the discussion here, everyone….

    Several people who ask us to post ads here also ask if their ad read well and if there is anything else they need to add to it. These are very articulate people who just don’t find writing ads an easy process.

    In the brick and mortar world, many companies use blind ads or don’t provide a full job description and pay information up front. Are we expecting people who are hiring online to come up to a different standard?…I feel a blog post coming on….hmmm…….

  9. Lisa Avatar

    Have to say the only “job-jobs” I’ve applied for recently DO include name of employer, details of qualifications, scope of work, etc. Some do include pay ranges; some don’t. But if you’re really only looking for a short term person, seems to me you’re wasting everyone’s time if you don’t provide enough info to attract the right gig-seeker!


  10. David Dittell Avatar


    This reminds me of the riddle of the man who entered a barber shop just short of an important business meeting. Having just returned from a vacation, he was hardly as presentable as he needed to be for his big client and was in desperate need of a haircut. This barbershop was the only one in miles, and there was no time to go find a second.

    He entered the barbershop, knowing exactly what he wanted, but stopped when he looked at the two barbers. The first had the most perfect haircut he had ever seen — everything was trimmed and lined up just right. The second had the worst haircut he had ever seen — it was lopsided, unruly, a true nightmare.

    The man, needing the haircut RIGHT NOW, quickly sat down in the chair of the barber he knew would give him the best cut. Which one did he choose?

    The answer is the barber with the worst haircut ever — if the two of them cut each other’s hair, then the one with the worst cut is also the one who gave the other guy the most perfect one.

    Those who write bad job ads may be those most desperately in need of your services, instead of just those who don’t appreciate good writing. Be careful with your assumptions.

  11. Carly Avatar

    I agree with Jodee on this! I have a couple of excellent clients right now who posted very vague ads that didn’t appear to be professionally assembled. These clients are always polite, responsive, and pay on time. If I hadn’t sent a response to their ads, I wouldn’t have been able to cultivate this relationship with them.

    With that said, you can sometimes tell just by looking at an ad if it’s for something like a term-paper mill or a bunch of free content of dubious quality. I don’t think those ads are what Jodee is talking about here, though.

  12. Brian Avatar

    I’m not looking for great grammar or the ability to communicate ideas clearly. That’s my job.

    I am however looking for some effort. Something that shows they think this is serious and worthwhile.

    This is a Craigslist ad for a wrtier:
    “I need writers to work on website content. Please contact me if you are interested. Pay is dependent on experience”

    This is a Craigslist ad for a temporary part-time receptionist:
    “Admin/receptionist – part-time to work Saturdays 9am to 5pm and one or two 4 – 5 hour days during the week at upscale senior living community in Lakewood; do tours, take inquiry calls, make call outs, assist with various admin and marketing projects when needed. 12 to 17 hours a week; approximately $10 an hour. Contact

    That writing ad isn’t from someone who can’t write, it’s from someone who doesn’t give a darn who shows up or replies, and that, is a one-way ticket to a time waster you’ll wish you never heard of.

    There are always exceptions and I’m sure we can all pull one great client out of our history that started like this, but for me, I don’t have extra time that can be wasted on low percentage efforts.

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