Top 10 Freelance Writing Job Application Mistakes

application letter mistakes

I started freelance writing and blogging (though we didn’t call it that back then) in 2000. Which means I ‘ve been doing this for close to a decade. In the time I’ve been online, I’ve seen it all. I’ve hired writers, worked for people who hired writers, and even critiqued resumes and cover letters for the folks who want to be hired by the people who hire writers.

In short, I’ve seen it all. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert because I think the freelance writing world is currently evolving, but I’m confident I can compare awesome freelance writing job applications to some real clunkers. With that in mind I give you:

Top 10 Freelance Writing Job Application Mistakes

1. Not Proofreading: It should go without saying that anyone seeking any job opportunity should proofread cover letters, resumes, and writing samples not just once, but twice, thrice and however many more times to ensure there are no errors. If you need a second pair of eyes to go over your paperwork, ask a friend to help out.

2. Not Enough Information: I can’t tell you how many times I received cover letters saying only “My resume is attached”, “My experience speaks for itself”, and even “Google Me”. Don’t be that guy. You don’t want to rehash your resume but you don’t want your potential client to wonder who you are and why he should hire you either. Your cover letter, which is really your job application, should briefly touch on your career as well as a paragraph telling the employer why you’re the best candidate for the job.

3. Too Much Information: Even though you may be going for the sympathy vote, your client doesn’t need to know that you’re a work-at-home mom with eight kids or that you were just laid off from your job. The information in your introductory letter should be relevant to the job only. Your home situation could work against you. For instance, if you are a work-at-home mom with eight kids, your employer might feel your family will be too distracting for you to complete the task to the best of your ability.

4. Poor Writing Samples: Like your resume and cover letter, your writing samples have to be well written and proofread to the nth degree, but that’s not enough. Anyone can submit a typo-free article. Your writing samples have to be the best of the bunch. They have to convince the employer you’re the best person for the job. They should be relevant to the subject matter and engaging. There should be no doubt in the client’s mind that you are the person for the job.

5. Unqualified for the Opportunity: Don’t apply for a job as a pet expert if you know nothing about animals. Don’t apply for a job as a sports writer if you hate sports. Don’t apply for a job as a grant writer if you have no clue as to how to go about getting one. You’re wasting your time and your client’s. If you have no passion for a topic it shows. Your client asked for experts for a reason.

6. Not Following Directions: Did the employer ask specific questions? It means she wants to know the answers to those questions before hiring you. Did the employer ask for a rate quote? It may mean she has no idea of the going rate and would like some guidance. Clients are frustrated when they put specific information in a job ad and receive applications where it’s obvious the freelancer didn’t read the ad at all. If you can’t follow the instructions in a job ad, how can you be trusted to follow the client’s wishes for a project?

7. Not Doing Research: If a job ad mentions the name of the business or website, do some research. Learn about your client. Knowing who he is or what he does will help you to tailor your details to suit his needs. Perhaps he just places an ad looking for a “green writer”. That’s pretty broad. By reading his website you might learn he sells environmentally safe products and wishes to stock his website with articles relating to green cleaning. Now you can submit writing samples befitting the website’s content or message. If the ad gives you enough to go on, always take the time to learn about your potential client.

8. Cookie Cutter Cover Letter: Employers hate receiving cookie-cutter cover letters. They want to see your personality. They want to learn about you and why you’re the right fit for the job. You can have a standard template, sure, but no two job ads are the same. With that in mind, it should go without saying that you should tailor your application to meet each individual client’s needs.

9. Lack of Follow-Up: So you sent in your details, now what? You wait. And then…what happens? What happens if your email went into the spam filter? What happens if your details were saved but then fell between the cracks? There is nothing wrong with following up once. Just a simple note letting them know you’re still interested in the opportunity if it’s still available, and if not you would appreciate it if they could keep your name on file. Sometimes following up shows a client you’re ambitious and really into the gig. It could put you at the top of the list.

10. Lack of Confidence – The words “I think…” have no business being on a cover letter. Do you think you’re the right person for the job, or do you feel or believe you’re the right person for the job? There’s a big difference, there. Make no mistake about your ability and your potential client won’t either!







10 responses
  1. Veronica Shine Avatar

    Very sound advice. It is always good to read your posts as we sometimes forget the fine details after a while. Thanks Deb!

  2. Yours truly Avatar
    Yours truly

    I spy three typos.

  3. Deborah Ng Avatar

    Thanks Veronica.

    Hey Yours Truly, I spied 5.

  4. s Avatar

    wow, you guys are mean

  5. Lisa Avatar

    The rate issue is tricky… often, there’s so little info in the ad that you really don’t know whether you’re working for a startup or a major institution. If I quote my “usual rate,” I could be over- or under-bidding without having a clue what the actual situation is.

    How do you manage that? (I usually quote a rate but say I’ll negotiate – but am not sure that’s an ideal choice.)


  6. Mark Avatar

    Excellent post. Very good advice that can benefits new freelance writers as well as the “old salts” too.

  7. Doodler Avatar

    Thanks for the tips, Deb! I do freelance writing work on the side while maintaining a 9-to-5 job but I hope to just concentrate of freelance writing work in the near future.

  8. N. Alyse Walker Avatar

    Thanks for the post! I was directed to this site my Kristen King. Great info for start-up freelancers looking for clips and first paychecks!

  9. David Dittell Avatar


    Thanks so much for this post. I think my cover letters tend to fit all of the criteria, but I’ve never done a checklist about it. This is good to have on hand right before clicking that “send” button.

  10. Carrol Townsley Avatar

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