Client zone

Why are 95% of cover letters not even close?

MAN HEAD IN LAPTOPAt Digital Mined we frequently use freelance platforms like oDesk and Elance, and therefore we are used to reading through hundreds of applications from freelancers. Despite all that experience, we still get surprised when, at times, really good freelancers lose out on jobs because of the way they apply.

We have written a lot about what can be done with this particular problem (just read the brief carefully and reply to everything in it), however this time we will try to look into why it happens. To explain possible reasons, we will try to give a few practical examples based on things we have experienced.

Here are a few possible reasons why cover letters are not even close;

  1. Bad English. It is possible a lot of freelancers know they have limited skills in English, and therefore choose to write, and send, generic cover letters hoping that 1 in 10, or 1 in a 100, will lead to work. On oDesk this can be supported by the fact that often about 10% of applications get withdrawn by the applicant 1-3 days after being posted. The freelancer know they have a limit of how many application they can have at any given time, and therefore withdraw if they do not get a speedy reply.
  2. Lacking skills. oDesk has recently introduced the possibility of asking targeted questions to each applicant, as part of the application process. Some freelancers might be frustrated by that, however as a client we love it! It allows us to ask difficult targeted questions, which immediately unmasks if the freelancer is qualified, and can save us hours.
  3. Low ethical standard. There are bad clients out there who treat freelancers badly, however there are also freelancers who care more about making money than pleasing the clients needs. As a client, I see it as downright disrespectful if I politely ask the freelancer in the brief to answer a particular question, and there is no hint of a reply to it in the response to the brief.
  4. Not understanding the process. Some freelancers blame clients, or their platform of choice, if they do not get work. We would suggest those freelancers get an external evaluation of their profile using Freelyzer, evaluate the market value of their work, and how they apply. Most clients deal with 30-150 applications for every job post they put in. When we hire, usually no more than 2 minutes is spent per application.
  5. Preferring to chat on Skype. A lot of freelancers know that they will have a higher chance of landing the job, if they have the opportunity of interacting with their clients on Skype. Clients however, do not want to spend time chatting with someone, unless they are sure there is a good chance of the candidate being a good fit for their job, before they chat. We have interviewed candidates where just the first question was enough to unveil the lacking fit.
  6. Thinking it is all about them. A lot of cover letters almost give the impression of being an ad, when they really should be more like replies to a conversation. Clients are thinking; “Did they get the brief?”, “Did they understand what I want?”, “Are they able to come up with a thoughtful reply that show they are qualified?”. Some of the best replies we have received are short, but clearly show that the applicant has read, understood and replied with a brain.
  7. Quality of clients. It is very possible that clients get a taste of their own medicine, when they price the work they want done so low that the applicants who would give good replies simply will not apply. Often it can be worth asking yourself, as a client, what you have done to deserve your team. Both in good times, and in bad. Having a clear defined process, and being willing to pay above market price, can ensure you get the best people.

If you are a freelancer that think most of the points above was hard medicine, please take it with love. Yesterday I flickered through 60 applications for a position and shortlisted 3. That is 5%. There is nothing I want more than to increase that percentage so freelancers make my job hard.


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