“I never write ‘metropolis’ for seven cents when I can write ‘city’ and get paid the same.” — Mark Twain
When just starting out, you may find that job descriptions are all over the place in the information they give, in what they ask for and in what they pay. Applying to jobs can be a laborious process. In the early days, it would take me about 30 to 45 minutes to apply to a job, because I needed to tailor my resume, collect the right samples and write a cover letter/email. You don't want to waste your time on jobs that are not likely to pan out.
Elements of a Good Job Description
So how do you know what jobs will work out? (If you're looking to hire quality freelancers, pay attention as well. These tips will help you craft job descriptions that pull in the right candidates.)
- Detailed description of needs. First, you not only want to know what you're getting into, you also want to know that the person hiring you has an understanding of their own needs. Are they looking for content marketing blog posts? Video scripts? White papers? Editing or proofreading? What is the industry?
- Time/quantity expectations. As a freelancer, you're often juggling multiple clients, which means you aren't full time for any one. Make sure the description lists expectations or hours or content per month before applying to know if you can meet the demand. Also, does the company want you to be available during certain hours?
- Telecommute. Seems like a no brainer, but be sure the job description specifies whether the position is telecommute or if they want someone local.
- Pay. I tend to avoid jobs that don't list pay because I don't want to waste my time applying only to find out the pay is too low. However, you can judge by the job description whether the work seems interesting enough to pursue and whether the company seems like it would have the budget to pay you what you want.
- Requirements. The education and experience requirements also give you a sense of how well the client would work for you. If the requirements are that you can speak and write in English, it's likely the job demands a low level of writing, low pay and high quantity. However, if the job asks for demonstrated experience in a niche, the pay will likely be higher.
Here's an example of a good job description for an article abstract writer from craigslist. The post is well-written. It provides detail of exactly what you are expected to do. The pay isn't listed, but they do offer to pay you for a test, which is a good sign that they respect your time and your work.
Here's a bad job description for a blog post writer. The pay is on the low end, and you have no idea what the organization is, the niche or how often they want you to write. What's even more sketchy is that it looks like this is for the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors. Turns out, that's not exactly a reputable organization.
A Few Final Pointers
A little research before applying can save you a lot of time and heartache. Also, sometimes you find the perfect job description, get the job and then experience major scope creep. The company asks you to do more work for the same pay, turnaround articles faster than agreed, be available during certain hours of the day or other growing expectations that weren't part of the original agreement.
You can politely talk to the client and tell them that these expectations are going beyond your original agreement (which you should have in the form of a contract) and that you will need to either return to the original expectations or negotiate higher pay. If that doesn't work, walk away. There are tons of jobs out there, and the beauty of contract work is you can back out anytime.