Resume and Cover Letter Advice for Freelancers

resumes and cover lettersby Joe Wallace

Lately I see a lot of less experienced freelancers making serious mistakes in their marketing materials. It’s tough for people without the benefit of experience (and hindsight) to judge what’s going to hurt them in a resume or cover letter, but thinking like an editor can help a lot.

Marketing yourself can be scary–how do you convey that you’re savvy, competent and reliable? How do you get confidence across without accidentally conveying arrogance?

For some newer freelancers, those questions can’t even be answered properly until one vastly important thing is addressed:

The most important tweak to a new freelancer’s resume and cover letter involves removing the “noob” from your correspondence. People in the learning phase of their new freelance careers make mistakes that can’t be avoided without outside help OR the benefit of perspective that comes later after you’ve made a few bad moves and recognize them as such.

State the facts and nothing more. Don’t say you have very little experience in your cover letter. Don’t come off too eager. Just make your pitch, say thanks and end the letter.

Don’t overstate your own importance. Trying to sell an editor on “what you can do” isn’t the point of sending a query. The idea is to sell the editor on the STORY IDEA. Invest your energy into selling a concept instead of yourself. If your cover letter is persuasive and sells the idea well, the editor gets a good idea of your writing skills before she even reads one of your clips.

Don’t bullshit an editor. I see a LOT of people using the phrase “social media expert” in their marketing materials. Sorry, folks, but most times this comes off the wrong way–ESPECIALLY when your website looks craptacular. If you’re such a social media expert, why does your web page look so lame? Lay off the expert credentials unless you can back it up with some kind of proof you know your game well. Experts have a wide range of experience in their fields and a knowledge base they can draw on instantly.

Don’t pretend to be an expert. An editor has seen too many REAL experts to be fooled by you.

Front load your most powerful credits and experience. I see too many freelance resumes that lead off with education. Nobody is going to pay for your services on the strength of your educational pedigree. Save that stuff for dead last if you use it at all. Put your most relevant skills at the top and never mind that cashier job you had. Leave all non-writing relevant material off your resume–UNLESS it speaks to the job at hand. If you want to get a freelance job writing cell phone reviews and had a day job as a cell phone customer service rep once upon a time, USE IT. Otherwise, don’t list it at all.

Don’t change the subject. If you hit an editor or webmaster up for a gig writing about insurance, don’t tell them about your skill as a hang gliding instructor. Don’t cloud the issue by discussing ANYTHING but the gig at hand. Don’t even ask them about writing for other sites or publications under their masthead. Save that stuff for a follow-up e-mail and keep your communications targeted and focused.

It’s true that there are always exceptions to these rules, but for new freelancers learning those exceptions can come later. Right now you should tighten up the basics and pay close attention to how you sell yourself to a potential new client or editor.

4 thoughts on “Resume and Cover Letter Advice for Freelancers”

  1. Got to share this – the ad midway through ther article page (and specifically the fact that the Alt text appeared before the image loaded) left me briefly confused.

    I was happily reading along until I came across what appeared to say:

    “For some newer freelancers, those questions can’t even be answered properly until one vastly important thing is addressed:

    Keen Sandals”

  2. Doh….I think that’s fixed now. The pursuit of filthy lucre has once again muddled the message πŸ™‚ Thanks for the heads up!


  3. I never write a cover letter until I put my Keen Sandals on. Look, if we talk about them enough, maybe we can get you a paid sponsorship πŸ™‚

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