I recently advertised for freelance copywriters to work for my copywriting business and received some 200 applications. I’ve done quite a bit of recruiting in the past, so, from the outset, I knew exactly what sort of expertise I was after. I also knew I’d be inundated with applications, and that the applicants would come from all sorts of backgrounds with varying levels of copywriting expertise. I was very specific about the application requirements, and I had systems set up to filter and categorize applications. I thought I had it all covered. I should have known I couldn’t be that lucky!
When the applications started rolling in, I was dumbfounded. All of my best intentions and systems notwithstanding, the applicants seemed intent on ruling themselves out of contention by sending sub-standard application emails. They were so bad that, at times, I felt like I was shortlisting based on the quality of the application, rather than the quality of the applicant.
This article is for any writer – experienced or not – who plans to become a copywriter. It presents 12 tips (in order of importance) on how to apply in such a way that you stand a chance of making the shortlist.
1) Follow Instructions
If the job ad contains instructions, follow them. If it contains instructions which are labelled “IMPORTANT”, and which are formatted bold and red, you can assume they’re somewhat important and that there’s a reason for them. Follow them! Read and re-read the ad to make sure you’ve followed every instruction. If the ad says apply via email, apply via email! If it says to use “Copywriter Application” as the subject line, use “Copywriter Application” as the subject line! If it says to visit a website, provide a quote, supply three copy samples, and include your resume, DO ALL OF THOSE THINGS! If you don’t follow the simple, obvious instructions in a job ad, the employer will have no faith that you’ll be able to adhere to a complex copywriting brief!
2) Less is More
Don’t waste the employer’s time. Remember, they’re hiring a freelance copywriter because they need someone to take on a bit of their workload. They’re ‘time poor’. Keep your application short ‘n’ sweet. This is your chance to show what you’re capable of, so don’t fall into the trap of using big words and complex sentences. Less is more.
3) Show How You’ll Help Their Business
Try to see things from the employer’s perspective. Most employers who advertise for freelancer copywriters are looking for people who can help them streamline their business. Employers – particularly copywriting studios, advertising agencies and web design agencies – who want freelance copywriters are trying to ‘productize’ copywriting. They want to be able to ‘turn the handle’: they want an affordable freelance copywriter who can be relied upon to deliver client-ready first draft copy, with minimal supervision. They’re trying to build a copywriter factory line. Remember this when you apply, and try to show how you’ll help them achieve this goal.
4) Make Your Application Scannable
Once again, remember that the employer doesn’t have a lot of time. So make your copywriter application easy to scan. Don’t just write one long block of text. Use short paragraphs, headings and bullets, and bold the important bits.
5) Address the Requirements
If the copywriter ad lists the requirements of the job, make sure you address them, individually. (But remember, keep it short ‘n’ sweet.)
6) Be Open and Honest
Don’t oversell yourself; if the story told by your samples and resume doesn’t match your sales spiel, you’ll be discounted. If you don’t have the experience or expertise to satisfy one or more of the requirements, say so. And don’t lie about your experience or include samples you didn’t actually write. This may get you one job, but you may not get paid for it, and you’ll certainly never get another. And remember, the copywriting world is very small; everyone knows everyone, and warnings about deceptive freelancers travel very fast along the grapevine.
7) Provide Relevant Samples
If the job ad asks you to supply samples of your copy, do everything in your power to find and supply samples that are relevant. The ad may specify the kind of samples you need to supply, but if not, take a look at the employer’s website, and send samples that are relevant to their main service offering. If they do mostly web copy, send web copy samples. If they do short copy, send short copy samples. And if you don’t have any relevant samples, try to identify the core qualities required by the employer, and send samples that show you possess those qualities. (e.g. If the employer does mostly online brochure-type web copy, you’ll need to supply samples which show your ability to simultaneously capture a product and an audience, and maybe even educate the audience.)
8) Don’t Expect Immediate Feedback
Because most job ads attract hundreds of applications, and because the employer is still trying to run their business, you can’t expect immediate feedback on your application. Don’t send a reminder email after a day or two days. If you’re going to send a reminder, do it after a week or two weeks. And, unless the ad says to call, don’t call! Phone calls take up a lot of time, and this can be very frustrating to a busy employer who, most likely, has no feedback to give yet, anyway.
9) Don’t Use Broken English
If you’re applying for a job as an English-language copywriter, you have to have a solid mastery of English. If your application is written in broken English, you WILL NOT get the role; you’re simply wasting your time and the employer’s time.
10) Proof-Read Your Application
Nothing undermines a copywriter more than mistakes in spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax (he says as he nervously scans his article!). Pay close attention to detail. You may be applying for quite a few roles, but don’t hurry through your application; always take the time to proof-read and spell-check. TIP: Although it’s not a show-stopper, try to spell the employer’s correctly!
11) Don’t Ask for Work Experience
Unless the ad specifically states that unpaid work experience is a possibility, don’t ask for it. While it certainly indicates great enthusiasm, most employers simply don’t have the time to mentor a junior copywriter, even if they’re not paying the writer anything.
12) Don’t Ask for a Critique of Your Writing
If your application is unsuccessful, feel free to ask why not, but don’t ask the employer to critique your writing. Explaining why your writing is inadequate is a very time consuming task, and it’s not the responsibility of a prospective employer. If you ever had a chance at a call-back somewhere down the line, this is the surest way to lose it.
You’d be surprised how many freelance copywriter applicants DON’T observe the above guidelines. These applicants make the employer’s job extremely frustrating and time consuming, and they all but rule themselves out of contention. Follow all of the above tips when applying for your next freelance copywriter position, and you’ll be a very big step ahead of your competition.