7 Mistakes To Avoid On Your Next Job Application

Whether you are a web designer or a copy writer, if you’re going to freelance, you need to learn how to look your best on a job application.

Having worked on both sides of job applications, I’ve seen enough to recognize what gets a person through to the interview and what gets their applications tossed.

I’ve even been able to go back over some applications I’ve sent in the past and determined what may have affected my chances for being considered. In a blatant attempt at reverse psychology, here are some of the major mistakes I’ve seen made, and made myself on applications for freelance work.


1. Correct the client’s spelling or grammar

So you really want this job but there is one glaring detail that doesn’t sit right with you: the job posting contains a noticeable typo.

Many of the people who apply for this job may not even notice it and the rest will just ignore it, but you are serious about your work. You have to let the client know that about you. Nothing like buffing a client’s ego.

The thinking behind it: You may think it helps you come off as serious. You may even think the error was a ‘red herring’ that was meant for you to catch. Chances are it is not and you are more likely to come off as egotistical.

What you are telling the client: I am going to be the annoying ‘grammar police’ guy around the office or in email correspondence. Something few freelancers will consider is that some people who hire writers might be doing it because they have no interest in writing for themselves. They aren’t hiring you to nitpick their writing (unless it’s an editing job).


2. Don’t proofread or spell check your email

The client isn’t going to bother running a spellcheck on your email for a job application so why should you? Even if there is a typo or a sentence that doesn’t make sense, he’ll figure out what you mean.

The thinking behind it: I honestly don’t know.

What you are telling the client: Aside from telling them you can’t spell? It also shows them that you didn’t take the time to use a simple tool that would fix it for you.


3. Give them too much information

Not only should you tell them your entire life story in the cover letter, you should also include a resume full of past jobs that are anything but relevant. Why wouldn’t the editor of a major blog network care that you spent 6 months working at Burger King?

The thinking behind it: If you are sending the same resume that you would use to get a job as a cashier or food service attendant, you are probably operating under the assumption that it will show you have workforce experience. You may even think that this will take the attention off the fact that you have little experience related to the job you are trying to get.

What you are telling the client: Effectively, nothing. Although you may have some dazzling related experience in there somewhere, by cramming it in with everything else the client may miss the important stuff altogether.


4. Don’t provide any samples

You’ve got a killer portfolio. You’re not going to show it to just anyone. If the client is serious they will pursue you for samples. Always leave ’em wanting more, right?

The thinking behind it:
There is a lot to be said for keeping a close eye on your work and avoiding possible plagiarism attempts. You should avoid giving out unpublished samples. You never know who is on the receiving end of an email address. However, many people think it’s alright to send an email applying for a job with a message like “please send me more information if you want samples”.

Some freelancers even have the gull to ask for advance fees before they send any samples of their work. You need to have something to show to someone who is hiring. Even if you’re just starting out and haven’t gotten any of your work published. You should at least have a free blog or web hosting account you can show people.

What you are telling the client: Asking for credentials creates a sense of mistrust between you and the client and it is insulting. You are the one who has to prove yourself here. Further, not providing samples up front might make it look like you don’t have any work or that you are hiding something (like crappy designs).


5. Ask questions that are answered in the ad

These people love talking about their businesses, so they won’t mind going over a few things they’ve already covered just for you. They will probably admire you for having the courage to ask.

At this point they are probably so dazzled and mystified by your lack of any demonstrated experience that they will do anything just to correspond with you.

The thinking behind it: There are no stupid questions. Asking questions is a sign of interest. This is only true to an extent. A job advertisement can only tell you so much. You’d better absorb all of it.

What you are telling the client: That you can’t follow simple instructions. It also gives the impression that you are inexperienced. As a freelancer, job applications are a part of your every day life. The instructions in job postings should all be familiar to you.


6. Skip reading the whole job advertisement

Most of that stuff is just there for less experienced people. You don’t need to read every single detail, especially when you can just ask questions (see above).

Besides, you haven’t got time to read it all. You’ve got to write an email which states your entire life up to the point of finding this job advertisement with no links or samples attached pointing out the client’s use of “who” instead of “whom”.

The thinking behind it: You probably think it’s just the job for you and you don’t need to read anything else because you know what you want. The problem is that clients listing a lot of information are likely doing so to save the time it takes to explain certain details to every single applicant. They may also include information that is crucial to determining the right person for the position, such as unusual hours or something that presents a moral conflict for you.

What you are telling the client: If at any point in communicating with the client it becomes apparent that you haven’t bothered to read the whole ad it will show a huge lack of commitment and likely turn them off.


7. Don’t thank them for their time

Resist the urge to be polite and courteous. This is a sign of weakness. You’ve got to play it cool and act like you don’t need it.

The thinking behind it: Forgetting to thank a potential client for reading your application is more of an issue of lack of thought. It can be an easy thing to forget, but it goes a long way when you remember.

What you are telling the client: Some may not notice but what they will do is notice when you do thank them. It isn’t a deal breaker in most cases if you forget but if you have made at least two or three other mistakes on this list it may be the final “oopsie” that gets your application rejected.

By now you should have a pretty good idea of how not to get a job and you should be well on your way to fashioning a job application that is sure to get approved.

Written exclusively for WDD by Ryan Edmunds from CrunchPlay This post is sponsored by Sensational Jobs, the job board for web professionals where you can find design jobs.

What other things do you need to take into account when applying for your next job? Please share your comments with us…

  • Chris

    Next time you type an article, please avoid using an abundant amount of sarcasm. It gets quite confusing after 3 lines… ~_~

    • dingobully

      Chris: please read the title again.

      • http://johnathan-barrett.me.uk Johnathan

        I read the title and I know what way it was intended to come across but I do agree it did get rather confusing at times.

      • Karen

        I agree. It was jumping back and forth… I really don’t know who I am after reading for a while. But thanks for the information anyway.

    • http://www.GoGlobalWebs.com Chris Gray

      Good critique, Chris. ;)

      Also, I guess you meant to misspell job, as “jop,” in beginning but did not notate it. Had to reread this a couple of time to get the intent.

      Twitter ID: @goglobalwebs

  • http://www.ldexterldesign.co.uk/ Lewis Litanzios

    @Chris – Dude, it did say; ‘reverse psychology’ up there in the opening paragraphs.

    Good post – Will remember point no.7 especially ;]


  • http://www.templatemo.com Min Thu

    Very useful article! Thank you.

  • http://blog.whatspauldoing.com Paul Mackenzie

    Great post, this will certainly come in handy in the next few months as I am graduating soon.

    However, although its not a good idea to go into great detail of all the jobs you have had or done, the diversity of them can show that you are very flexible with your skills and can adjust well to different job types.

  • http://volumeone.org Juice

    I disagree with rule number one, and frankly, it contradicts your reasoning for rules 2 and 3. My clients are sometimes people who are super-busy, moving a million miles a minute, and don’t necessarily proof-read everything. On top of that, sometimes clients think that job falls on you, as the designer, to spell-check your work.

    You don’t have to point it out to the client, but you DO have to correct it – that should be mentioned, if this is what you actually meant. Which looks worse to a client: pointing out that something was spelled wrong, or having your work produced and shown to the public, who WILL notice the error(s)?

    In the end, clients appreciate your attention to detail over “just doing what you’re told”. Just don’t be ass about it, if you choose to point it out, but DEFINITELY fix the error.

  • http://www.actihd.com Lukasz

    Very useful information.

  • Mr.Blueberry

    ah god, this whole article is like one big double-negative trainwreck

  • http://needlessproductions.com Ryan Edmunds

    @Chris, I’m sorry you found the article confusing. I guess I layed it on a little thick.

    @Lewis, I’m glad you found something helpful about this post.

    @Min, Thanks for reading!

    @Paul, You make a good point about showing diversity. I would still try to taylor each job desciption to show something related to the job I am applying for.

    @Juice, I totally agree that you should be making corrections to any work that is going out. What I’m saying you shouldn’t do is point out something like a typo in the job advertisement.

  • http://sweetpaperdoll.wordpress.com SaraKate

    Great tips and useful information, but I have to point out that the formatting and wording of the titles of each of your points is a bit confusing (at times I thought you were making the opposite point). You’re speaking in the negative rather than using affirmative actions. Perhaps it would have been better if you could have titled them thus:

    Mistakes To Avoid:
    1. Correcting the Client’s Spelling or Grammar
    2. Forgetting to Proofread or Spellcheck Your Email
    3. Giving Too Much Information


  • Christos

    Nice article. Nice to know other people share the same thoughts.
    I’m looking forward for an article about how to convince your clients that they are not designers

  • http://www.hotpressweb.com HotPress Web

    #4 is the biggest no no. I’m always amazed at how many web designers do not include samples when applying for a position.

  • Dave

    I’ve corrected the spelling and/or grammar at a *lot* of interviews–I’ve *always* been thanked, because it makes the employer look like an idiot and unprofessional if their job ad is written poorly (and it will often dissuade the most-qualified from applying). AFAIK it has never been an issue.

    • http://needlessproductions.com Ryan

      I’m sure a lot of people have done so and not have had it affect their chances in the least. I’m not saying any one of these will kill your chances. But a combo of a few of them may be what does.

      Also in the interview stage is a little more acceptable than in an email that introduces you. Just imagine reading a response to your job ad as follows:

      Hi I am interested in this job but I want more information about your company before I send you any samples.
      P.S. – you spelled accommodate wrong in your job posting ;)

      And you may think that is extreme but I’ve gotten emails along those lines.

      • Rach

        There is something that bothers me about this “don’t point out their typos” rule. The power inequity of the situation, I get. But, I just feel that if you are taking the time to craft a well written cover letter, send in your well planned and slaved over book for their review and are submitting yourself to the insane scrutiny that awaits you in your job search, the LEAST a potential employer could do is suck it the eff up and think, “Crap. Good thing they pointed this out.”

        How about instead of letting your ego control your decision making, you look at the mistakes you make as what they are – single, isolated incidents that are to be identified, corrected and learned from as you go along.

        I don’t think someone asking for more information about your company and then pointing out your error is extreme at all. And I’m frankly surprised at any professional working in an industry which requires thick skin and some sense of humor to succeed in who would be so offended by this it puts them off a potentially talented and detail oriented candidate.

        That said, I have NEVER pointed out a typo to a potential employer, because I know, no matter how charming or innocent or helpful I may think I am being in doing so, it will be seen as arrogant, malicious and critical.

        We all talk so much about constructive criticism and how we should take it gracefully, but apparently it does not apply when one person has all the power.

  • Rafael

    I think the article became very confusing at the end

  • http://www.visual-blade.com Daquan Wright

    The portfolio part is interesting.

    I’ve read on nettuts that your portfolio is good for getting bids, but that your reputation is much more valuable. I suppose if you’re not known, then a portfolio becomes a must.

  • http://twitter.com/iVinay Vinay

    “Ask questions that are answered in the ad” – The best point! And it works :)

    • Lid

      Vinay, it does NOT work… Read carefully

  • http://johnnasta.com/blog John Nasta

    So you really want this jop?

    You wrote that.

    You may even think the error was a ‘red herring’ that was meant for you to catch. Chances are it is not.

    If you can’t proofread your own work, at least trust the spell checker. Jop? It’s not even a typo.

    Oh, the irony!

    • http://needlessproductions.com Ryan

      Actually I didn’t write that. In my original version it said “So you really want this freelancing gig”. But congrats on finding the error either way.

      • http://johnnasta.com/blog John Nasta

        In that case, you should ask the editor to fix that and delete my comment.

      • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com Walter

        Fixed :)

  • http://www.redefinability.blogspot.com deepikaur

    Nice article! I had to do a double take on the title after reading about three of the points to make sure the “avoid” was there.

  • http://www.mindcafe.org/ Mohib

    Now that made me laugh! Cool article.

  • http://www.theEnglishSpy.co.uk Richard Kay

    Hi, another thing to add, is knowing where you stand. If you are professional enough, and you’ve got quality to show, know when to give and when to walk away.

  • http://www.foxmaverick.com/ Grand Rapids Web Design

    First of all, what an effin cool theme. This article is too entertaining.

  • http://www.blueprintdesign.ie Paul

    Hi, I would agree with using SaraKate’s suggested approach to writing headings as that would make clarifying the paragraphs a lot simpler. Interesting article though. Another tip is: when meeting with employer / client, don’t forget to point your portfolio / laptop, etc. at an angle they can comfortable read (no craning necks, etc.). This principle can be applied to many considerations, from eye contact, to showing them options, talents, experience, opportunities, etc.

    • http://www.crunchplay.com Ryan

      Ya. Oops I guess I mistitled this after editing changes were made. The points remain the same, but the Subtitles are written with the idea that we are demonstrating how “not-to” get a job with Freelance application.

      Sorry about that.

  • http://www.m65jacket.com m65 field jacket

    haha wish i would have found this before i made the mistake. thanks

  • http://desaindigital.com jeprie

    nice article. usefull.

  • http://www.armbilisim.com Web Tasarım

    I think the article became very confusing at the end. Good comment guy.. Thanks

  • http://GraphicDesignBcool.com Rick


    Can’t believe the number of people that corrected your article after you made the point of correcting the editor’s work. Oh the irony. And to people reading the article, use some common sense. The article was avoiding these mistakes. The author uses sarcasm to prove the points. Great article, by the way.

    Oh and the writing style I’m using is stream of thought, so feel free to correct away. You can send your corrections to:
    Corner of Nofaukin Way & Just Left Town Ave.
    Leevetbee, IA 56789

  • Heather

    Cool article! I didn’t find it confusing or hard to read… but I am pretty smart.