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