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Writing applications for web based jobs, contract work and projects

In an earlier article, I outlined the basics for a good web development or marketing proposal and how to find web related jobs

With many online companies using freelancers these days, it's not unusual to be able to pick up short term projects, even with very small web development companies. These companies may not be able to afford a full time programmer or graphic designer, so they utilize online freelance databases to source casual workers. 

Once you get started in this kind of self employment and build a good reputation, you'll find that word travels very quickly. You should have a nice flow of work coming in once you hit that point, but first you have to get there.

With these kinds of jobs, a full blown development or marketing proposal isn't necessary. It's much like applying for any other job where a written application is required.

Having been involved with recruiting for web related jobs, I'm very concerned by a trend that doesn't seem to be improving - the quality of job applications. On many occasions I've reviewed applications that are really sub-standard; even though it's plain to see that the applicant does have skills in the specific area.

Many years ago when I was working in "real world" recruitment, one of my mentors (an ex-bank manager) relayed to me his method of culling applications for any non-physical laboring job. It was quite simple - one spelling error, one grammatical error in an application and it went into the bin, regardless of the skills and qualifications of the applicant. 

I told him I thought he was a little harsh in using this strategy and his reply was something along the lines of: "A job application should demonstrate the person at their best, if the person cannot take the time to ensure their application is 100% perfect, what are they going to be like on a bad day?"

... and I had to admit he had a point.

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Do's and don'ts of applying for web related jobs

If you're in the market for an online job related to web development or marketing, here's a series of tips that you may find useful.

1. Spelling and Grammar. Ensure that your application is free of any spelling or grammatical errors. When you work on a document for any length of time, you can become "blind" to it. It happens to me a lot, I think an article is fine, then I go back to it a couple of days later and see glaring errors. If you can, get someone who has a good grasp of written English to proof-read your application. Ask them to be harsh and not just look at spelling and grammar, but also general sentence structure. 

2. Use the person's name. If a job specification lists a contact name, use that in the opening salutation, rather than "To whom it may concern" or "Dear sir". Using the person's name demonstrates that you read the job advertisement properly and makes it a more personal approach.

3. ***Address the criteria***. This is where I see applicants going way off on a tangent on many occasions. When writing an application, you must address *every* requirement listed in the ad. There is no point in rattling on about how skilled you are in PHP programming when the major requirement listed in the job description is for ASP. Mention your other skills, but these other skills should be in a "bonus" line or two, not the focal point. 

If you are fluent in multiple languages (and I mean verbal languages); it's good to also briefly mention these as multi-lingual capabilities are highly prized in some companies - especially if the team is multi-cultural.

If you find you are lacking in some of the non-critical skills in the criteria, still address these. You could say something like "while I am not fully conversant with x, given my demonstrated adaptability throughout my career, I could gain the knowledge required within a very short time frame".

4. **Apply the criteria**. While your resume will outline where you have applied your knowledge, bear in mind that your job application letter is meant to also summarize your resume. For example, if the job specification calls for project supervision skills, it's not enough to simply say "I have project supervision skills". Something along the lines of "in 2004 I was involved with X project, coordinating 9 programmers from 3 different countries in developing X application - on time and under budget".

5. Do not make demands. Unless you are the very best in a field where labor is in short supply, you will need to remember that you are not in a powerful position when applying for a job. An employer is going to want someone who can follow direction and can work with other employees within a company. A job application is not the place to be making demands regarding salary, conditions etc. - those types of negotiations can come later. If you're that big of a hot shot where you feel you can make demands, then the head hunters should be chasing you, not you chasing jobs ;).

6. Make yourself available. In your closing lines you can demonstrate your eagerness for the job by adding something like "I would welcome the opportunity to further discuss this position/project with you at your convenience." This way, you are saying - "yes, I'm eager and yes, I'll fit in with you". It's much better than stating something like - "I'd like to talk to you about this job further, but I'm only available on Monday afternoons if it's raining". Ensure that you provide multiple points of contact e.g.; phone, cell, email and IM.

7. Research the company. Even if it's only a project that may last a week, anyone reviewing your application will be impressed if you show that you have initiative - and this can be demonstrated by mentioning a little regarding what you know about the company. Even something as simple as: "I can see that your company has been in operation since 1998, and I would greatly appreciate the opportunity of working with such a well established organization".

8. Be careful with form letters. Form letters, i.e. a document template that is used for many different applications and only the bare minimum of content is changed, can be spotted a mile off. Sure, use a previous letter to another company as a base, but ensure you make substantial edits to it to make it look as though you gave this particular job application careful thought and consideration.

9. Too long/too short. Ensure your application cover note gives enough detail without turning it into a novel. In my opinion, 1 standard document page is more than enough for most jobs. Bear in mind the chances are that the person reviewing your application will be busy - if your application letter is too long, they may disregard it or miss vital points. If it is too brief, it may not contain all the important information need to capture the attention of the employer.

10. Neat layout. It doesn't matter whether it's a design, development or marketing job you're going for, the visual layout of your application is very important. A tidy layout tends to reflect a tidy approach to work; something that most employers find appealing. 

Do not submit a single page that is just one huge block of text. The proper use of paragraphs is the key to a tidy layout. Do not use fancy, small or large fonts either - in the business world, 11pt Arial, 10 pt Verdana or 12 pt Times New Roman are all acceptable.

Your application letter/note is a summary of you. It's probably also the first contact you'll ever have with that particular employer. In most cases, you only have a few seconds to grab their attention in a positive  way - and it's those precious seconds that could decide whether you win or lose the job.

Related learning resources

How to create a web development/marketing proposal

How to find web related jobs

Freelancer database - find web related projects/contracts

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
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