• Advice

Don't let your application land in the trash

So you’re starting off the New Year with a bang; chasing your dream gigs and sending out pitches, resumes, and samples left and right. Good for you, you freelancing whirlwind!

But before you hit Send on your next application, check out these quick tips – and make sure that you’re going after the right contact in any given company, in the right way.

Do your research

Adapt your tone

A little poking around any potential client’s website can give you really great hints about tone. Some of this can be gleaned by job postings- Is their tone relaxed or formal? Does it have a sense of humor, or is it purely corporate? – but go one step further by learning about the company itself, and adapting your pitch and materials to suit the same.

Check out not only their purely public content – how they speak to their potential clients – but also their slightly more insider information (often in the About section).

What language do they use to describe themselves? How do they present their products to the world? I’ve even seen freelancers succeed by finding decision-makers on LinkedIn or other social media platforms, observing how they describe themselves professionally, and using that to inform their pitches.

Adopting a potential client’s tone can help you to pre-shape your pitch and refine your portfolio to feature samples that will appeal to the client. With a few tweaks, you’ll seem like a natural fit into their workplace culture.

Use the proper method of address

Again, do your research. Many companies and clients have specific instructions about how and when to apply to gigs, and will often use that information to screen out pitches. If the client wants to be contacted by email, contact them by email.

Double-check little details like the current title of a recruiter, names, and contact information. There’s nothing more embarrassing than sending a pitch to a Sarah when the recruiter’s name is Sara; you may not catch it, but Sara-without-an-h definitely will.

If the information is not easily findable (oh, how many inquiries have been stymied by a gender-neutral name), consider calling the company and asking. Many receptionists are used to providing this basic information, and will happily provide details.


Again, a receptionist can be a great source of information for any polite and respectful freelancer. If you have ANY question about if you are, in fact, contacting the right decision-maker in a hiring situation, call the company. Confirm your data; the extra attention to detail can really pay off.

If the receptionist seems especially harried, offer to call back later. If the receptionist says he/she is not authorized to give out information (it does occasionally happen), politely thank them and take to Google. Either way, double-check all your information before you pitch.

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Find an in-road

Okay, you know how I said that you should follow a company’s stated rules about how and when to apply to gigs? That is true… mostly.

Rules are often intended to keep anonymous hordes from applying blindly to gigs; companies enjoy setting minor roadblocks and installing gatekeepers. That being said, there are almost always sneaky loopholes that can give you a leg up on the competition.

The first (and most obvious) loophole is an “inside job.” If you’ve got a friend or colleague who currently works within the company, ask if they’ll forward your information along to the decision-maker. If you know somebody who has had a connection with the company in the past, ask if you can drop their name (or if they’ll recommend you); offer to take them to dinner or return the favor down the road.

This small step alone can elevate you from Anonymous Applicant to Bob’s Friend Who Is A Great Freelancer.

The second (quite fair) loophole is tweaking your materials to pique their interest. Too often, applicants submit exactly what a potential client asks for – and no more. Don’t do the minimum and blend in with the crowd. If a potential client wants samples of a portfolio and a resume, send those materials… but also include a smattering of your best press, or a handful of testimonials.

Include links to additional work. Inform them of upcoming events or special deals, and offer to keep them in the loop. Anything that can make your application stand out (without specifically violating the application rules or making you look like a totally insane person) is fair game. I would not generally recommend attaching a photo of yourself dressed as the company mascot, but who knows?

A third (and slightly more risky) loophole is the Can’t-Blame-Me-For-Trying maneuver. If a company stipulates exactly how and when they wish you to apply for a gig, do indeed follow their rules… but if you’re feeling especially brave, consider supplementing that application with additional marketing materials. Just make sure to have a calm, friendly tone (don’t try to hard-sell).

I’ve had good results with both a friendly supplemental email and polite, personalized snail mail containing samples. The rules can indeed be prohibitory… but if you’re judicious about your approach and your methods, you may find them quite a bit more flexible than they appear. Most companies don’t resent the occasional fence-jumper… as long as you keep it sane and friendly.

If you’ve looked over these steps and feel certain that you’re on top of them , go forth and apply with confidence – you’re yards ahead of your competition!

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.