As a content manager, one of the things I do for clients is to look for Filipino online writers. On jobs that pay twice the base salary of the country, I receive 200 to 300+ applications. Believe it or not, only 1% are suitable candidates, and that is already a high figure. So, what I want to do in this article is to show the common mistakes people make when applying for writing jobs.

Only two things can happen after reading this post. One is nothing, while another is everything.

Let me explain.

After knowing the common mistakes, most writers will still do the same things they always do. In other words, they will remain among the 99% of unsuitable candidates. As for the 1%, they were once a part of the 99% too.

So, what sets the few apart from the rest of the field?

Between 1% of the writers and the others, there is one fundamental difference as it turns out. Although most of them are willing to learn, not everyone will act on it.

Fortitude to Act

Time and again, we hear successful people talk about the importance of learning. After nodding our heads in agreement, it is back to old habits. Hence, nothing happens.

A few people, though, have the fortitude to act. First, they learn, and then they put it into practical use. Even though there is a multitude of excuses not to, they chose to focus on one reason why they should.

After learning, use it once, it is a process. But do it twice, it is progress. Finally, do it again and again, then it becomes a habit.

Scrolling through Facebook timeline is fun, but playing games are even better. When it comes to nonproductive activities and distractions, we have a lot of them around us. By the way, the Senate and their series of reality TV shows seem to be competing with telenovelas.

Alas, I digress…

It is easy to justify why we do everything else but learning and practicing. In essence, it is this attitude that explains why many writers continue to struggle.

For the 1%, though, they are the ones who can have everything. Not only are they the ones chosen by clients, but they are also the ones who deserve a better compensation. These are the writers who found one big excuse from distractions. By focusing on applying what they learned, they became the masters of their craft.

Common Mistakes When Applying for Writing Jobs

I have no illusion of presenting myself as an expert in human resource. Heck, I cannot even produce a college diploma if asked because I never graduated.

Come to think about it.

What is the value of a degree in Computer Science today if I did complete it almost thirty years ago?

At any rate, the common mistakes here are my personal perception and based on experience.

Companies, employers, and clients have their own preferred ways of receiving applications. In my case, I prefer using email. For one, it allows me to track conversations without leaving the working environment. As such, the first email is crucial in presenting one’s self.

1. Failing to Introduce Myself

Do we walk into offices without introducing ourselves before asking questions?

The answer is no, and a resounding NO.

I am pretty sure everyone reading this will agree that it is rude. Hence, not introducing ourselves is impolite. Besides, in a traditional office, applicants cannot barge in to talk to the boss or anyone else in charge. Having said that, the use of email is for the benefit of the applicants as much as it is for the employers.

“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

By not making a proper introduction, applicants are influencing clients to ignore them.

2. Failing to Mention What I Do

Besides failing to introduce one’s self, many writers also fail to mention what they do. Of those who did, most also included too many details. As a consequence, they also added information that is irrelevant to content writing. In both instances, the absence or excess is a reflection of the quality of articles they write.

Some people may take issue with the necessity of mentioning what they do. After all, is it not obvious that they are applying for a writing position?

In that sense, they are correct.

So, how can it be a mistake?

A connection between applicants and clients begin with names. After that, it is the profession itself and having or not having the requisite skills.

Mentioning past experiences is a chance to present one’s self as being the right person. Furthermore, other value-adding skills related to content writing can only strengthen the pitch. As such, failing to do this is tantamount to losing an opportunity to impress clients.

Writers presenting irrelevant information suggests a lack of experience in writing high-quality articles.

An example I can give is this. An applicant mentions the number of years working in the BPO industry. As anyone can see, it has nothing to do with content writing. Hence, it is information that is better off staying in the resume.

3. Failing to Understand Purpose of Client

Not a lot of people asked me what the purpose of an article or website is. In my experience as a content writer, there are different ways of writing about the same topic. A good writer can do a job well, but it is the great ones who can help achieve the goals of clients.

A typical working relationship is as simple as writers submitting articles. In this case, the pieces tend to be more generic. But if the goals are clear, then writers can write with an emphasis on achieving those intentions. As a result, the articles better fits the marketing strategy of websites.

Clients looking for content writers often do not know what they need.

Not all employers explain their goals. Hence, it is up to the writers to ask. In fact, content marketing strategy is one of the things that both sides discuss early on. Because clients are experts, that is why they need someone with expertise.

4. Failing to Show How I Can Help

It is a common practice among clients not to release too much information in job postings. For example, they may not mention their website early on. If clients do specify sites, it is either theirs or those with content that matches theirs.

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In my last job posting, I only stated travel related site. Almost everyone who sent me an email received a document that has more details about the job. It also includes the website where writers will work on once accepted.

Clients need assurance that writers can help.

Because now there is a reference, applicants can gauge their skills to see if they can do the job. As mentioned in common mistake no. 3, content writers can ask questions to have a better understanding of the needs. Only then could applicants offer their insights.

Given a pool of suitable writers, it is the value-adding skills that sets one apart from the others. Having the ability to help boost the growth of a site impresses clients the most.

Instead of listing skills one by one, a better way to do this is to write. After all, being writers, that is what we do best. Write a compelling paragraph that shows clients how one can help them grow.

5. Failing to Communicate

Still using the travel-related website as a sample, let me share one interesting fact. I counted the number of people whom I had replied to, and those who did not get back to me afterward.

Guess how many people did not reply after sending them a document?

At least 70% of them did not reply.

As the content manager tasked to find Filipino writers, I say that is good riddance. But as the person behind this website, I am saddened.

The desire to help in ways that I can is strong. Hence I created this site. But I cannot help people who do not have the decency to reply back as a matter of professional courtesy.

It is a pity because these are the people that I am no longer entertaining the next time my clients need writers.

There is no excuse for failing to communicate.

In more than two decades that I was in business, a lesson I learned is to never close the door. Unfortunately, failing to reply is a breach of professional conduct. Often, it is also irreparable.

6. Failing to Read the Job Posting

As alluded to, some people send in as many applications as they can. In most cases, they do not bother to read or understand the job posting. As such, they miss key details.

Writers who do not take the time to read and understand a job post become nuisance applicants.

In most writing jobs, writers need to do quite a bit of research. As such, speed reading is essential. Nonetheless, it should never come at the expense of missing important details. If there is ever a time when writers should not speed read, then it is the information provided on job postings.

7. Failing to Write Custom Email

After sending an application, not all clients reply. One content writer I talked to has a simple solution. “Apply with as many clients as you can, and some of them will reply.” Hence, that is what many writers do, especially the beginners.

Many writers feel that composing an email, one at a time is tedious. In fact, it is too time-consuming that many resorted to canned responses. Said otherwise, they use the same message with all clients.

Writers who send canned messages make clients feel unimportant.

From the perspective of employers, if I am not worthy of your time, then you also not worthy of mine.

8. Submitting Wrong Sample Articles

After coming to terms, it is my practice to give two hours of orientation and coaching. On several instances, writers quit within a few minutes to an hour. Hence, I learned my lesson and now asks for test articles.

In the past, I send candidates to the website where they will work on if hired. All they have to do is to read and determine if they can match or exceed the quality of the published articles. Once done, they are to let me know if they can. Then, based on submitted samples, I picked the ones with the potential to grow.

Submitting articles not related to what clients need means nothing nowadays.

In no time at all, it became evident to me that there was something wrong. I had wasted so much time with people who overestimated their abilities. Clients do not want to pay for potential because what they need are results. For that reason, I no longer read sample articles.

Do freelance writers need to write test articles?

It depends.

Clients often ignore irrelevant articles unless applicants highlight some details. For example, the topic may not be the same, but the technique matches the need. In this case, writers can refer clients to the article with an emphasis on the style.

9. Ignoring Instructions

On freelancer marketplaces, some clients ask applicants to write particular words. It is their way of filtering those who do not read the job description. As alluded to in common mistake no. 6, there are many nuisance applicants.

Because there are applicants who do not read, let alone understand, then it leads to common mistake no. 9.

Why on earth will clients hire writers who cannot follow instructions?

In seeking an online writing job, a little mistake can be costly. But ignoring instructions can be catastrophic.

10. Failing to Ask

Once I listened to Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan talks about work and life balance. Among the few key points that she presented, one is to ask for help.

It is better to clarify rather than to make a mistake by doing something based on a wrong assumption.

In many instances, job postings, requirements, and instructions may be vague. Unfortunately, many writers do not ask and seek clarification. As a result, it either leads to inaction or mistakes.

One Can Have Everything from Nothing

No one gets better without being intentional. In other words, one has to have the desire and to have a conscious effort in doing so.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how we learn from mistakes and do better that dictates where we go.

It is bad enough for people not to know they made mistakes. Far worse are those who will do the same thing again and again despite knowing.

The best writers worldwide are no different from other successful people. They all worked on their craft and paid their dues.

Let me end this post with one question.

Are you going to do whatever it takes to be in the 1% or relax and stay with the 99%?


Content Manager, Article Writer, Blogger

  1. Hi, Robert! I love your list! One of my pet peeves is when applicants do not follow instructions. Hahaha. I usually put the email address where I want them to send their applications. But there are those who keep on sending PM on Facebook and asking me to respond to their friend requests. I simply ignore those applicants to save me from the future headache of supervising or managing people who can’t follow simple instructions. 😉

    1. Teresa,

      I do the same thing. Social media is a good source of leads, but the very nature of the platform is either conducive or distraction. I do not have the metrics now, but I do believe that LinkedIn has better results as people who use that platform regularly are focused on career and business.

      On the other hand, Facebook is a hit or miss. Excluding the social media managers, casual and regular users spend too much idle time. Even for people who use it as a means to get a job find themselves drawn into the unnecessary whereas time could have been put to good use such as learning and improving.

      Between the two platforms, there is less motivation to read on Facebook. As you and I experienced, a lot of people do not bother to read the instructions and follow. Such is the habit acquired from using social media where there is a continuous flow of feeds. At least, with LinkedIn, most people use it with the intent of networking and enhancing one’s career or business. So, they are more likely to conduct themselves professionally.

  2. I believe that writing is 1% talent and 99% dedication. When you’re dedicated to what you do, you won’t stop finding ways on how to improve your craft. I am a blogger but I still don’t consider myself a writer because I know a lot of writers out there and they’re way better.

    My favorite on your list is ‘Ignoring Instructions’. For me, this is a basic requirement. When I receive collaborations from brands, I indicate there that I understood their terms/instructions and I am looking forward to fulfilling them.

  3. Instructions is a big tell for employers. If you can’t follow the instructions they have provided during the application process then pretty much they can gauge your competence. Having once been a Filipino content writer I can definitely conclude that it’s one of the hardest jobs around. It requires constant creativity and tons of research.

  4. This is really helpful Sir Robert. I have been a web content writer for one client which I got through Upwork (formerly Odesk). It was actually a try-out because I was really looking for a job that time but I didn’t expect that our partnership will become long term. Constant communication is the key and also never hesitate to ask questions so you can understand everything and determine exactly what the client wants from you and make it clear what you cannot do or areas that you possibly want to improve. I started out as a game review writer but when the site went down, instead of terminating our contract, he just assigned me to another writing job which is way beyond my niche but he guided me all throughout the process. Now that our partnership is about to end, my client himself is the one helping me find a new job.

  5. Thank you for the insights and affirmation. I started getting writing projects through Upwork since August and I can say that the things you mentioned are correct and had helped me get hired. Your 3rd point about understanding the purpose of the client makes a huge difference in a project’s success. This is something that I would also like to share to other aspiring freelancers.

  6. For a job application, it helps a lot to do one’s homework and respond to emails well-prepared. It says much about a person’s attention to detail, dedication, and love for the job. I remember when I applied as a content writer, there were weird instructions that I tried to follow. The employer said many applicants didn’t, and so luckily I got on to the next application phase. Looking back, I think the little things were usually what helped me get through.

  7. Wow, these tips are truly helpful for me for I have just started in the industry like this one. Yes, some of these are being overlooked, and we tend to forget them. I will surely bear this mind and share this as well to my friends so that on our next application, we know what to do and how to start. I actually have been searching and looking for this kind of blog post in order for me to prepare myself and have an idea of what to expect. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. This will truly be a help to a lot of aspiring content writer like me.

  8. This article just proves that with willpower, determination, and the right attitude, you can do everything out of nothing. I see some people do some of these mistakes but the good thing is that they bounce back. I love writing about tech and maybe I should strive even harder to produce more high-quality content. I know that other forms of media will rise but I hope it doesn’t come at the expense of knowing how to read and write.

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