6 Phrases in Freelance Job Ads That Scream "DON’T APPLY"

On a given workday, how many hours do you spend trolling job sites? One? Two? Four? At first glance, those hours don’t seem like a big deal. One hour a day is nothing compared to the usual time it takes you to write, design, program or market, right? Let’s do the math.

Suppose you set aside an hour every weekday combing through the 300+ new jobs on your Odesk or Elance feed. That translates to 20 hours per month (for 20 working days) spent on job hunting alone. That’s a lot of time spent on a task not directly related to your work. And, as you know, time is something you can’t afford to waste as a freelancer.

Luckily, there are ways to cut down your job hunting hours. One of them is to identify jobs you’d probably be better off not applying for in the first place. If you see any of the following phrases on an ad, it’s best to move on to the next one.

"Lowest Bidder Gets the Job"

Translation: The job poster wants to hire the cheapest freelancer, plain and simple.

As a freelancer, you’re a businessperson. You understand the need to keep costs to a minimum, especially in the early stages of your venture. At the same time, you know that it’s suicide not to invest in an essential resource (e.g. a skilled and experienced partner) to propel your business to where you want it to be.

If a potential client seems to care more about saving a few bucks today at the expense of greater value over the long run, you’d be in for a bumpy ride – not just financially – should you agree to work with such a client.

"This is an Easy Job"

Translation: Don’t expect a high rate, because even a blindfolded monkey could do this job.

You know that writing a blog post, designing a website, creating a program, or planning a marketing campaign is far from an easy job. You put in a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to get these projects off the ground, so surely you deserve a commensurate rate for your trouble?

"No Milestones or Upfront Payment"

Translation: I’d love to work with you right now, but I have some reservations.

When a client doesn’t want to talk to you about milestones or upfront payments, it’s usually not a good sign. It could mean that the client previously worked with a freelancer who turned out to be a flake, so he now distrusts freelancers in general.

Maybe he doesn’t have the money to pay you at the moment, but he might pay you in the future (or not). Or, maybe he’s hired more than one freelancer, and is still deciding which one of you is worth it.

In any case, do you really want to work with someone who doesn’t trust you on some level? Good freelancer-client relationships are built on trust, among other things.

"I Will Not Pay Higher Than X Amount"

Translation: I have no room for negotiations, sorry.

It’s one thing for a client to limit his budget to X amount. It’s another to imply that you can’t negotiate a higher rate under any circumstances. If you feel up to it, you can apply for a job like this, as long as you’re prepared to use your most powerful negotiating tactics.

Remember, negotiation isn’t about "one-upping" the other party. It’s about reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.

"Send Me a Free Sample"

Translation: Yay, I have a freebie! Thanks!

Samples show clients that you’re not just putting on airs when you talk about being the "best" in your field. That said, if someone asks you to make a custom sample from scratch, even after seeing your best portfolio pieces, you can bet that person is just looking for free work.


Translation: I’m not that much of a professional.

This is a tricky one to use as a gauge for a client. Some well-written ads have terms that will make any decent freelancer bawl their eyes out (e.g. "I want 8 1000-word articles a day at $1/article"); others demonstrate a less-than-decent command of the language, but if you take quick glance at their "Testimonials" section, the freelancers seem to be satisfied with the clients in question.

Still, if a job poster doesn’t bother to write readable and detailed ads, you have to wonder what else they don’t bother with.


Looking for work is one of the hardest parts of freelancing, so make the most of your job hunting efforts. Try to apply for jobs where your skills, experience, and values are a fit, you can further hone your existing skills, and you can get a portfolio-worthy piece.

Sure, it’s okay to take on less-than-ideal jobs when you need them, but then, why saddle yourself with the added stress?

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