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7f9b79df
Community Member

Posted a graphic design job, what happened next was (not) shocking...

Thought I'd throw this out there to the freelance community at large...

 

I recently posted a job to design a website landing page. The job posting included the "am I human" test by asking them to write "xyz" (where xyz was a phrase) at the beginning of their proposal. I also included the high level requirements and a link to the current proof of concept landing page for reference.

 

Here's what happened...

 

The Ugly

  • 60+% of the submitted proposals failed the "am I human test" and were immediately disqualified from further consideration.
  • A vast majority of proposals state things like "I read your job description and it looks like a perfect fit"; or some variant of that. Yet, none of them talked about "why" or presented anything remotely relevant about the job posting.
  • Several of the "professional" designers included links to sites that were no longer online. Read that again...

 

The Good

Upwork's client tools allow you to "shortlist" and "archive" proposals. The shortlist is very helpful to track those you want to follow up with. The archive removes all the noise from the list of candidates.

 

Initially I was concerned the job posting would show 50+ proposals and deter better freelancers from submitting proposals. However, I have to give props to Upwork for only showing the active number of proposals in the job posting.

 

In other words, none of the archived proposals are counted towards the total number of proposals shown on the job listing. Instead of showing 50+ proposals, the listing shows 5-10 proposals.

 

The Mediocre

There is an alarming number of freelancers submitting proposals with zero contracts/no earnings. And to be honest, I totally understand why they have zero contracts; most all of them have underwhelming profiles, to say the least.

 

Of 50ish candidates after a day or so, only 3-4 specifically addressed the project requirements. The rest either made vague references or none at all.

 

Summary

As a part-time freelancer, posting a job for the first time provided great insight into the challenges our clients face when rummaging through a heap of proposals. After going through this process, I've concluded a few things:

  • Every proposal must specifically address the client's job.
  • When in doubt, ask questions specifically related to the job you do not understand.
  • Grammar, formatting, and cogent proposals make a much bigger impression than I realized.
  • If you have canned text, make sure it's no more than 2-3 sentences.
  • Profiles matter!
  • Portfolios matter!

These are all points I've followed in the past; this experience reinforced why they should be followed. Hope this helps other freelancers out there...

 

Cheers!

 

46 REPLIES 46
prestonhunter
Community Member

Kindler:
This is a great post. Thank you for compiling your notes about your hiring experience into such a clear, useful post.

 

I think this information can be helpful to freelancers. It should provide some hope and solace to serious freelancers who are just starting out. If they are serious professionals, it is good to know that they really do stand a chance at getting hired, because most of their competition isn't serious.

 

This thread can also be immensely useful to clients, to know what they can expect.

feed_my_eyes
Community Member


Kindler C wrote:

I recently posted a job to design a website landing page. The job posting included the "am I human" test by asking them to write "xyz" (where xyz was a phrase) at the beginning of their proposal. 


It's always good to hear insights from people who post jobs, but just FYI, if I see "prove that you've read this by writing 'xyz' in your proposal" I immediately close the post and don't apply. I just find it incredibly off-putting, and I know that I'm not alone. If I'm going to take the trouble to write a proposal, clients should do me the courtesy of reading it and not treat me like a trained monkey. You may find that the quality of proposals you receive would improve if you don't start out by sounding like you have low expectations.

 

 


Christine A wrote:


It's always good to hear insights from people who post jobs, but just FYI, if I see "prove that you've read this by writing 'xyz' in your proposal" I immediately close the post and don't apply. I just find it incredibly off-putting, and I know that I'm not alone. If I'm going to take the trouble to write a proposal, clients should do me the courtesy of reading it and not treat me like a trained monkey. You may find that the quality of proposals you receive would improve if you don't start out by sounding like you have low expectations.


I've seen jobs with the include "xyz" in your proposal and assumed it was to weed out the "spam-proposals". After this experience, I completely understand why some clients include it.

 

I added the include "xyz" near the end (but not at the end) of my job posting as a litmus test to see if the freelancer was actually reading the job post. This was not about treating freelancers as a trained monkey, and it was a phrase from a cult movie that would probably make most freelancers smile.

 

Perhaps you could look at this from the client perspective as well?

If we look at this from a client's perspective, then it is indeed easy to see why an "xyz" requirement is included by some clients.

 

I have hired over 150 freelancers on Upwork. I do not personally use this technique, but I understand the impetus behind it.

 

Because I regularly read the Community Forum, I also am aware of the fact that many experienced/professional freelancers don't like it.


Preston H wrote:

Because I regularly read the Community Forum, I also am aware of the fact that many experienced/professional freelancers don't like it.


Personally, I find that a bit disappointing. I view the "xyz" in the same vein as "please include a link to your github account". Both are asking for the freelancer to complete some type of task to demonstrate you've read and followed the client's request. 

 

I wouldn't be surprised if several of the more experienced freelancers are missing out on good opportunities b/c they are offended by such a simple request.


Kindler C wrote:

I wouldn't be surprised if several of the more experienced freelancers are missing out on good opportunities b/c they are offended by such a simple request.

This isn't a conclusion that I arrived at overnight. I've been freelancing for nearly 23 years, and I used to always comply with requests to write "xyz" in my proposals. Over time, I learned that the type of clients who put this in their job posts are not clients that I want to work with, for various reasons. Now, I'm not saying that you're not a good client, and I probably HAVE missed out on some opportunities; however, I don't have time to apply for each and every job that's posted (I mostly don't apply at all, being busy with regular clients) so I use "weeding out" techniques, the same as you're doing.

The difference between you and me is that I have no complaints about the quality of my clients - they're great - whereas you ARE disappointed about the quality of the proposals that you received. So I'm just saying that maybe you should leave out that requirement next time, and see whether it makes a difference.

 

I do it, but find it a little annoying and condesending. I mean, if I apply to it, of course I've read the post and understand the requirements. But after reading about your experience, I can understand why it can be a valuable thing to add. And as for "If you have canned text, make sure it's no more than 2-3 sentences," I've had many clients tell me they hired me because they appreciated how brief and to the point my proposal was compared to others who responded with multiple paragraphs trying to sell themselves.

It's an insult. I skip those too. Maybe I miss out, but I really don't think so. 


Kindler C wrote:
I view the "xyz" in the same vein as "please include a link to your github account". Both are asking for the freelancer to complete some type of task to demonstrate you've read and followed the client's request. 

OK, thanks. Now might you want to reconsider how the many successful freelancers (check our stats!) who have taken the time to respond to you view such requests.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if several of the more experienced freelancers are missing out on good opportunities b/c they are offended by such a simple request.

Several of us have explained why we don't consider any such deliberately foregone opportunities to be "missing out."

 

The most successful and professional freelancers here are not lined up begging for crumbs. Like you, we're looking at the marketplace and deciding with whom we wish to work, and for how much. We have a lot of talent, expertise, and willingness to work with clients. Too bad your unwillingness to listen to us means you might miss out on the benefits we offer.

petra_r
Community Member


Kindler C wrote:

Perhaps you could look at this from the client perspective as well?

I do. I know that a great many freelancers will be lost to clients who take that approach, leaving them with a poorer applicant-pool than they would have had otherwise.

 

As a client I will not treat people like I expect them to be pondlife.

 

I have dealt extensively with hiring on Upwork, much of it on behalf of large clients, but also for myself.

 

You can weed out the spam-proposals without cheap stunts. Almost invariably the first two lines tell you all you need to know.

 

The whole "Write purple cow to demonstrate you can read" thing is a long-standing running joke among freelancers and the common consensus among upper level freelancers is that it's a red flag and leads to rapid hitting of the "back" key.


Christine A wrote:

Kindler C wrote:

I recently posted a job to design a website landing page. The job posting included the "am I human" test by asking them to write "xyz" (where xyz was a phrase) at the beginning of their proposal. 


It's always good to hear insights from people who post jobs, but just FYI, if I see "prove that you've read this by writing 'xyz' in your proposal" I immediately close the post and don't apply. I just find it incredibly off-putting, and I know that I'm not alone. If I'm going to take the trouble to write a proposal, clients should do me the courtesy of reading it and not treat me like a trained monkey. You may find that the quality of proposals you receive would improve if you don't start out by sounding like you have low expectations.

 


I could not agree more. This is a common practice I find offensive. A competent client can read the first 2 lines of each proposal and immediatly know if it is a canned answer or there is more to it. Asking you for a xyz is absurd.

 

A smart freelancer who does not want to read job postings reads the first and last paragraph and can write "xyz" just as easy. It proofs nothing, only the project manager's inability to deal with proposals.

 

Next time I see one of those, I will write a long proposal and at the end I will add:

"Please type 'I'm stupid' at the beginning of your reply to my proposal so I know that you read it entirely. I will automatically ignore any answer that does not start with 'I'm stupid'.".

 

I know, I will not do this because I'd rather stare at a blank wall for an hour than wasting my time sending a proposal to someone who does not actually want to read proposals.


Marc C wrote:

Christine A wrote:

Kindler C wrote:

I recently posted a job to design a website landing page. The job posting included the "am I human" test by asking them to write "xyz" (where xyz was a phrase) at the beginning of their proposal. 


It's always good to hear insights from people who post jobs, but just FYI, if I see "prove that you've read this by writing 'xyz' in your proposal" I immediately close the post and don't apply. I just find it incredibly off-putting, and I know that I'm not alone. If I'm going to take the trouble to write a proposal, clients should do me the courtesy of reading it and not treat me like a trained monkey. You may find that the quality of proposals you receive would improve if you don't start out by sounding like you have low expectations.

 


I could not agree more. This is a common practice I find offensive. A competent client can read the first 2 lines of each proposal and immediatly know if it is a canned answer or there is more to it. Asking you for a xyz is absurd.

 

A smart freelancer who does not want to read job postings reads the first and last paragraph and can write "xyz" just as easy. It proofs nothing, only the project manager's inability to deal with proposals.

 

Next time I see one of those, I will write a long proposal and at the end I will add:

"Please type 'I'm stupid' at the beginning of your reply to my proposal so I know that you read it entirely. I will automatically ignore any answer that does not start with 'I'm stupid'.".

 

I know, I will not do this because I'd rather stare at a blank wall for an hour than wasting my time sending a proposal to someone who does not actually want to read proposals.


Just replying with the quote function to say "ditto". THIS again, so much. 

I have to 100% agree with you.  If I see a job post that says "Please type xyz" in your proposal so that "I know that you can read" etc, I CLOSE it out and move on.   Any initial conversation with a stranger that starts with them immediately issuing "orders" to me is a conversation I bring to an abrupt and immediate CLOSE.   I find it offensive,  unprofessional, and lacking in decorum, all of which are qualities I avoid in any client.  I am INTERVIEWING the client just as much as they are INTERVIEWING me.

 

I wouldn't start off any in-person interview, business meeting, or business interaction with "Please repeat 'Simon Says' so that I know you can listen and are paying attention", so there is no reason to do it on Upwork simply because it's online.  Anything that is rude offline is usually rude online as well.  To each his/her own, but seeing "type so and so" in any proposal makes me lose interest immediately.

petra_r
Community Member

Like Christine, I use the "write bla bla" thing as an absolutely hard "No-go-red-flag".

I would never apply to a job post like that because I find it offensive.

geri_kol
Community Member

One more vote for automatically dismissing job posts that ask freelancers to type "purple cow" to prove they have read the post. 

 

While the request may be simple enough, it suggests poor judgment on the part of the client to weed out irrelevant proposals without the need of a crutch, which augurs likely bigger communication and comprehension issues down the road.

farag-m-sayed
Community Member

This was attached to a job post yesterday “NEEDED IMMEDIATELY, estimated one hour” for a $100…

**Edited for community guidelines**

I thought, the client looks credible, and I’m fast, so I did it and sent with proposal, offering to change it or create a different style…

**Edited for community guidelines**

The client didn’t respond to anyone and possibly, didn’t see neither, the proposal or the attachment, then sent an invitation that is not answered. Unbelievable!   

The biggest red flag in that post is the client's insulting expectation that a good graphic design job can be done in one hour. Not sure why you would have bothered working for free on this, but I'm sure that other freelancers also completed the job and sent it, therefore there was no need for the client to hire anyone. (BTW, you didn't incorporate "Yor-KEY" in the way that the client had in mind - they wanted you to say something like, "Yor-KEY to the best prices". But that's what happens when you do a throwaway mock-up.)

But that brings us another step closer to answering the question why Farag has problems to find clients.

I sent it in RGB colours with my signature watermark. So, it’s useless for the client print purpose.

 

The point is, I can’t think of a higher level of guarantees, a freelancer can offer while new, to show “did read the job post” and can do it at high speed and high quality, regardless to the budget.


Farag S wrote:

The point is, I can’t think of a higher level of guarantees, a freelancer can offer while new, to show “did read the job post” and can do it at high speed and high quality, regardless to the budget.


Chances are the client never opened your proposal (most are not opened, especially in the overcrowded categories), so never saw your "sample", or, if they did, they didn't like it or they noticed that you missed the brief.

I suggested to edit or create another if desired in my proposal, because in my job I understand people have deferent tastes. But this job shouldn’t have been a high competition with the required speed (one hour). So, at this stage, I would blame the platform match functioning, Petra.


Farag S wrote:

I suggested to edit or create another if desired in my proposal, because in my job I understand people have deferent tastes. But this job shouldn’t have been a high competition with the required speed (one hour). So, at this stage, I would blame the platform match functioning, Petra.


Never assume there is little or no competition. You don't know who or what that client knows and uses on their end.

 

Always assume there is a lot of competition, and you are just one candidate trying to land that specific freelance job. 


Farag S wrote:

So, at this stage, I would blame the platform match functioning.


Now it is getting colder again.

**Edited for Community Guidelines**


Farag S wrote:

 So, at this stage, I would blame the platform match functioning, Petra.


What?

Professionals don't do free work, let alone free work that doesn't even follow the brief...

What was your point?

Businesses promote themselves with discounts and free samples for potential regular clients sometimes.

 

And 95% accurate initial draft at that speed, isn’t too bad though!

 

The point is, if you’re new and fit for projects, the chances here to connect with businesses is becoming to be like a something only depends on luck.


Farag S wrote:

Businesses promote themselves with discounts and free samples for potential regular clients sometimes.

 

And 95% accurate initial draft at that speed, isn’t too bad though!

 

The point is, if you’re new and fit for projects, the chances here to connect with businesses is becoming to be like a something only depends on luck.


As I mentioned before, maybe they have taken your sample and given it to another freelancer to redraw it for $10.
Giving free samples, in addition to being a risk that the client keeps it and disappears, harms the rest of us. The client may end up thinking that asking for free samples is normal.
The normal thing is to pay for them.

You right, it’s a waste of effort. My best chance now is to wait for my skill certification results. It takes ages for some reason!


Farag S wrote:

You right, it’s a waste of effort. My best chance now is to wait for my skill certification results. It takes ages for some reason!


Perhaps I have not expressed myself well due to my English, but I did not mean that it is a "waste of effort".
I meant that doing so is wrong for several reasons, among them, harming other freelancers.

 

On the other hand, I don't have a "skill certification", like many others, and little by little I'm getting jobs.
I think you shouldn't believe that having a certification will lead to more jobs. Maybe you should review your profile? Or maybe it's your proposals?

I understand what you mean, and the skill certification may only help for matching at the beginning, but not much at advanced stage after having enough reviews, JSS and badges.

Not much competition? You surely must be joking. The whole "I'm available immediately" crowd that thinks speed is the thing that matters most is your competition. 

At excellent quality, that was the point.

Hello Farag!

 

Do yourself a favor. Think like a Business Owner.

 

Get the contract activated first, and then send your "Mock-Up" of what the client wants. Not before.

 

Regardless of the steps you took, that client now has a free mockup to pass along to their graphics person. 

 

Please, please protect your assets. Not doing so, that's money out of your pocket.

 

 

Thank you, Woodrow, but the client can’t use it in this colour format for the purpose, and also doesn’t have access to the design assets for editing.

 

The client profile is also created last year like mine and it has a good rate. This just shows how it’s difficult to connect for new users now.


Farag S wrote:

Thank you, Woodrow, but the client can’t use it in this colour format for the purpose, and also doesn’t have access to the design assets for editing.

 

The client profile is also created last year like mine and it has a good rate. This just shows how it’s difficult to connect for new users now.


It may be that, having received a free sample, if they have not been more, (it does not matter RGB and watermark), the client has chosen the one he likes the most and has ordered it from someone for $10.

I know, but it’s very hard to balance the equation of giving guarantees and not giving too much, for a new profile.

I hate to tell you this, Farag,

 

I've been working with marketing and ad agencies for many years. I've seen it time and time again.

 

If a freelancer willingly sends over a mock-up with the steps you took, all the marketing manager does is pass your sample to their graphics person and says, "I want the piece to look like this one." 

 

The graphics person opens Photoshop and creates a new version based on the sample you just sent over. 

 

So, moving forward, send nothing the client wants until you have a contract activated. 

jr-translation
Community Member

I would be interested to hear how many of the freelancers that past the test did not have stolen items in their portfolio.

 

I have been looking for translators in the past so I asked to reply in either the source or target language. That can sometimes also be quite revealing.

hglewis
Community Member

Hello Kindler!

 

I found your post interesting and insightful. Thank you!

 

I've had my share of hiring freelancers and employees over the past 30 years. And it is a juggling act. 

 

However, when you begin the conversation with the "am I human" test, you've just told the pros to leave the conversation. And they do.

 

Who loses? Not the pros because they have no skin in the game, dog in the hunt, or money on the table.

 

It is the client. That's you!

 

Silly "write this phrase" gimmicks expose the client as ill-prepared. And lets the pros know immediately; this job poster has little to no experience hiring professional freelancers.

 

It sends up red flags to stay away, and they will walk away and never look back every time.

 

So don't shortchange yourself with gimmicks because you may have just lost the opportunity to hire an Elon Musk but settle for a Barney Fife instead.

 

Instead of a "Litmus" test, try rapport. 

 

Clients that start the conversation with that frame of mind build long-term solid relations. 

 

Congratulations on posting your first job!

gilbert-phyllis
Community Member

An instruction to mention this or write that in my response to a job post is usually an automatic deal breaker for me, too. It indicates the client lacks experience and confidence hiring and working with freelancers, which means they are going to be high maintenance in any of a number of ways. 

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