I've read a fair amount in the forums on getting started at Upwork, landing one's first job, etc., though it would take a lifetime to read it all, so I apologize in advance for the fact that probably anything I say/ask here will have been already adequately covered somewhere.
Obviously it is a challenge getting hired when as yet you have little or no experience (with Upwork specifically, though you may have plenty of experience otherwise). People understandably get frustrated at this early stage. You apply for a job, but given that there are "over 50" or whatever people applying for that same job, and that many of them surely can show something other than a big zero when it comes to previously successfully completed Upwork jobs, you have to wonder why any client would ever pick newbie you over all of them.
My question for this thread is if your bid amount should reflect your lack of Upwork experience. (Though if the ensuing discussion goes beyond that to talk about other aspects of landing Upwork jobs when you have little or no experience, I'm fine with that.)
So you have various qualifications that you think make you a good fit for a certain job, but you know (or strongly suspect) that one or more other applicants has similar qualifications as you but also one key additional one--they have an impressive score when it comes to previous Upwork jobs where you have nothing. Would it make sense for you to "offset" their having this edge on you by being willing to work more inexpensively?
Is that a common (or more importantly, advisable) Upwork strategy? Charge less for the same type work when you're starting out, and then gradually up your rate as your profile shows more job experience?
I've read some comments in this forum that would suggest otherwise, that if you bid low then you'll turn clients off because you come across as someone lacking in confidence in your abilities. I have to wonder about that, though. I'm having trouble picturing a client saying: "Well, John Doe and Jane Schmo are pretty nearly identical except that John is new and has never completed an Upwork job, and Jane has been on the site for six months and completed 20 out of 20 jobs successfully. They both want $15 an hour for this project of mine. You know, I'm really impressed that John has enough pride and enough confidence that he didn't offer to work cheap. I'm going with John!" No, I have to think they'll take the person with the experience every time.
So should you work cheap early in order to build up a work history? If so, what's an appropriate discount? If I think $15 is what I should get long term for a certain kind of work, what's a good newbie rate for that kind of work that will actually get me hired? $14? $13? $10? $5? Or hold firm at $15?
Should you mention these considerations in the cover letter? "I feel like $15 is an appropriate rate for someone of my level of skills and experience. However, I respect that you as a client can't know that since I have no track record on Upwork to show you. So I've bid $12 instead of $15. That way, you benefit by getting the quality of work you'd normally be expected to pay $15 for at a substantial discount, and I benefit by getting highly valuable Upwork experience to display on my profile for the future."
I would bid at what I believe my rate should be. If you start low, you attract bottom-feeders and it's harder to work up to a fair rate. Be sure that your proposal highlights your understanding of the client's needs and how your experience and expertise will help him fill those needs.
Getting started isn't easy. We've all been there. Bid wisely and you will succeed.
As Mary suggests (and Mary knows a thing or two), starting low is a mistake many new freelancers make, and it digs a hole that's hard to get out of. Set your rates, stick to them, and bid accordingly.