Do I need a portfolio?
Artists and designers have been using portfolios to get jobs for years, but they’re increasingly useful for people in other fields as well. A portfolio is nothing more than examples of your best work, arranged in a format suitable for a prospective employer to review quickly. First, gather up your best work. You may need to be creative with this — writing summary descriptions of projects you managed, for example, with information on the deadlines you met and budgets you controlled. (And naturally, with each new job you get, you’ll want to save copies of your work and add them as appropriate to your portfolio.) Once you’ve got this information, how will you get it to your employers? Your safest bet is to compile several versions: — An attractive version in hard copy (which goes with you to interviews, and may contain originals) — An online portfolio (which is worth putting time and effort into, because it’s likely to get the most attention) — A mailable portfolio (this contains copies of your work on standard-size paper).
Do I need a website?
Every freelancer should have a website. It is probably worth the money to buy your own domain name and hosting (though it is also worth shopping around for good deals on these services). Use a version of your name or your business name for the domain name, making it as short and easy to remember as possible. If you are not a web professional, do not use your marketing site as a chance to teach yourself HTML. Hire a professional (you may be able to barter your professional services), or at the very least pay a pro to go over your work. What should your site contain? At a minimum, it should present your expertise, samples of your work, and contact information. Depending on your marketing plan, you may also want to use a website, blog, or newsletter to share information about your field as a way of building a reputation.
What kind of business cards do I need?
You never know when you’re going to meet someone who could be a useful contact for your freelance work. Have business cards made up and carry them everywhere — even when you drop the kids off at school or go to the gym. One technical editor reports getting freelance work from a contact made on a camping trip on the Appalachian Trail! Resist the temptation to save money by printing on perforated stock on your ink-jet printer at home. The result does not look professional enough to enhance your image, and the time you spend to produce a sufficient quantity of cards could be better spent on your real work. Your business cards should reflect a professional, attractive appearance that’s in keeping with the tone of your work. As you craft your marketing material, choose a simple, coherent look and stick with it, so the same typefaces and color scheme are consistent through your cards, portfolio, website and so forth. At the same time, they need to be easily readable, especially your name, phone number, and e-mail address. If you’re not a designer, it may be worthwhile to work with a professional to get a look that works for you.
My skills are already in demand. Why do I need to network?
You’re good at what you do, and you know from browsing the Internet that there are freelance jobs available. So why do you need to network? Employers are just like everyone else. Given a choice, they’d rather work with people they already know. Unless you have some very specialized expertise that’s in demand, you’ll have to face a lot of competition to get hired, or even noticed. If your schedule is pretty full right now, that’s great! But many freelancers find that clients have a life cycle, that their corporate contacts get laid off or move away or get promoted, and that they can’t count on an existing client base to sustain them indefinitely. The best way to get past the competition is to become known to a lot of people — not just prospective employers, but people who might know them, or know of a job that’s coming up, or happen to remember that their sister-in-law’s best friend was looking for your sort of experience last week. While the actual work of a freelancer is often solitary, the work of networking is much more social, which is one reason many people find the role of a freelancer demanding. You probably already know whether you’re more inclined to seek company or hole up by yourself. Freelancing will push you to do both, to extend beyond your comfort zone and get used to a new sort of balance in your life. Anything you do that brings you into contact with other people is a potential networking opportunity. Smart networking means targeting your limited time toward those activities most likely to yield productive results.
Where do I network?
Effective networking can take place anywhere that you can talk with other people. However, pleasant as it is to chat with everyone you meet about your freelance business, it’s a whole lot more effective if you focus your networking time on those venues where you’re likely to connect with employers. So your first job is to figure out what kind of people hire your kind of people. Then you need to find out where those people are. Does your local advertising community have a professional organization? Does your chamber of commerce bring together the type of businesspeople who are likely to need a website? Are there online newsletters and forums specifically for your professional area? Your best use of time will probably be to focus on your specific profession, but after that it can’t hurt to reach out to people who simply have something in common with you — fellow alumni from your college, people who used to work with you, people from your religious group or political party. If you’re a woman or a member of a racial or ethnic minority, you may find networking groups specifically available to connect you with others like yourself.
How do I network?
You may have the impression that networking is “schmoozing,” making fake conversation and using people. Real networking is different. You’re talking with other people to find out what their needs are and how you can meet them. You’re asking questions and listening to the answers, then coming up with creative solutions. You’re not walking up to people and asking for jobs, though you may find occasion to tell a story that demonstrates what you can do. A good networking contact may be one where you don’t get any work yourself, but do get a chance to recommend a solution to the other person’s problems. Assuming the solution works out well, your contact then remembers you positively and is more likely to do the same sort of connection-building on your behalf. All this takes some work and some social skills, particularly if you’re not naturally gregarious, but there’s no requirement that you take on a fake persona. Much of good networking is simply listening.
How do I start a networking group?
If you’ve had a chance to get used to networking, but don’t have enough opportunities, you may find that others in your professional or geographic area are in the same boat. Starting a networking group can be as simple as having a few friends over who work in the same field, or who have something in common, for informal conversation about business. Don’t try to do this all yourself. You need at least two, and preferably more, dedicated volunteers to get a group off the ground. With this core, hold a planning meeting and schedule six months to a year of events, then announce the group in whatever media are suitable. Suggestions: Bring in guest speakers to share expertise or talk about new business trends. Ask each of the people you know to bring someone they know to the next meeting. Keep financial and other burdens as light as possible (avoid serving meals, for example, and use public places like libraries or coffee shops for meetings). Use the Internet to communicate meeting times and keep contact alive between meetings.
I’m not comfortable talking with strangers. How can I network?
Networking in person builds stronger ties than networking by phone or over the Internet, but many people also find it much more difficult. If you’re someone who has trouble engaging in small talk with strangers, you’re not alone! It may never come naturally for you, but with practice, you can get good enough that no one will notice you’re working at it. There’s no need to practice clever opening lines. Many people will respond to a sincere “Hello,” but you can engage them early by asking an open-ended question — that’s a question that seeks a story rather than a “yes” or “no” — about something going on in the situation — the group, the guest speaker, something going on in the news or weather that day, or something you can observe about the person (reading a name tag, perhaps). Hold eye con- tact while you listen carefully to the answer, keeping your body language relaxed and receptive. Keep your response brief, focusing on common ground. If the person seems interested in your work, it’s OK to talk about it, but be sure the conversation isn’t all about you from that point forward. After a short conversation, offer your business card and move on, unless it’s clear that you and this person have immediate business to transact. You can follow up later with an e-mail or phone call. You may find it helpful to practice business networking conversations with friends in a comfortable setting so that you have a few “stock lines” that you can deliver easily.
How do I handle work-related parties?
Cocktail parties. Christmas galas. Networking group functions. Sooner or later you may find yourself in that most dreaded of all social situations, the work-related party. Unless you’re hosting the thing or genuinely enjoy the people you’re with, your goal should be to meet and interact with as many people as possible in a short time. One longtime networker recommends this strategy: Start with the first person on your right when you come in, and shake hands with anyone you know. They will (or should) introduce you to the people you’re talking with, and you can add a very quick reference to what you do. Keep going clockwise around the room, excusing yourself quickly (“Great to see you, I just wanted to say hello”) and moving on. Once you’ve made the first circuit, go back around and have brief conversations with anyone you just met who interested you. These can be a little longer, about five minutes, and can include an exchange of business cards. OK, now take a breath. If you like, you can talk to someone at greater length, but if you’re following up for professional reasons, you may be better off doing so by phone or e-mail the next day.
How can I create a successful elevator speech?
An “elevator speech” is the answer to the question “What do you do?”, boiled down into a short, engaging speech that lasts about as long as an elevator ride. It’s useful to practice this regularly so that it springs readily to your lips in meeting new people. The trick for a successful elevator speech is that it’s about what you do rather than what you are. So instead of “I’m a multimedia designer” you might say “I design user-friendly, attention-getting graphics for business websites to update my customers’ corporate images and attract targeted audiences.” That’s a very short elevator speech — an expanded version might include an example of a successful job you did, an award you won, or the well-known venture capitalist who’s invested in your business. Focus on the benefit to the customer, the positive result of your work, rather than the process or your credentials. Of course, you don’t need to spend all your time in elevators! Deliver this speech any time you have a networking opportunity, and follow up by offering a business card or getting their e-mail address and permission to send more information.
What should I know for phone interviews?
You’ve probably had phone interviews before, but they’re especially common for freelance jobs. Here are a few tips: — Often, a hiring manager, recruiter, or HR person doesn’t want to spend hours meeting with candidates for a freelance job. Your job is to respect this person’s time by quickly absorbing new information about what the job involves, then conveying compelling reasons why you’re the right person for it. Mention specific things you’ve done in the past that were similar, and successes you’ve had with similar lines of work. No need to go into your philosophy of work or the story of your life — the recruiter wants to know if you can do the job. — If an employer calls you and wants to interview you right now, make a quick decision. Are you prepared to conduct this interview? If not, ask to call back in a few minutes — realizing that the job may be awarded to someone else in the meantime. Otherwise, you might ask the employer to hold on for a moment while you find the quietest and least distracting environment possible, and go over your elevator speech in your head to help you focus. — Standard phone interview tactics include putting up a copy of your resume on the wall near the phone, and standing up and smiling while you talk (both will tend to lend energy to your voice). — Be sure your outgoing voice mail message is professional and brief, and that anyone else who might be answering your phone is capable of reliably taking messages. If you can’t count on this, use a cell phone number as your professional line.
What’s a good way to approach interviewing?
Sure, you’ve gone on a job interview before. But if you’re just moving into freelancing after some time in the same job, or if you find that you’re not getting jobs for which you interview, it may be time for a refresher. — Do your homework. Check out the organization’s website and poke around, especially in the “About Us” section. You’ll find out the names of key players, current projects, recent successes, even what other jobs they’re hiring for. If you’re not familiar with recent developments in their field of operations, check out industry Web sites to give yourself an idea of what’s going on in the markets in which they work. — Review the job description carefully. Tailor your elevator speech to match the organization’s stated needs. Come up with experiences from your past to match those needs. — Only when you’ve got the content under control should you focus on the externals. Dress professionally, and if possible try to match the style of the organization. The company website’s design may give you some idea of how they imagine themselves, and you may even see pictures of employees and check out how they’re dressed. Obviously you should be neat and clean, including your hair, fingernails, and breath, but stay away from perfume or cologne. Keep distracting fashion items such as jewelry to a minimum. Your bag/briefcase and coat are part of your presentation and should be as professional as you can make them. — If you’re going to an unfamiliar place, go there at least once before the day of the interview so you know how long it takes and can recognize the right building. And yes, allow extra time to get there.
How do I prepare for interview questions?
Of course, there’s the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.” Your elevator speech provides an answer to this, particularly if you tailor it to the job being discussed. Here are some other questions that may trip you up if you aren’t prepared: — “If you were to stay at your current organization, what would be your next move?” — “Tell me your greatest accomplishment.” — “What makes you stand out from the others?” — “How many hours a week do you need to get your job done?” — “Tell me about your professional experience before you went freelance.” — “How many clients do you work with at a time?” (Your job is to convince the interviewer that you can be trusted and that the task at hand won’t conflict with anything else.) — “How do you charge for your services?” The answer to this should always be, “It depends on the job.” — “Here’s a sample of some work we did last year. I’d like you to look at it and critique it.” (Point out mistakes, but also find something good to say about it. Don’t be afraid to say how you would have approached the job differently.) — “What are you reading?” (This one is often meant to discover if you’re a literate, informed person, but can also be targeted to ask things like “What books have you read about design?”)
What is a behavioral interview?
Behavioral interviewing is popular in some companies because managers say it gives them a better idea of what someone will actually do on the job. Instead of just giving a sales pitch for yourself, you’ll be asked to tell stories about work you have done in the past, or to envision how you would do various kinds of work in the future. Behavioral interviews can be difficult, but only if you’re unprepared. As part of your interview preparation process, think about events from your past that show you excelling in your work and demonstrating valuable qualities such as interpersonal skills. It may help to make each story three sentences long, remembering the acronym STAR: Situation, Task/Action, Result. Here’s a sample: “I was working at a television station and my boss wanted to do a live webcast, which no one in the whole state had ever done before. I researched the technical requirements and determined that we could handle it, then brought together the people I needed from different departments to map out how it would work. We had several thousand viewers that afternoon and demonstrated that there was an audience for this type of product.”
What questions might I be asked in a behavioral interview?
Here are some examples of the types of questions you might be asked in a behavioral interview. The exact questions will depend on the skills and personal qualities the employer wants you to illustrate. “Tell me about a time when you dealt successfully with an unstructured work environment.” “Tell me about a time when you had to communicate with a client or customer under difficult circumstances.” “When have you found it necessary to use detailed checklists/procedures to reduce the potential for error on the job? Be specific.” “In a busy environment it is necessary to prioritize goals to insure that resources are allocated appropriately. Tell me about the most important time in your working history when you prioritized your goals successfully.” “Give me an example of a time when you had a sense of urgency about getting results.” “Give an example of a time when you were able to build rapport with someone at work, even when the situation was a difficult one.” “Give me an example of a time management skill you have learned and applied at work. What resulted from use of the skill?” “Tell me about a time when you employed creativity to address a problem.” “Tell me about a time when your understanding of organizational structure and culture helped you get good results.” “Give me an example of a time when you were able to persuade a person to take action.”
What can I learn in an interview?
Don’t forget that an interview is a two-way street. You are presenting information and selling yourself, but you’re also learning more about the job being offered, and whether or not it’s right for you. An employer would much rather have you turn down a job that isn’t a good fit than have you fail at it later. As you talk with the hiring manager, pay attention to the person’s tone and your own reactions. If it’s an on-site interview, pay attention also to the physical environment, the demeanor of other people you encounter, overheard snippets of conversation. All of these can provide clues as to the state of the company (after all, you want them to pay your bill!) and whether it’s oriented toward the kind of work you do best. Ask questions about the job duties and how they fit into the organization’s larger picture. If the job itself seems ill-defined, be sure you and the hiring manager are on the same page about what you would actually do. You’re just gathering information now, not making judgments about it. By the end of the interview, if you’re sure you want the job, ask for it, communicating your enthusiasm. If you’re not sure, just thank the person and go home to think it over.
What are some things I should avoid saying in an interview?
— “Do you have any full-time openings for _____?” This indicates that you’re not enthusiastic about the freelance job being offered.
— “I want … I’m looking for …” Focus instead on the organization’s needs. “I can offer … I’d like to help you with …”
— “My old boss was such a….” Bad-mouthing past supervisors or colleagues can feel great, but the person sitting across from you may be imagining you saying the same words about him or her. Try to spin negative experiences into positives — talk about what you learned and how it relates to the skills you can now contribute.
— “Good-bye” can be a mistake — if you say it without asking for the job first. Don’t wait for them to offer it to you. If you want to do the work, say so.
— “Hello?” — if you’re talking into your cell phone. Turn the phone onto “silent” before you go into the interview. If you forget and it rings, don’t compound the error by taking the call and wasting the interviewer’s time.
How should I follow up after an interview?
A thank-you note used to be a way to stand out from the pack in a job interview situation. Now it’s expected in many industries, and those who don’t send one stand out in a negative way. Send separate notes to everyone who talked with you during the interview. Besides thanking them, use the opportunity to re-emphasize your skills briefly and ask again to be hired for the job. When considering how to send your note, think about the style of the organization. A very traditional and formal institution might be best thanked in a handwritten note on good stationery. A more business-like but still old-fashioned organization might welcome a letter of thanks that’s more like a business letter, printed on a laser printer. For companies that are more technical or forward-looking, e-mail has become the best way to convey a thank-you note. Whatever your medium, proofread your note before you send it, both for basic writing skills (spelling and grammar) and for tone. If you promised to send any information, such as samples of your work, do so promptly. If you were referred for the interview by someone in your network, be sure to thank him or her as well.
What does a successful query letter look like?
As a freelancer, marketing yourself involves not only pursuing existing job opportunities, but also creating new ones for yourself. Especially in fields like writing and new media, a freelancer has the freedom to come up with an idea and find someone to buy it, rather than having to work exclusively on other people’s ideas. You send a “query letter” or “proposal” when the work hasn’t been done yet. It lays out the planned work and why it will be successful for the buyer. The format is fairly standard, but demands excellent writing to attract its audience. The first sentence stands on its own as a “hook,” grabbing the buyer’s attention. It should focus on the work, not the creator. So a successful query for an article on mountain climbing might begin “It’s 20 below. You’re 20 miles from the nearest house, and the only thing between you and a field of sharp rocks is a thin rope. Why would anyone do this?” The second paragraph expands on the hook and explains the work being contemplated. After this, expand on the market for similar work, using real data wherever available. (For instance, for the article above, the writer might quote a statistic on the increased popularity of mountain climbing or the size of the national market for climbing gear.) Finally, if you have credentials that make you ideally suited to do this piece, cite them before closing with a positive note of thanks. It’s worth spending a lot of time getting query letters right, particularly that first sentence. Even if you usually write cleanly, have someone else proofread it before you send it.