Happy 2018 Soundgirls! If you’re self-employed or considering becoming so, then you’re probably preparing for another year of hustling for new work opportunities. As someone who has experienced both sides of the freelance hiring process, I thought it was an appropriate time to offer some words of advice on applying for freelance jobs.
Freelance opportunities aren’t often formally advertised. They’re passed on by word-of-mouth, email and posted on social media. A casual approach to hiring may seem to encourage a casual response, but don’t be fooled. Even the most laid-back “Hey we’re looking for awesome peeps to join us” company will still be looking for a professional response.
Here are a few tips for increasing your success when responding to opportunities for freelance work:
Read the job description
At the very least a freelance job posting or callout should include something along the lines of “we’re looking for [this kind of] person to join our team to do [this kind of work].” If it’s a useful job advert, it will also include a list of skills and experience required for the position, and any other specific requirements, e.g., location and language. Your very first step should be to thoroughly read the job description and consider if you meet the requirements before applying.
When I’ve posted call-outs for freelancers in the past, it always surprises me how many emails I receive where the applicant either hasn’t thoroughly read the application. Or they’ve forgotten to include any evidence that they have the skills and experience required for the role or they seem to think that working in any area of sound for a few years is enough to be considered for a job that requires specific expertise.
Responding quickly to a job posting may increase your chances of the hirer reading your application, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the content. Similarly, responding to every freelance job advert even if you’re not qualified, in the hope that someone might give you a chance, is not a winning technique. If a company is looking to expand their pool of freelance dialogue editors and your background is solely in music production, they’re probably not going to be interested. Freelance positions fulfil a professional requirement – the hiring company will want whoever they hire to be able to step in and do the job straight away. Avoid wasted effort on both sides, and make sure you understand what the hirer needs before you apply.
Do your research
Of course, not every freelance job advert has an explicit list of the job requirements, or the description might use more generic terms like “we’re looking for sound engineers” without expanding on the work involved. It pays to do a bit of research before applying. If the job posting is on a company’s website or social media account, it only takes a few clicks to get more information on what kind of work they do and for what they may be looking. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for – ask. I’m always happy to answer people’s queries about jobs I’ve posted, providing the answer isn’t already in the job post itself!
Have your portfolio and CV ready to go
If you’re applying to work for a company for which you’ve never worked, you’ll always be asked for your CV (at a minimum) and either a portfolio or details of your experience. Freelance positions often aren’t often advertised for long, and in the current climate, you can expect any job post to attract a lot of applicants, so it pays to be ready to apply as soon as you can.
Your CV should be a professionally formatted PDF – maximum two A4 sides, if you can get it nicely formatted on a single A4 sheet, even better. It also needs to be in the language applicable to the company or job for which you’re applying – worth considering if you’re looking to work in a different country. It can be worth having an online version as well, on a personal website, LinkedIn or similar. Have your portfolio samples available both as audio/video files and online links – some companies ask for portfolios to be attached to emails or uploaded, others prefer a link to a website or media sharing site like Soundcloud or Vimeo.
Draft an excellent application email: what to include
Your application email (the modern-day cover letter), should be short (250 words maximum), contain the information requested in the job advert (skills and experience), any additional relevant information and have the appropriate documents and work examples attached or linked, depending on what’s required. Remember: all a hirer wants to know on a first quick pass of your application is: do you have the professional skills and experience needed for this job? If they can’t see evidence that you could do the job, they’re unlikely to follow up.
From my experience as a hirer, I prefer a friendly, professional tone for application emails – not overly formal, also not quirky. I don’t need you to be creative in a cover letter to help you stand out – your portfolio or CV should do this for you. Plus, depending on the job, I might have upwards of fifty emails to go through, and if it takes me more than a couple of minutes to get the information I need, I’ll be inclined to delete and move on.
Regarding including additional relevant information: if you’ve worked with the hirer or hiring company in the past, met them in person or have been recommended through a personal contact, this is always worth mentioning. I am more interested in working with people who I know to be reliable professionals, or who come recommended from someone I trust.
Draft an eexcellent application email: what to leave out
Unless a job posting asks for it, the following has no place in a freelance application email (all of these come from real application emails that I’ve received)
You don’t have the exact skills and experience, but you still think you’d be great for the job
A freelancer fills a professional need for a company, and they need to trust that you can do the job straight away. Unless expressly stated, you can assume you’ll be expected to do the work as soon as it comes in, with no training. If you can’t provide evidence that you can do the job, then your application is likely to be discarded.
How much you love sound and want to work in the industry
I see this a lot from graduates and people new to the job market. If you’re a working or trained sound professional, I’ll take it as a given that you enjoy working with sound. You don’t need to spell it out in an application email.
How you can only do the job if certain conditions are met, e.g., you can only do certain days per week
Your application letter is not the place to negotiate the day-to-day details of a job (unless specifically requested). If a hiring company decides to take your application to the next stage, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss requirements on both sides. Applications which include a list of unasked-for stipulations can make you seem inflexible, which isn’t a desirable quality in a freelancer.
The best application is always one that’s prepared, relevant and professionally-written. Good luck with all of yours for this coming year.
Kirsty Gillmore: A sound designer, engineer and voice artist, Kirsty blogs about Sound Design for Theatre and Film, in particular how to do it on a budget. She will also shares lessons learned throughout her career.
About Kirsty: Originally from New Zealand, Kirsty has been based in London, UK since 2002. Her 15-year career has seen her work in music production, post-production, live sound, and broadcasting, including eight years, training with and working for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She established her sound design & voice production business, Sounds Wilde, in 2010 and now works as a freelance sound designer for theatre and film, as a voice reel producer and voice artist.