Ten “Little” Things That Can Keep You from Getting Your Dream Gig

missed-workYou know that you’re qualified for this project. You excel at every single requirement that the prospective client has listed in their job posting. In fact, this is your dream project.

You apply for the project and you fully expect that it’s just a matter of time before you start work. After all, this gig was practically made for you.

Sadly, days, and then weeks, pass without any word from the client. You wonder what’s delaying them. Why haven’t they made a decision? Then it happens… You hear through the grapevine that the client chose someone else. You wonder what could have gone wrong.

In this post, we examine ten reasons why you might not have gotten the gig.

Mistakes That Can Cost You the Job

There are many reasons why a you might not be selected for a project and, surprisingly, not all of those reasons have to do with your abilities or your rate.

Here are ten (sometimes) surprising reasons why a client may pass over you for a project:

  1. You missed some of the instructions. Often a client includes very specific instructions when they post work online. For example, they may wish to receive applications only through a particular email address or they may wish to receive certain information in the application. Usually, those instructions were there for a reason. If you applied too quickly and missed some of those instructions, that might be why they picked someone else.
  2. You waited too long. It’s a fact that there will be plenty of competition for most jobs posted online. In addition, most clients are already in a hurry to find someone when they post a job listing. Waiting a week (or even a few days) to respond could result in losing the work.
  3. Your application was too casual. In today’s Internet environment, many clients may request that applicants contact them by email or even through social media. While these forms of communication may seem casual, you should still take their responses seriously. An email responding to a job posting should really be viewed as a cover letter, and you should be careful to match their level of professionalism.
  4. Your application was too sloppy. How can a prospective client trust you to be careful with their project if your response to their job posting is full of typos and spelling errors? I know, we’re all guilty of rushing through things sometimes — especially when you’re really busy or really need the work. That said, make sure that you carefully review any job applications before you send them out. If you need it, get someone else to look for mistakes and typos.
  5. Your didn’t send a portfolio. Most clients do like to see samples of a freelancer’s work before making their final selection. Some freelancers feel that they can’t really show a portfolio until they have a lot of work experience. However, there are techniques you can use to build a portfolio before you even get your first client.
  6. You didn’t do enough homework. Often, it’s possible to lose a gig because they you didn’t do enough research about the prospective client. When you don’t take the time to learn about the client and their business it can be difficult to convince the client that you really understand them and can meet their needs.
  7. You haven’t been watching your online reputation. Like it or not, what you do and say online represents your freelance business. What others say about you is also important. An Internet savvy client will do research on you and your business before they hire you, and if they dig up something negative that could cause you to lose a gig. (One way to monitor your online reputation is to set up a Google Alert for your name and your business name.)
  8. You didn’t show enough enthusiasm. While it can be difficult to convey enthusiasm online, being excited about a project can sometimes mean the difference between getting a gig and not getting a gig. I once had a client tell me that the reason they chose me over the other applicants was because of how excited I was about getting the work.
  9. The client changed their mind. Once in a while a prospective client will post a job ad and then decide that they no longer want that work done. This can happen for a number of reasons. The client may have lost their budget for the project, or they may have truly decided to go a different direction.
  10. Someone else was more qualified. The Internet has a big pool of qualified freelancers. While all of them aren’t necessarily competing for the same projects that you apply for, chances are that competition for many projects is pretty stiff. (This is one reason why it is important to apply for many different opportunities.)

Now that we’ve listed possible reasons why a you might miss out on getting a project, let’s hear your opinion.

Have You Been Passed Over for a Gig?

If you think you know why you might have been passed by for a gig, share your thoughts in the comments.

Also, if you hire freelancers, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us what you look for when you select a freelancer and what might cause you to select one freelancer over another.

Image by seanj


  1. says

    Great tips. Clients can be very picky sometimes and I even know of a few who refused to hire freelancers because of their religion and political beliefs. Not every client is the right fit anyways ;)

  2. says

    Thanks Amber!

    I thought this list would be of interest since very few firms send out rejection notices anymore.

    BTW, I don’t think it’s legal to pass someone by because of their religious beliefs, at least in the U.S.. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, though…

  3. says

    I don’t mind being passed over. We can’t please everybody and some people are just a better fit.

    What I do mind is never hearing back from the client again. I know it can be hard to reject somebody. I hate doing that myself when I’m hiring a service provider. But it needs to be done and is common courtesy.

    If a prospective client decides I’m not the best person for the job, he/she should have the guts to tell me so. Be a man! (Even if you are a woman).


  4. says

    (This is one reason why it is important to apply for many different opportunities.)

    That’s a fine line kinda thing there. Three weeks ago I applied for too many gigs that came through and didn’t have enough time to complete them all. Which doesn’t do well for opportunities at repeat offers.

  5. says

    These are fantabulous tips, Laura!

    At the moment, I can’t really think of specific reasons – other than some responses I received that there were other writers more qualified than me BUT the editor/client said they’d hold on to my info for future purposes. Stuff like that…

    I stumbled this, though, so other freelancers can chime in!

  6. says

    Thanks guys!

    You’ve made some great points.

    Dane — your point is also important to consider. I can see that getting so many jobs that you have to turn some down might become a problem.

    However, depending on the amount of time between your application and your acceptance, I think many clients would understand if you said something like, “My schedule has filled up since x date (date that you applied). I will be available on y date…”

    Personally, I have had good experiences with negotiations.

  7. says

    I am an independent photographer, and was recently passed over for a gig shooting for a holiday catalog. In this case I asked the potential client why, and I was under-bid by a photographer with less experience, which is great for them, but I think in these times it is all about cost.

    the clients want to pay as little as possible, even if it means a lesser product. My best advice in this situation, is thank the client for their consideration, stay on good terms and stay in touch. You will have another chance to do a project that the client needs more out of or you already have your foot in the door if the client need the original project altered or redone entirely.

    hope this helps, and thanks for this blog, This is my first post, although I have been reading it now for about a month. thanks again.

  8. says

    Hi Laura:

    I lost a large-ish and lucrative job a few months ago when my client decided to go with his less expensive in-house writer.

    Fair enough. In these recessionary times, corporate clients are more anxious than ever to slash budgets.

    But what really annoyed me was the fact that my client informed me so late in the project’s process. I’d met with all parties involved, planned the project and drafted a detailed Assignment Sheet. We’d gone back and forth then finally agreed on pricing–and I’d even invoiced for my 50% upfront fee.

    The news came at the last minute–after I’d set aside time for the job, juggled around other projects and put new clients on the back burner.

    First time in 18 years of freelancing–and it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

  9. says

    #8 You didn’t show enough enthusiasm.

    I had the opportunity for a nearly perfect gig….Global IT firm, insane money, 6-month contract, mostly remote management, and a “Required” 3-week trip to the UK for some data center upgrades (and paid downtime). I would have done the work for free just to have it on my resume and go on that trip.

    In the technical interview I didn’t want to appear overly eager, and acted as if it was really no big deal. They gave the contract to a less experienced person. When I got the call, I politely asked the project admin why they had chosen him.

    He said it was because I seemed “Uninterested” and the other guy could barely contain himself over the possibly of going to England on the “Working Holiday”.


  10. says

    #10. I recently had a project that I did not get, but the potential client came back to me with tons of positive feedback. They said mine was the best proposal they had ever seen and there was absolutely nothing wrong with my presentation or my business. It just happened that the firm I was up against had a little bit of specialised experience in one particular aspect of the project.

    Because I got very warm positive feedback from the potential client – in a time when many potential clients never say a single word to you again – I was happy with the way things turned out. It would have been great to have gotten the project, of course, but I just felt fortunate to have dealt with a potential client that was so professional and friendly.

  11. Kenneth McNay says

    when seeking a full-time job, the job was listed as a specified per hour wage. the interview went well and he made the offer, but wanted to cut the wage listed by up to 50%. we did some negotiation, but i asserted that the advertised price was below state averages and cutting the wage so greatly after the job posting wasn’t appropriate. i didn’t get that job, but i wouldn’t have felt valued there anyway, even if the compensation and benefits negotiation had gone better.

  12. says

    Great responses!

    Kenneth, I think that you raise an excellent point that we often forget — sometimes those seemingly “perfect” gigs aren’t really so perfect after all.

  13. says

    I sometimes hire freelancers for specific jobs. A couple of months ago I was asked to quote for a project. I asked a freelancer to give me a quotation and a timescale for the programming – which he did. I got the job two weeks ago and I’ve been trying to contact the freelancer since them – to no avail. He doesn’t answer my emails and I can’t get through by phone. .

    I don’t know why he’s disappeared but now I’m trying to make alternative arrangements and time is running out. If he didn’t want the job (or couldn’t do it) a simple message would have been sufficient – then I would have time to find an alternative.

    Unprofessional behaviour will hurt your own reputation (the news does travel) but it will also hurt other freelancers. I’m now less likely to hire a freelance programmer for my next project.

  14. says

    Hi Pat!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I fully agree that the freelancer should answer your emails, even if they are not currently available. From your description, it makes me wonder if they are even still in business!

    One suggestion that I would make would be to have several freelancers in mind for a particular project whenever possible. That way if your first choice turned out to be unavailable when the work came in you could award the project to your second choice.

  15. Aurora says

    I also lost a job because of a client not having enough money for it. (a website)
    I did help them out, though, and they did pay me, but when I told them that I will have to charge for changes done (I didn’t even charge them my usual rate), they had problems with it – now they found someone who’s willing to do it for free… I’m rather interested to see how that turns out! :)

    At least there’s no hard feelings between us – we just weren’t able to meet and discuss the details, as they stay far away.

    Love the article, it really helped!

  16. says

    Losing a job is never a rewarding experience but being self critical and looking at all the possible reasons why you failed to win a job can only lead to being better prepared next time. If you can identify the key reason why you lost the job then you’re half way to winning the next one.

  17. says

    Too many times now I’ve been in discussions with a client for hours on end, until the early morning. Then their car broke and they had to spend all of their budget on that.

    I was gutted.

  18. says

    So to be effective, in an executive job search, you have to determine what role you want to play, what industries and organizations would support that role and what you’re geographical preferences and limitations are. The task here is not to look for open positions, but to look for the decision makers in organizations that would have the role that you are seeking to fill. Remember 30% of organizations are going to need someone, so it’s your job to initiate the introduction and chemistry match.


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