Would You Hire This Freelancer?

HiringCan a single sentence really make the difference between you being hired for your next freelance job and you being flat-out rejected?

Here’s an example of how it can, directly from the horse’s mouth…

Recently, I needed to hire a stellar user interface designer for my startup company. I needed someone with tons of experience, and was willing to pay well for it. Most importantly, I had a sketch and a vision for how I wanted my startup’s website to look, but I needed someone who would have the courage to stand up to me and say, “No, Erica, that won’t work, and here’s why.”

In this post, I’ll share what I did to find a designer.

How I Looked for a Designer

So I turned to my old friend: Craigslist.

I set a target hourly rate, then decided to plunge through the resumes category. I typed “ui design” into the search field, and found a treasure trove of resumes.

I carefully sifted through each designer’s portfolio. I wanted someone who had a good eye for clean design, a decent level of experience, and most importantly, someone who clearly understood user interface principles and was not just billing him or herself as a “web designer.”

(Note: If you do freelance web design, an understanding of user interface design principles should allow you to raise your rates by 50% or more.)

After a while spent reading, Googling people’s names, and checking out portfolios, I found two well-suited candidates. Both had experience developing user interfaces, and both showed capable design talent.

What Can You Tell from One Sentence?

I emailed them both the same letter. Here’s the body of what I wrote:


Both responded quickly–in under one day. Here are their responses (edited to preserve anonymity and to hide their hourly rates):

Person A:


Person B:


Before you read on and see who I hired, take a minute and read through their responses.

Hiring is subjective. Though hiring managers are not legally allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender, or any other identifying feature, they can and will make a hiring decision based on simple things like grammar, sentence structure, or even your choice of words.

I’ve removed all of the identifying features from the above emails, and left only the structure itself. Assuming similar hourly rates, experience, and qualifications, who would you hire?

Who I Hired–and Why

After reading both emails, it was an easy choice for me: I hired Person B.

I had already gone through each of their portfolios, and was confident either one could successfully complete the job. Their hourly rates were similar, and both rates were within my target range. I decided who to hire based on one sentence from each of their emails:

I rejected Person A because of this sentence: “Also, I should let you know that since I’ve been seeking full-time employment, my availability this week is somewhat limited (interviews, etc.)”

What I read from that sentence is “Your project isn’t as important to me as my job interviews are.”

Remember, hiring is subjective–you may not read the same thing from that sentence, but that’s how I saw it as the hiring manager.

I hired Person B because of this sentence: “My normal rate is high for big companies such as eBay, Cisco, SAP, etc.”

Even though the grammar isn’t perfect, I love the marketing position this sentence takes. To me, that sentence said “I’m confident enough to take jobs with the big guys, but I’m willing to cut you a break because you’re small.”

One sentence from a single email was all it took for me to decide on B over A.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do Right Now

The most important thing you can do to get that next job or start your freelance career is to market yourself better.

“But Erica,” I can hear some of you thinking right now, “I haven’t worked with Cisco, SAP, or eBay!”

Right–but that’s the great thing about marketing. Notice B never said s/he had worked with any of those companies. B simply said his/her rate was higher for big companies–and named some familiar examples of big companies. And frankly, if you want your next email to be taken more seriously, this is the exact marketing position you should take.

You may be uncomfortable saying that. I can tell you because I’ve had it myself–that uncomfortable feeling stems from a sort of “What if they find out?” fear.

As a hiring manager, though, I don’t care if B has ever worked with any of those companies. What I care about is: Will B do a good job for me? That sentence got B in the door. Now s/he just has to do a good job for me.

Use this marketing technique (called positioning) and you may very well soon be knocking down the doors of those big guys.

When I ran my hosting company, I got permission from some of our more prominent customers to name-drop them when I responded to emails from other potential customers. And before I had prominent customers, I positioned my company as the go-to hosting company for startups that wanted to scale quickly.

It worked.

It’s not about lying, cheating, or in any way being unethical. It’s about knowing how to write so that you convey the image of being successful, professional, a superstar–the best. Even if you aren’t (yet). Project the image of the company you want to lead; the person you want to be–and you’ll be much more likely to get that opportunity when it comes along.

As a hiring manager, I give you permission to use something similar the next time you sell your products or services. Don’t say something you haven’t done. Do keep it simple. Learn from Person B. And rock that next job interview, sales letter, blog post, lead followup, or freelance work response!

What Do You Think?

If you were the hiring manager, would you have made the same choice that Erica did? Why, or why not?

How would you have responded to Erica’s initial ad?

Image by thetruthabout