This article is the third in our ongoing “How To” series focusing on online work. Read the first two:
How To Find Work-at-Home Jobs, which covers where to look for them
How To Read Work-at-Home Job Ads, which helps you look efficiently by quickly spotting the scams

This article assumes that you have found a real job (as opposed to something you do online that might earn you money if you hold your head just right) and now want to take the next step toward landing it. Let me be very clear: I’m talking about a real person with a name, a single individual who reads your email and makes the decision on whether to hire you. In most cases, this means you’re performing work that you found online; you’re not actually doing online work, such as “data entry” or “filling out forms.” I’m talking about telecommuting jobs: work that used to be performed at a job site but that you can now do at home because of Internet technology.

The key to landing such jobs is simple: treat them as if they were not telecommuting jobs. You wouldn’t go to a face-to-face interview with bedhead and wearing the t-shirt you slept in. You wouldn’t walk in and say, “Hey, I think I’d like to do that job you talked about.”

You know what I’ve heard employers say? They don’t like to advertise on Craigslist or other online sites for telecommuter jobs because they get bizarre applicants. (They do it anyway because they’re willing to sort through them to find the one Rock Star who will get the job.) Those applicants fail to realize that the employer sees no difference between a telecommuter and an employee working in the office. If anything, the telecommuter needs to be even sharper because she is at home or another location under her own supervision.

Everything rides on your initial email; you can’t charm your way through an interview, call in favors from your network, or impress the employer with your Armani suit. You have only your words. Look at the huge difference between these two initial emails:

Dear [company name],
I am intrigued by your Craigslist ad and am writing to offer my services. I have four years of experience as an executive assistant and a Bachelor’s degree in marketing and sales, so my skills are just what you’re looking for. I have extensive experience with all standard office applications and learn new software quickly and efficiently; your proprietary coding system will give me no trouble, I’m sure. Perhaps most important, I have been working in telecommuting jobs for over six months and have four satisfied clients; some of them are listed as references in the attached resume.

Thank you for the opportunity and for looking at these materials. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Joe Staples

Hello, I saw your Craigslist ad and would like more information. I’m looking for a job I can do from home and you’re the lucky winner. I can do the things your ad said, like typing and follow-up calls. I can send you a resume if needed. Let me know what you think.

thanks

Joe

You’re an employer and you have these two to choose from. Hmm…which one should I pick? Lest you think the lower one is a silly, unrealistic example, let me reassure you that it’s not. I’ve seen responses like this. I’ve sent responses like this! Employers are deadly serious about their telecommuting employees. (Update: In the comments, Sarah, who’s hired telecommuters, says, “I hadn’t realized just how bad most responses from Craigslist are until I started looking for blog designers that way. Most of the responses were horrendous (much, much worse than your example).”) You need to break out of the free-wheeling internet and email mindset and take it as seriously as they do. Here are some tips to help you do that:

  • Send a great-looking resume. Even if if there isn’t much on it, it needs to look good and be reader friendly.
  • Read the job ad carefully. Many of them give detailed information about what you’ll be doing and what information they need from you when you apply. Follow their instructions to the letter.
  • Be formal. Even if it violates your personality (it certainly does mine), you have to show that you’re looking for a job, not an online gig. You can probably loosen up afterwards, but for now, assume your employer is an uptight CPA-type who loves to wear his tie every day. Employers are very conservative when it comes to hiring.
  • Politely follow up, if possible, in 3-5 business days if you have not heard back from them.
  • If you do hear back, follow up immediately. In other words, say you get a quick “thanks for applying” note. Respond to it immediately, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks for the acknowledgment. I look forward to hearing what you think about my materials.”

I’m not an expert, but these are things that have worked for me. I’ve had about 5 clients that I found online and have made a comfortable part-time income from them using these strategies to land the job. What has worked for you? (Yes, I’m fishing for comments.)

Last Updated: July 6, 2007

Join the Discussion

  • Joe
    Joe
    Reply

    Great points, Sarah. I’ve updated the post to incorporate one of them. When you have two or more applicants to compare, the differences are surprisingly stark, aren’t they?

  • Sarah Lewis
    Sarah Lewis
    Reply

    I hadn’t realized just how bad most responses from Craigslist are until I started looking for blog designers that way. Most of the responses were horrendous (much, much worse than your example).

    The biggest turn-off for me has been the absolute disregard for the information I ask for. I mean, seriously, if you can’t follow the simple instructions in a job post, why would I trust you with the far more complex tasks that I’m hiring for?

    On the flip side, I used to apply for telecommuting blog development work on Craigslist and had very good success. I paid attention to the tone of the listing, the information they asked for, and always wrote a very personalized letter, mentioning specific aspects of the ad.

    I also only applied for those positions that were a perfect fit. Because I could look all over the nation (even worked up a nice RSS collection to do it for me), I didn’t feel obligated to apply for everything, so I could clearly demonstrate my value to the people I chose to write to.

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