I follow the forums at oDesk as well as apply for projects there. I have had a good level of success through them, that gets better daily, and have noticed the "I can't get a project" threads popping up like a room full of wails. I had no trouble getting projects through them in fact, now I would do only a few crucial things differently.
What follows are some thoughts about what I would do differently though if I started freelancing for them today. as well as what I would in no way change.
Things I Would Do Now For My First Job At oDesk
I have been registered at oDesk since March. I did not get my first job until May 14 because it was not until May 9th that I filled in a profile and actually applied for a project.
Yes, I would start as soon as I opened my account.
I would read the help manual thoroughly. I read quickly, I comprehend most of what I skim and that's what I did for the oDesk readiness test which is simple to pass.
If I started today, I would read it slowly thoroughly and then re-read it. Things I skimmed over were important.
I would start reading the forums immediately. I did not start until it occurred to me I needed profile help. I learned a lot here. I also would immediately take the advice I was given from it, instead of trying my own way first.
I might even skip looking at other provider profiles this time. It's intimidating to see the level of talent and education I am up against. However, it has made me even more grateful when I got a project.
I would assess my own skills more realistically. What I mean by that is, understand my own limitations and yet still maintain my sense of worth in the company of some far more talented people with amazing skills.
I would definitely value what I CAN do more right from the start, instead of worrying about what I can't do.
Things I would not do differently
I would still approach every single application individually. I would continue to assess whether I felt fit to perform this job and then proceed to attempt to convince the employer that my skills are just what he needs. Yes, I would sell myself every time to the best of my abilities, but only when I was sure I could deliver.
I would read every job posting carefully and proceed with caution, always remembering that if it seems too good to be true then, it probably is. "Money for nothin' and your chicks for free" is just a song.
I would re-re-read the odesk rules of conduct and especially the part about working outside of oDesk with buyers contacted through oDesk. Sure, that rule protects Odesk because they don't get a dime if the buyer takes me outside oDesk, but it protects me too. At least there, I get to leave negative feedback if they don't pay me.
I too have received invitations where it was stated they would be making payment outside of oDesk. Knowing the rules protected me and I avoided a lot of heartache.
I would continue to examine the buyer before I made a bid. I would check their payment method right off, make sure it's verified. I would check to see if they have other jobs posted and especially completed. They have a lot more information about me, but at least it is something to go on. I am careful because I prefer fixed rate projects.
I would approach every job with enthusiasm and honesty. That buyer's satisfaction would be the first thing on my mind because I am not Jane Doe who was hired, with a pension plan and benefits or tenure, and they keep around because it's too much trouble to fire me and train a replacement.
I am a freelancer, and a buyer can easily replace me on a whim, so it behooves me to make it so he doesn't want to.
Every single time I get a project it is because I sold myself. For every position there are tons of well qualified applicants. I would continue to remember that.
How did I get my first position so easily compared to others experiences?
It surely is not because I possess more talent than others, in fact I possess less than many others.
A fat portfolio? Hardly.
Education or certifications? No. A BA is barely enough to get a job at McDonalds these days.
High test scores? No, my high scores are in areas not even applicable to what I do.
Those things are contributing factors. They help but they don't make the entire picture.
Enthusiasm, honesty, communication. Approach each buyer as an individual, they are. Impress them the same way you would in a real life interview. Nothing is owed to me - ever. I earn it and others can too.
Most of all communicate. Even if English is not your first language and especially if it is not their first language. I have some long standing (4 years now) Dutch, Russian, and South African clients.
I take the time to communicate clearly. If I need a word that will convey something to them I look it up with the help of a translator. English is my first language but it's not theirs.
Not every freelancer is a writer, and communication skill levels vary.
However anyone, and I do mean anyone, can take the time to sit down and construct a decent cover letter built JUST for that project and addressing everything the buyer has focused on in the project outline.
That person who reads your cover letter is human. Talk to him as if he were and show concern for this concerns.
If it is nothing more than saying "I understand you desire people in green tights sitting in blue chairs typing nonesense characters into a blank computer screen. I own a pair of green tights, and my desk chair is blue, and I can easily turn off my monitor." and adding "I have not done this sort of project before, but I believe that my experience in sitting in green chairs wearing a blue tutu typing random phrases with my keyboard disconnected is very close and will help me shorten my learning curve and produce better quality nonesense more quickly".
Then I might add, "Though the random phrases I typed in my last project are covered by a non-disclosure agreement and I can't provide a link to the finished product, the link to the project is in my feedback listed under "Can you type stylish nonesense?" (and then insert the link). It was a great project and a lot of fun and I just know I would enjoy green tights too."
I might finish with "I understand you want a blank monitor. For this project would you prefer the monitor be turned off or fully disconnected from the computer? I can do either."
Ok, so that's an exaggerated example but the principle behind it holds true. I took the time to reflect back to the buyer that he wanted those qualifications and I understood and was excited. I went further and also asked questions that occurred to me as to obvious means of producing this product.
In a real project, qualifications and concerns are much more logical to the buyer than this fanciful example but sometimes just as detailed. It is his money he is spending on a project, address his concerns!
Now I feel better. I just had to say it. The lack of success that some people report on oDesk seems to me, not to be a reflection always of their skill or their willingness to work (sometimes though). It seems more a failure on their part to communicate their concern for the client, and their excitement at a topic or a particular project, and their related experiences as they apply to that project and that buyer's needs.