The Way We Work
August 31, 2010 by Erica Benton

So, you lost your job and are wondering if now is the time to make the switch from traditional employment to contract work. Don’t worry — it can be done! Here at oDesk, our experienced managers and savvy remote team have brainstormed 15 tried-and-true ways for you to go from fired to hired in the world of remote work.

Here are the 15 ways to get started in online contract work:

1. Set up an online portfolio. Many freelance and contract work sites have user-friendly ways to do this (including oDesk), so start there. You may also want to get a free blog and make it a showcase for your work or an online resumé. Stop thinking in terms of the old-fashioned paper resumé, and start thinking interactive, online portfolio with these nine steps from Freelance Switch.

2. Link to letters of recommendation. If you don’t have them from previous employers, ask for them (Miss Audrey at eHow can walk you through it). Scan those letters and get them online. Post them not only in your online portfolio, but also link to them or attach them to your cover letters as well. These recommendations will speak for you, so don’t neglect them.

3. Link to previous work. If you have done any work that shows up online — designed a logo, wrote the web content for a previous employer, assisted in building a certain kind of software, etc. — link to it! If your work isn’t necessarily online but your previous employer is, link to their site in your work history, along with a brief description of the work you did for them.

Fired to hired two


4. Begin with established relationships. Now is not the time to be shy or modest. Tug on strings, network like crazy, contact acquaintances, former business associates and previous employers personally if you think they can get you a lead — Stacy Erlihy has posted some great thoughts on this process, which you can apply to remote work.

5. Become a specialist. Online remote work is a global competition. If you are too general is applying your skills, you risk being lumped in with thousands, if not millions, of others who can do what you can do. To get a leg up, you may need to specialize. You’ll find tips on finding your specialty here, but don’t think of it as limiting yourself, think of it as becoming a sought-after expert in your field.

6. Work for a temporarily reduced cost. Remember, if you are new to contract work, you need to build your client base. Offer your first one or two employers a little incentive to hire someone like you, with little or no contract work experience. These early employers will help you build a reputation that will pave the way to new work opportunities, so give them a deal for your stellar services.

Fired to hired three


7. Guarantee satisfaction for your first employer. As a newbie to contract work, employers may see you as a risky hire. If that’s the case, you need to be willing to go the extra mile on your first few jobs and take a little risk yourself. Guarantee their satisfaction by offering to refund the payment if your first contract employer is not happy with your work.

8. Take online tests that establish and prove skill. You need to supplement your online portfolio with proof of your abilities.  oDesk offers free testing in a variety of fields, but you can also find sites whose sole purpose is to test your skills in a particular field. Allow potential employers to view your scores to help them see your abilities in action.

9. Be professional at all times. Becoming an online remote worker is not like setting up a personal Twitter account with which to bug your friends and share your insight throughout the day. Use your real name, use a professional-looking headshot (nothing glamorous, just you smiling), and don’t use texting lingo or abbreviations in any correspondence. When in doubt, make sure you aren’t doing any of these things.

10. Be honest. Lying about your experience isn’t a good idea. While it’s standard practice to sell yourself in the best possible light — i.e., you probably shouldn’t mention you were once fired for wasting time on Facebook —  it’s not acceptable to give false information about your expertise with lies or half-truths. This ABC News post explains how much you can expect to get away with when lying during a job hunt. (Answer: Not much.)

11. Update your portfolio often. For a while, you’ll want to list every new job on your online portfolio, until you have built a solid history of remote work success. While in time it may not be as necessary to net you your next job, you will still want to revisit your website or online resume every few months and update your work history, rates, etc. Find out how to keep your portfolio alive here.

Fired to hired four


12. Write a cover letter that gets you noticed. This is so key to getting hired and it’s all about making yourself stand out from the rest. Don’t assume you know how to do it, even if you are an experienced communicator. Research the right way to write a cover letter in today’s competitive online market and seek a lot of input from friends, family and trusted acquaintances.

13. Be patient, but persistent. This isn’t an endeavour that involves setting things up and then sitting back to wait for contract job offers to come rolling in. You have to apply for jobs daily and re-think your strategies each time you are turned down or overlooked. You will need to stay strong, stay positive and continually tune your presentation. This insightful piece from Bob Younce is for contract writers, but applies to all of us.

14. Be teachable. Remote contract work is unique from traditional work environments, so learn all you can from those who’ve been doing it successfully. Think of it like fishing in a new stream: If your cover letter, online resume/portfolio, etc., aren’t getting any bites, it’s time to go back and ask the locals about the quality of your bait (no matter how great you think it is!)

15. Don’t hide from your newness — address it! This goes hand in hand with #10: honesty. It’s the elephant in the room, so don’t be afraid to talk about it. Things will probably go better for you if you do. Here’s where adding incentive, like a lower first-time rate or a satisfaction guarantee can help you land that first job, so don’t shy away from using #6 and #7 to get yourself in the door.  Say something like, “I know I may not have the remote work or contract work experience you were hoping to find, but I do have the talent and skills you want for the job.”

How did you go from fired to hired, making the switch from traditional to remote work? Tell us about it in the comments!

Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more