According to CEO Stephane Kasriel, Upwork gets 10,000 new signups EVERY DAY.
As the site grows more popular, they’re also becoming more selective with who can apply for jobs. Lately, I’ve been getting an increasing number of emails from readers who are having a hard time getting their profile approved.
I know this can be frustrating. So today, I’m going to share the proven strategies I’ve tested behind the scenes to increase your profile’s chances of being approved by Upwork.
Before we dive in, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
1. Upwork’s rejection policy is a GOOD thing. Because it’s the best freelancing site in the world, a LOT of people want to make an account. Having a screening process means that when your profile does get approved, you’ll face far less competition and your account will be even more valuable.
2. When Upwork rejects a profile, it’s not happening randomly or arbitrarily. When a client searches for freelancers, Upwork uses an algorithm based on a specific set of criteria to determine who shows up, and in what order. While the account approval process may have a human component as well, it’s likely that the first “line of defense” is an algorithm similar to what they use to deliver up search results. If you take time to think about WHAT Upwork is looking for and WHY, you can take steps to significantly increase your chance of being approved. (These steps will also give you a better shot at being hired and quickly boosting your freelance career.)
3. If Upwork rejects your profile, it’s not the end. Even if you don’t get approved, you can always make some changes and resubmit your profile. There’s no reason to stop trying if you’re rejected the first (or second, or third) time.
Now, let’s create a profile that Upwork will not only approve, but LOVE.
1) Show Upwork you’re a serious professional – right from the start
When you sign up for Upwork, you’re not just creating an account. You’re creating a freelance BUSINESS (or taking an existing one to the next level).
From the very first step, Upwork makes it clear that they’re looking for people who take freelancing as seriously as they do.
For example: when entering your email address, Upwork shows a preference for business email addresses (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org) over personal emails (e.g., Gmail or Hotmail.)
If you don’t already have one, you can create your own business email through Gmail for just a few bucks a month (starts with a 14-day free trial).
2) Tell Upwork EVERYTHING you can do
Upwork wants its freelancers to win jobs and earn big money. To help make this possible, they’re always monitoring the balance between the supply of freelancers and the demand of jobs.
If too many freelancers are applying for the same types of jobs, it can put a strain on the market. To preempt this, Upwork may reject your profile on the grounds that there aren’t enough opportunities for the combination of skills and work categories you chose.
One way to prevent this from happening is to give Upwork as much information about your capabilities as possible to show you’re open to doing different types of work. This way, they can evaluate your profile against a larger pool of potential jobs.
3) Never choose just one work subcategory
After you choose a service, Upwork will ask you which “types of work” you’re able to do. The more of these you choose (up to 4 max), the more jobs you’re telling Upwork you’re likely to do.
You don’t need to have an ounce of professional freelancing experience to choose these. If you see something you can do, let Upwork know.
Keep in mind, a lot of job types overlap which can make it even easier to find relevant options. For example, if you can do “Article & Blog Writing,” you can probably write “Web Content” as well (do you know any blog that isn’t on the web?).
If you run out of options, you can always choose the “other” option, which is listed under every type of service.
4) Try your best to list the maximum number of skills
You don’t need to be a world-class expert to say that you have a particular skill. You just need a basic knowledge and familiarity with the topic. For example, if you’ve read blogs about using the web to sell products, you can list “Internet Marketing” as one of your skills.
With that said, be sure to only list genuine skills that are relevant to the service you offer — even if it means you’ll end up with fewer than the maximum of 10 skills. (Example: If you want to be a freelance web developer, don’t choose something like “Microsoft Word,” even if you’ve been using it since you were in elementary school.)
There are too many skills for Upwork to list them all out, so feel free to “go crazy” and type anything you can think of into the search bar. You never know what may pop up in the suggested skills.
Another great way to quickly find ideas is to check out the profiles of other freelancers who offer the same service to see what’s available.
For example, let’s take my profile:
As you can see, I didn’t stop after adding just the “Copywriting” skill. I also included:
- Other common ways of saying Copywriting (ex: Sales Writing)
- Related fields I advise clients on (ex: Internet Marketing)
- Fields that rely on copywriting (ex: Lead Generation)
- Specific types of copy I can write (ex: Landing Pages)
- And specific tools I have experience with (ex: ConvertKit)
5) Don’t undersell your experience level
In addition to categories and skills, Upwork asks you to select one of three experience levels.
As you browse jobs, you can actually see the number of jobs available for each experience level.
Upwork uses this information to determine which jobs you’re likely to qualify for.
One mistake I see people make all the time is underselling their experience. Just because you don’t have freelancing experience doesn’t mean you don’t have any experience at all.
If you’ve held a relevant job with a traditional employer, you should probably choose “intermediate” or “expert” — even if this is your first foray into freelancing.
Depending on how much you’ve done, you may also be able to bump up your experience level from having done lots of work outside of a regular job (like volunteering, or doing projects for family and friends).
With that said, if you really are entry level, that’s OK too. When I first started freelancing, all I had for experience was a few dead-end jobs that had nothing to do with copywriting. I didn’t let that stop me, and my only regret is that I didn’t start freelancing sooner.
6) Let Upwork calculate a personalized “rate tip”
A lot of freelancers don’t know this, but when a client posts a job, Upwork shows them how much they can expect to pay.
Keep in mind, these rates are NOT a hard rule – I’ve proven before that you can not only win jobs at much higher rates than the average freelancer, but also for much higher amounts than a client’s budget.
But when you’re first setting up your account, you should try to start with a rate that falls within Upwork’s suggestions. If your hourly rate is too far removed from what similar freelancers are getting, Upwork may think your profile isn’t competitive enough.
Luckily, Upwork will show you rate suggestions that match what clients see.
The rate tip that they provide changes depending on the skills, experience level, and work categories you chose.
If your rate is too low, raise it. Being the cheapest freelancer isn’t just a bad strategy for winning jobs, it will also hurt your account’s chances of being approved.
If your rate is higher than the suggested tip, you may want to consider adjusting it for now. You can always raise it later if you’re feeling confident.
A higher than suggested rate may also be a sign that you’re underestimating your experience level. Remember: just because you don’t have freelance experience specifically, doesn’t mean you have no experience at all. Traditional (and non-traditional) work experience counts too.
7) Make sure your title isn’t too vague (or too specific)
As I mentioned above, Upwork tends to give preference to freelancers whose skill levels are in high demand. If your title section is vague (e.g., “Consultant”), it may be considered low-effort.
On the other hand, if it’s too specific (e.g., “Legal representation for underwater basket weaving companies”), Upwork may think you’re not interested in any other jobs.
You can always change your title later, and creating a great one will also be much easier when you’ve had more time to see what types of jobs and clients are available.
8) Go beyond the bare minimum with your profile overview
Upwork’s algorithm is designed to accept serious and committed freelancers, and weed out the ones who appear to be taking shortcuts. Even if you’re planning to come back later and finish, Upwork has no way of knowing that.
People often get tripped up in the “overview” section, since it takes a bit more time than clicking a button or typing a number.
While your overview doesn’t need to be perfect right off the bat, you can and should take the time to write a strong profile overview if you want your account to get approved. This not only shows Upwork that you’re serious, but will eventually help you win jobs too.
9) Yes, you DO have employment history
You almost surely have some employment history — even if you don’t think you do. Even if you’re fresh out of school and you’ve never had a “real” job, don’t assume you have no experience to share.
For example, if you’ve done any freelancing work in the past, that counts as employment history even though it isn’t from a traditional 9-5 job. One clever freelancer did just that, describing her service and listing out recent clients:
You can go even further with this and write a separate entry for a few of your most impressive projects too.
If you’re new to freelancing and haven’t worked at a relevant job in the past, figure out a way to make your unrelated job relevant. One great example of this comes from one of my students, Daniel, who seamlessly bridged the gap between his career as an electrical engineer and his ability to write great copy!
10) Include ALL your education (not just college degrees)
Include as many education items as you can, and write a detailed description for each one to show its relevance to your expertise.
I went to college for all of a week, and I still added it to my profile:
In addition to traditional education, you can also include school projects you worked on, online courses you’ve taken, mentorship programs you’ve done – even relevant books you’ve read. Use your creativity.
For example, on my profile, I mentioned that I took Ramit Sethi’s Zero To Launch program and related what I learned about building a business to my freelance services:
11) Treat your profile like a resume
Many recruiters for traditional jobs will instantly reject a resume if they see even a single typo. You need to take your Upwork account just as seriously.
Proofread each section carefully (including title, overview, education, and experience) looking for typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Properly capitalize the names of schools, companies, and other organizations.
It can be hard to catch your own mistakes, so ask someone else to help proofread if you can. Paste your overview into a program with spell-check like Microsoft Word, or use a dedicated tool like Grammarly to see if you missed anything. If you can use spell check, so can Upwork’s account approval algorithm.
12) Bolster your profile with a few portfolio pieces (or make some quickly if you don’t have any)
This option isn’t actually available during the initial signup, but creating a portfolio may just put you “over the top” if you get rejected the first time (the option will become available after you submit your first profile, and you can edit it immediately).
If you have relevant samples of past work, add it to your portfolio and fill out as much information as you can. You’ll be able to select a work category and subcategory, as well as tag the portfolio item with skills. Be sure to write a detailed description that explains what the sample is and why it’s impressive.
Don’t have any samples? No problem. You can create a freelance portfolio from scratch in as little as one afternoon (even if you’re brand-new to freelancing).
13) Have your other professional accounts “vouch” for you
One easy way to show that you’re worthy of an Upwork account is to link your other professional accounts (available under profile settings).
These accounts won’t be displayed publicly on your profile, but Upwork uses them to get more information on what types of jobs you can do.
If you’re a programmer, linking to an active GitHub account can supplement the skills and work categories you chose. If you’re a graphic designer, you’ll get a similar boost by linking a Dribbble account.
Of course, if you’re like me and only have a personal Facebook filled with family pictures, you can always just skip this.
14) Prove yourself with Upwork’s skill tests
Upwork offers hundreds of skill tests that cover a wide range of fields. Choose a few that are relevant to your service, and give them a shot. High scores are impressive to clients, and will look great to Upwork too.
If your score isn’t as high as you’d like, no worries! You get to choose which test results you want to show the public, so there’s zero risk. Just hide any tests you aren’t happy with, and you can even retake them after 90 days.
15) Keep improving your profile and try again
If your profile isn’t approved the first time, don’t panic. You can submit it again after making some changes.
Try adding more experience and experimenting with different skills, subcategories, and rates. Make sure to keep track of the various combinations you’ve submitted in the past and take into account any feedback that is provided by Upwork.
Remember, there’s no limit to how many times you can submit your profile on Upwork so don’t get discouraged. Continue to add new skills to your repertoire whether it comes from a book, your job, or by taking advantage of all the free information available online.
Get ready to start winning
Getting your Upwork account approved is only the first step in a much bigger online freelancing journey.
Once you’re ready, be sure to check out my Ultimate Guide to Getting Your First (Or Next) Freelance Job so you can start winning clients, earning money, and building a lifestyle you love.
Creative Commons image via ccPixs.com