I have never been good at public speaking. I am not an extroverted or confident person and I should be the worst when it comes to interviews. It would certainly make sense. But I actually enjoy the process and I have yet to have an interview for a job I didn’t get. It’s a paradox, especially when you consider that I’m married to a woman who is very confident and outgoing, but terrible at interviews.
As a freelancer, my interviews are a little different than they used to be and they are usually conducted over the phone or on Skype, as opposed to in person. The rules should be the same, it would certainly make sense if that were the case, but in my experience they are not. I’ve done things a little differently since I started and it has helped to make the process easier and much more effective, even with the weight of being an unconfident, generally ill-at-ease person weighing me down.
So, if you’re in a similar position and are desperately seeking some assistance, then take the following on board.
Don’t Approach it Like a Normal Interview
The process is different and I think it’s very important to bear that in mind and not to approach it like you would a normal interview. So, throw out what you know or think you know about job interviews and start afresh. Not only are you being interviewed on the phone or over Skype, but you’re being interviewed for remote, short-term work by people who have little experience in hiring employees. This is likely as true if you’re working for experienced attorneys looking for website content, as it is for webmasters and game developers.
Think of it this way: an IT firm will hire workers to keep the company ticking over, from developers to cleaners, and all of these will go through a traditional interview process. But if they hire a PR expert to get their name out there or a branding expert to change their logo, do you think they will put them through the same process?
Of course not. They headhunt them, they ask them a few questions in an informal interview and they hire them. In this scenario, you are the PR/logo expert, not the typical employee, and that’s why you should approach it differently.
Worry About Being Confident in Your Work, Not Yourself
Like I said, I am not a confident person. I’m the guy hiding at the back in parties, not the guy getting all of the attention. In fact, I’m usually the guy finding an excuse to stay home.
But when it comes to my work, I’m very self-assured and I think the same applies to all artists. We put ourselves down all of the time and we’re always questioning what we do, but deep down, whether we like to admit it openly or not, we think we’re great.
This is the part you need to tap into. And I’m not talking about some spiritual, self-help nonsense here. Just know that you are perfect for the job, that they know you are, and then go from there. You don’t need to be confident in the way you sit or the way you communicate at the outset of the interview. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are confident when it comes to talking about your work and what you can do for them.
They are not hiring someone they will need to talk face-to-face with in an office every day for the next few years. They are hiring someone who will communicate by sending work, getting invoices and then repeating the process. They don’t care if you’re confident or quirky; self-assured or weird.
I actually avoid doing any serious research prior to an interview, partly because I don’t have a lot of spare time, but mainly because it helps with the process. For me, at least. This might not work for everyone, but I find that the more I know, the more nervous I become.
If you have ever been anxious about going to an event you’ll know that the build-up is always the worst part and that when it actually happens, you’re fine. It’s a similar principle here. Don’t get yourself worked up. Don’t spend hours trawling through the company’s information. Just get the basics (more on that soon) and then leave the rest for the interview.
You will figure out what you need to know during the interview itself and if you’re unsure you can ask them a question.
Before you start the interview process there are a few key points you need. These will help you to avoid wasting time with clients who plan on dragging every single freelancer through this process and clients who would otherwise waste your time.
- How Much Are They Worth? You should spend some time trying to determine the value of every business that intends to interview you. Clients who work alone and just need a freelancer for occasional work won’t drag you through interviews like this, but companies big and small will. The smaller they are, the greater the expectation they will place on you and the less they will pay. In my experience, big companies open up doors, small companies close them. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but it all comes down to the fact that big companies need these interviews because they need to make things official and they want to put a name to a face; small companies do it because they are fastidious, AKA wasting your time.
- How Many Are They Interviewing? There are far too many applicants on the average online freelancing job and if they are dragging all of them through an interview, your chances are slim. I learned very early on in my career that if you let people pull and push you around prior to paying you or agreeing anything, you won’t have anytime left to do real work or find real clients. So, unless you are in a select group or have been headhunted, turn the interview down.
- Time of Meeting: You want to let them know that you are always available for contact, but that anything extensive that requires your full attention, such as an interview, needs to be arranged in advance. That way you come across as responsive and dedicated, but also professional and in-demand. So don’t reply to their questions of “when is a good time for you?” with “whenever!”. Give them a time that is reasonable for their timezone.
Don’t be Too Formal
I have never been in a formal interview as an online freelance writer, even though I have been interviewed by many big and highly professional companies. I have spoken to CEOs and Managing Directors in their living rooms. I once had an interview with a guy who video chatted with me using his phone while he was walking down the street.
In most cases, they are not experienced interviewers because it’s not a standard procedure for them. Big companies that hire on a regular basis have specialist employees for these roles, but as a freelancer you’ll be talking to head editors, business owners and investors, so in most cases they are just as awkward and as ill-at-ease as you are. Small talk and humor helps to break this up.
So, don’t worry about wearing a shirt and tie. Don’t worry about being strictly formal. Take it easy and judge the situation based on how they look and how they speak to you.
You can impress just by knowing what you are talking about, as discussed already, but there are other ways as well. I like to spend some time jotting out a few ideas when having a phone or Skype interview (if it’s a phone interview, get a bluetooth headset to free-up your hands).
Think about it, if they have just spent ten minutes going back and forth with you to tell you what they need and then you say, “You mean something like this?” and send them a snippet of text, even if it’s just a paragraph, they will be incredibly impressed and may hire you on the spot.
It’s free work, of course, but the only cost to your is your time and you were already giving them that. And don’t worry about seeming rude by typing as you talk because they will assume you are taking notes.
Some Final Advice
I have given similar to advice to anxious interviewees before and there are usually some questions that remain, so I have tried to cover them here:
How Do I Begin the Interview?
You don’t need to overthink this. They are interviewing you, so greet them, ask them how they are and then be silent. They will take it from there.
How Do I End It?
They will likely instigate this, but if it’s dragging on just thank them for their time and let them know they can contact you direct if they need more info. They’ll get the hint and will bring it to an end.
Do I Dress Up?
No. There’s no need. During my last interview I had just woken up, was bleary eyed, wearing the clothes from the previous day, and I had my cat climbing all over me. Not the ideal situation as they caught me off-guard, but it’s fine either way. They know you work from home so it would be stranger if you were dressed up.
Do I Mention Money?
I know this is a no-go when you’re in a real interview, but this is different. The client is under no illusion that you are there to make money. There is no other incentive to freelance work. You can’t pull the “I’m here to learn and grow as person” bit and you certainly can’t pretend that you want to start a new career. You’re a contractor at the height of your career and you need money, so don’t be afraid to ask about pay.