There’s one thing job candidates share with their interviewers: Both are trying to solve a problem. The candidate is looking for career growth or higher pay, and the hiring manager is looking for somebody who can help the organization move forward. If both see a solution to each of their problems when they face one another across the interview table, there’s a match.
If you switch from traditional employment to working for yourself, it’s easy to consign this simple transaction to your past life and imagine that it no longer applies. Suddenly you feel like a salesperson, struggling with the awkwardness of self-promotion as a freelancer, consultant, or small business owner. But in fact, the standard job interview makes for a great template for any independent worker to clinch clients. Here are a few bits of familiar job interview advice that are easily repurposed for the freelance game.
1. Sell Your Skills, Not The Service
As a job candidate, you know how crucial it is to establish your specific expertise—the goal is to convince the recruiter or hiring manager that what you know is what they need. Just like you want a potential employer to see you as an expert, you want a prospective client to do the same. It’s easy to automate lots of jobs these days, or to hire a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades who’s pretty much average at a lot of things. But being great at just a few key things that are needed most will make you stand out in the talent marketplace—whether full-time or freelance.
When I interviewed for a reporter position at my last TV station, I was one of two finalists. I ended up getting the job because I showed my expertise in video editing. (Yes, many TV reporters edit their own stories.) Because I could do this and the other candidate couldn’t, I got the job. Those two crucial skills made me an expert in reporting, both in front of the camera and behind it.
And just as job candidates have to weave their skills together into a coherent picture of the expert they claim to be, freelancers need to do the same. Many, however, tend to just sell a battery of services, each one distinct from the other. “I’ve gone to hire a designer before,” says marketing expert and career coach Halley Gray, “only to find them promoting their design work on their website and copywriting on their social media. This lack of consistency decreases trust, and lowers your perceived expertise.”
2. Always Tailor Your Pitch
Great interviewees always do their research on the company they’re interviewing for, then pitch themselves to a prospective employer based on what they find out. The same goes for freelancers trying to secure projects and clients.
When I was just starting out on my own—especially on days when I had a lot of calls back to back—I’d often just wing it with a one-size-fits-all approach to pitching. Rookie mistake. These days, I’m careful to make sure that the person I’m talking to knows I’m well-versed in their brand and interested in working with them because of how much I know. I also feel more confident about what I’m saying because I’m well-informed.
“You’ve got to do your homework and learn about your potential clients before you hop on a call with them,” copywriting expert Courtney Johnston agrees. Just as you would as a traditional job candidate, “showing your clients that you’re prepared will instill confidence in your ability to do good work.”
3. Talk Up Your Impact On Others
I’m a big believer in shameless self-promotion. If you don’t put yourself out there, how will anyone know how amazing you are at what you do? Career coaches urge candidates to not just list what they’ve accomplished but to explain the effects that their accomplishments have had, and that makes for good advice as a freelancer, too.
One of the easiest ways to share your impact on others? Testimonials. Gray believes it’s important to let your past clients do the talking. Quoting them on your website and in project proposals about how great you are at what you do increases trust. “One key piece of feedback I get over and over is [that] my testimonials are one of the reasons people work with me,” Gray says.
I recently started working with a business coach, and the biggest motivator for me to buy the program was hearing about the success other clients had had. Anyone can talk about how great they are, but when someone else vouches for them, it’s different.
4. Present Yourself Well
Job interviewing 101 tells you to wear the right clothes, style your hair, and put just the right amount of pressure into your handshake. It’s all about having that professional polish, and building a business as your own boss demands the same level of attention.
“I hired a designer to create my website and a proposal template so that my proposals would feel first-rate,” Gray adds. She isn’t alone. Fast Company contributor Arianna O’Dell recently wrote that investing in professional design as soon as she started her own company was a crucial first move.
Keeping up a sharp outward presentation isn’t just about a snappy website, though. Johnston points out that “if you work online, you have to embrace video calls as if they were in-person meetings. You’d never refuse to show your face at a job interview, so get dressed—at least on your top half—check your tech, show up early, and make sure your background reflects your brand.”
5. Show Your Skills In Action
If you’re trying to get a job, you want to appear confident and in control. Many times, the person hiring you is considering putting you in a position to do what they can’t, because they don’t know how. At most jobs, it’s your job to do; you will act as a doer. But in the short, somewhat formal context of an interview, you might not have a chance to demonstrate your expertise in action (which is why many employers ask for case studies and other demos). This actually gets a little easier as a freelancer who’s pitching clients.
“In a client-based business, you’re in charge of hosting and running your sales calls and conversations,” Johnston says. In other words, the pitching experience more closely matches the actual work you’re hoping to land. “Your potential clients will want to see that you are organized and have things under control,” adds Johnston—so make it count.