How to complete the Best oDesk Profile

So you have decided freelancing is for you, you know what service you are going to offer and you have decided to advertise your services and apply for jobs via oDesk. What is the next step? Setting up an awesome oDesk profile that employers won’t be able to ignore!

Many people ignore setting up a decent profile and go straight to applying for jobs. This is a mistake! Most employers will click through and look at your profile. By setting up a great profile you will stand out from the crowd and be far more likely to win a good contract. The fact that many people do not bother is a huge plus. It makes it that much easier to stand out from the crowd.

What is oDesk?

oDesk is basically a market place where freelancers and employers can find each other. On this site, you will find many advertised freelancing jobs that you can apply for. You can also set up your own profile where potential employers can find you. You can advertise and apply for free. However, oDesk takes 10% of what you are paid so ensure that you take this into account when applying for work.

There are jobs is many different areas from Virtual Assistants to Accountants to Designers. You should have no problems finding a job that you can do on here. It is very quick and easy to sign up and get started. Since employers will be looking through dozens of oDesk profiles, ensure you set up yours right from the beginning. You want yours to be the best oDesk profile they come across.

Tips for Creating the Best oDesk Profile

Being a freelancer myself who uses oDesk, the following are the best practice tips I have followed to complete a fantastic profile. Most of the screenshots are viewed as an Outsourcer would see them (there are some differences between what they see as an outsourcer and what we see as freelancers).

First thing is to begin the journey. Go to https://www.odesk.com/signup/contractor to see the initial account creation screen. Everything here is straight forward, just the basics like name, email address, username and password. The hardest thing may be finding a username not yet in use. Done? Now we’ll look at how to complete your oDesk profile.

Introducing Yourself

The first fields you’ll see are the title and overview sections. This is you introducing yourself to the oDesk world. Put in the key details here and, despite possibly having lots of things to say, keep everything succinct and to the point. You want detail, without length.

The key pieces you want to convey in you overview (in rough order) are:

  • Any major skills that are relevant.
  • What you bring to the job (e..g professionalism/commitment/passion/client love).  Things other than skills that make you a great freelancer.
  • Your level of professional experience (e.g. “10+ years as a  professional programmer…” – if any

The first two are of prime importance.

This title and overview gets it right and grabs attention.

This title and overview gets it right and grabs attention.


For the title feel free to use some superlatives like experienced, professional, talented along with a description of what you are. For example “10 Years Experienced Graphic Designer”.

The idea here is to grab the attention of a person looking for freelancers with the limited space that is visible when your profile is viewed in the results of a search. You need to give a searcher a quick way they can see your (main) skills, what type of work you’re after and, ideally, how you care about them as a client and the project they want to give you. Essentially what you can do and how well you’ll do it.

Don’t talk about your education or give a three line resume. It’s all about style. Substance comes next. This next example shows a profile summary that misses the chance to impress. It’s a bland title with no key details at the start of the overview:

This profile summary doesn't really exude awesomeness.

This profile summary doesn’t really exude awesomeness.

The rest of your overview is for sharing this kind of detail. Round yourself out and maybe talk more about your skills, or what you’ve done in the past. Just remember: details without length. Education and career history can be important, but put them on the bottom. They give you depth but not impact.

Adding your Photo

Profiles with photos are five times more likely to get work that those without, according to oDesk. And it makes sense, really. If prospective clients see you, that gives them some (very small) sort of connection to you/your profile and, they hopefully view you as more trustworthy. A photo makes you a real person, less anonymous, hence the trust. You’ll also stand out in listings compared to profiles with no image.

Ideally, make your photo a professional image, like a head shot of you dressing up in a suit or professional appearing clothes. This will help give the impression you’re all business and hard working (unless, for some reason, this isn’t a good idea for your line of work – in which case give the impression your industry needs).

Not so good on the left, much better (if a little pixelated) on the right.

Not so good on the left, much better (if a little pixelated) on the right.

Things like making it black and white or sepia can help it stand out by being different. A different pose (not looking at the camera) might help too as long as it doesn’t reduce the professional image we’re after.

Polish for Professionalism

Nothing says amateur like typos and errors or putting everything in caps. Proofread and correct errors, and keep things looking professional: no text speak, silly abbreviations or crappy grammar. It’s simple really: people want to hire people that are at least competent enough to write properly in whatever language you’re writing in, especially if you selected native for your English level. If you are worried about your ability to do this, get someone else to proofread it for you.

English Proficiency and Other Languages

There’s no point lying because someone who is thinking of hiring you will want to communicate with you before signing you up. That said, don’t see yourself short either. This is no place for false modesty.

Feel free to add other languages, but only if you’d use them as part of the work you want to win. For example I can communicate in Spanish enough to get by in a Spanish speaking country but nowhere near good enough to engage with someone professionally. So I didn’t include it.

Setting Your Rate

This is where you set how much you want to get paid per hour. It’s perhaps the trickiest to get right, for while you want to set a rate that is fair to you, set your rate too high and you may lose work. I can’t really give you great advice here, as your rate is very specific to your circumstances, just a few pointers.

When you’re starting out you may want to set your rate lower to win work and build up a client base or some ratings. If you do, I’d mention that in your overview, to hint at what awesome value you are…for now. In the longer term set your rate more in line with your experience and skills.

For some industries/cases setting your rate too low may be a bad thing. For example, in programming, I’ve read guides to hiring freelancers that basically put a floor on the price you should be prepared to pay. Cheaper rates implied crappier work (in those writers’ experience). So a quick way to filter the bad from the good was to ignore people asking for less than $40 per hour (in this example).

Avoiding bargain basement prices can help you avoid people who are not taking it seriously (by being prepared to pay appropriately) or who have unrealistic expectations. Such clients can be more trouble than they’re worth and sometimes will find any excuse not to pay. In general, it’s a good idea not to compete on price but service/quality because generally someone will always try and match or undercut you.

However, it’s only natural – even for decent clients – to go for the cheaper options if all else is equal (and even if it isn’t). That’s why rate setting is so tricky – it’s a balancing act. To top it off clients can propose new rates as part of assigning work, and there’s only one way those rates will head…

Setting Job Categories

Here’s where you get to specify the type of work you’re after. You’ve only ten categories you can pick. If you feel there’s more than that apply then select the most relevant or important ten to you. These will be used by the site when people enter their jobs or search for freelancers to match them to your profile.

After this you’re on to the next page, where a lot more options await…

Adding a Video

I have to confess, this isn’t something I’ve done. The reason being I feel it’s harder to make a good video that projects professionalism compared to a good photo. However, oDesk have come up with some tips for videos if you want to add one.

Is it necessary? Like the photo, it can build a rapport and a feeling of trust, but it won’t differentiate you as quickly as a photo can.

Skills

This is an area where a bit of thought can go a long way. These skills, like the job categories, can be searched on and used to match your profile to people creating work or searching for freelancers. Like the job categories, you can only have ten. You can optionally sort these however you like, so it makes sense to put the most important or in demand at the top.

Building and sorting you list of skills is important.

Building and sorting you list of skills is important.

With technical skills, and I suspect many other areas as well, there are a lot of pre-defined skills oDesk will suggest. Some of these are quite specific, and others are repetitive. For example, there is java and core-java which represent the same thing. Enterprise Java, a subset of Java, could be java-ee, j2ee, oracle-java-ee. All refer to the same knowledge and skills. Some are needlessly specific as well, listing – for example – small aspects of Enterprise Java unlikely to be searched on.

Java, Java everywhere, and these aren't all the options oDesk even has...

Java, Java everywhere, and these aren’t all the options oDesk even has…

How do you make best use of your 10 skills? Be as broad as possible. If you’re a writer then add writing, but only add certain types of writing if you want to focus or specialise in them OR they are a major distinct skill or activity area in their own right.

Taking oDesk Tests

Some skills will give you the option of taking a test to prove you can walk the talk. These are more common for technical skills with objective and measurable knowledge, and less available for those skills (such as creative skills) that are harder to measure.

If you get the option to take a test then do so. The tests I took were multiple choice tests, 45 questions to be finished in 45 minutes. Before each test you can see how many have attempted the test and how many have passed. If you are successful you are given a rating and a percentile (e.g. you’re marked as being in the top 20% of everyone who passed).

The tests are a good way of showing people looking at your full profile (and thus might be seriously considering you) that you aren’t faking it. How good a gauge the tests are is debatable but for people who have no other way to judge your skills for themselves, test results will give them some level of trust.

How good are the tests? In my opinion, not so good. They test knowledge but not really experience or proficiency. The questions were almost a trivia contest, and some questions referred to things that are no longer relevant. In oDesk’s defense it is hard to make a test both easy and practical to take as well as thorough, and you can give feedback on questions.

This is what you see once you've taken a test or two

This is what you see once you’ve taken a test or two

If you fail, or even want to retake the test you can do so after a month. And you have the option to disclose your results or hide them. So suck it up and take the tests – there’s no reason not to.

Indeed there is a test called the oDesk readiness test that oDesk insists you take to remove limits on how many applications you can send off.

Your Portfolio

Have some relevant experience to share? Here’s the place. The portfolio is a great way to add some depth to your profile by highlighting what you’ve done in the past. You can add whatever past work you like.

Adding a portfolio item brings up a screen that lets you set a title, give a description (where you can include feedback you were given), put up a thumbnail image to represent it and even attach files if appropriate. Like your overview you want to make it as easy to take key information away from as possible. As I’ve said before, details without length. Here’s an example of what someone clicking on a portfolio piece sees:

What a portfolio item looks like

A lot of portfolios people have added are really just descriptions of things they have done without any real substance. This is fine if you’re starting out but as you progress your portfolio should be showcases of excellent work, not just a parade of past contracts. Someone who is interested in looking through your portfolio is more likely to be seriously considering you for work – make it easy for them to be impressed. I’ve seen profiles with 30+ entries in their portfolio. Don’t do that.

oDesk suggests uploading past recommendation letters if you need to seed your portfolio early on.

Certifications, Employment History, Education: the final sections

oDesk gives you the chance to round out your profile with these resume like sections. For maximum profile impact it’s better to fill them in. I know there’s a lot you’ve done already but detail is important. The more ways you express your ability through education and experience the better. It’s another way you can stand out for someone going through multiple profiles.

Certifications require proof, usually in the form of uploading a scan or submitting an electronic copy of the certificate in question.

Don’t add too much in each section, keep it to the point for maximum impact. I know I said detail is important, but that doesn’t mean a ton of text for every section. For education keep it to the title of any degree or diploma, the institution and the completion year. For employment history keep to the name of the employer, you position title once there and the start and end dates. And like other sections, keep it relevant to the type of work you’re after.

Look at your Competition

Once you’ve set up your profile it might help to have a quick look at other oDesk Profiles in your area of expertise. If you’re stuck for exactly what to say then you can do this first. Is there anything that seems common to everyone’s oDesk profiles and it makes sense to add to yours? Or can you think of a nice way to stand out from the others?

That’s not to say just blindly rip off other people’s oDesk profiles (and make yours look the same), but if a quick analysis shows gaps between your profile and someone who stands out by comparison then you owe it to yourself to improve your profile. It’s easier said than done but it’s worth doing.

And don’t feel guilty. Like Picasso (apparently) said “all art is theft,” and there’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration from others.

Maintaining your Profile

So you’ve finished your profile? Well done. Hopefully you’ve created a compelling profile and the jobs will come flooding in. But the freelancing world doesn’t stay still, and neither should your profile. As things change, you should keep your profile up to date. Some of the things that may need changing:

  • Your portfolio of past projects. Completed anything you can tell the world about? Add it to your past work and let everyone see.
  • Skills and knowledge: learned anything new? Then add it, and if there are associated tests or ways to prove your knowledge then do that too, when you can.
  • Hourly rate: Is your hourly rate still competitive, or reflective of your skills and ability? As I said before, pricing is difficult and so it’s worth reflecting on what you want to charge regularly.

What questions and tips do you have for producing the best oDesk Profile?

About the author

Joshua

Joshua is a freelance programmer who loves the flexibility that working online provides for him.