Why Clients are Ignoring your Cover Letters (and how to fix them!)

February 27, 2017
by Holly Ocaya 
Holly started freelance writing in 2010. As someone who has not graduated from college, she is living proof that you don't need a degree, education, or experience to be a good freelancer. Nowadays, Holly provides support for aspiring freelancers and works on her own writing endeavors.

So, you’ve read posts from successful freelancers in FLIP.

You gave it a shot but after 1 month, you got nothing.

2 months, 3 months passed… still nothing!

“What am I doing wrong?”

Well, it could be one of 3 things –your skills, your profile, or your Upwork cover letter (or other platforms).

You'll know that it's the first one (lack of skills) if:

  • You're having a hard time creating your profile (basic tech skills)
  • You're having difficulty writing your Overview or cover letter (English skills)
  • You’re qualified for only a few jobs (marketable online skills)

If this is the case, you’ll need to upgrade your skills by learning online skills. Browse online for free or paid tutorials that can help you improve.

If you have strong skills but you’re not getting hired, your online profile might be the problem. Check out our article on how to make a strong Upwork profile HERE. (While the article is Upwork-focused, the tips can be used in other platforms, too.)

However, if you already have some marketable skills and have created a strong profile, but still, no client is paying attention to you, then your cover letters must be the culprits.

Yes, even those who have 10 years of experience in the most in-demand online field still have a hard time getting noticed because of a lack of Sales Skills.

You see, your cover letter is more than just a letter telling clients that you’re interested in the job. It is a sales letter where you convince them WHY they should hire and spend money on you!

The main problem is that most freelancers don't realize this, and often take their cover letters for granted.

Why your Upwork cover letters are getting ignored:

1. Your writing is weak.

upwork cover letter with weak writing

And I don't mean proper grammar and spelling - that's expected.

I'm talking about using fillers or fluff.

They make your cover letter sound messy…AND boring!

​Here are some commonly used "weak" words or phrases we've noticed in cover letters:

weak words to use in cover letters

Remember, brevity is key to smartly written cover letters.

Avoid weak words and break your sentences into shorter paragraphs to enhance readability.

2. You only talk about yourself.

upwork cover letter talking about self

You only have 30 seconds to make a good impression.

If your first sentences don’t captivate potential clients, they’ll skip your entire application and proceed to the next applicant.

So, don't waste your chance by:

  • Repeating the information on your profile  

They can see your name, job title and skills on your profile. You DON'T need to repeat them. Instead, capture their attention immediately by highlighting your best skills.

  • Only talking about yourself
    • But I thought you told me to highlight my best skills?

      Yes, I did - but only those that are relevant to THE job requirements.

      Clients do NOT care if you have a Master’s degree in Fine Arts, or 10 years of experience in the food industry, if you’re applying to a data entry job.

      You may be highlighting your life's biggest achievements but if they're not what the clients are looking for, then leave them out.

      To correct this, emphasize your best skills that are relevant to the job post.

      Say, for data entry, include your typing speed, office applications that you're proficient in, or your past data entry works.

      If you find another job post that requires a Virtual Assistant, you will need to write ANOTHER cover letter tailored to the needs in that post.

      (Yes, this means that you'll be writing multiple cover letters for various job posts).

3. You sound too desperate.

upwork cover letter that sounds desparate

Your cover letter must be strong enough to convince clients that you’re worth their money. NO NEED to beg or plead for a job. Enough said.

4. You don't sound confident.

Confidence shines through anyone who wears it, even if he/she is just sitting quietly in a corner.

The opposite is true, too.

Lack of confidence clouds anyone’s skills, and can easily be detected in cover letters.

When writing a cover letter, be careful with your choice of words. Avoid showing "uncertainty" in your words such as:

“I may be a newbie as a freelancer but …”

(The client doesn't need to know unless he/she asks. Don't highlight this on your own.)

"I have some sort of skills that may also help you sending emails"

("some sort of?"... So, their not REAL skills?)

"I also have some knowledge that may help you...".

("may help ?"... so, you're not sure?)

Trust me, clients can sense self-doubt in cover letters.

If you cannot trust your own skills, how can they trust you to be a part of their business?

If you sound unsure of your skills, how can they believe that you're capable?

You wouldn't pay somebody who has questionable skills, right?

5. You over-promise or exaggerate.

If you think over-promising attracts clients, think again.

Anyone can easily claim that they could do amazing things, and I’m sure clients have seen this a lot.

Most clients have already worked with freelancers who have over-promised but under-delivered, so this doesn't work anymore. 

Instead, illustrate situations in the past where you’ve done awesome work and relate it to the job post.


I worked 5 years in a high-profile (IT/Customer Service/Admin,etc) environment wherein I ________________________________________________________________________________.

(enumerate what you've done that makes you an amazing fit for the tasks enumerated in the job post)

6. You use templates.

If you're too lazy to write a personalized cover letter for every job post you apply to, then you are in the wrong field.

Starting your letters with "Dear Sir/Maam" or worse, "To Whom It may Concern", is a big No-NO!

Not only does it sound unnecessarily formal, but it also shows that you were too lazy to click on the job post to get the client’s first name.​

It's also a lazy freelancer's way of starting generic cover letters that can be copy-pasted to different job posts.

No wonder your proposals are getting filtered out by high-value clients! ​

For Western clients, addressing them by their first names makes your proposals sound friendlier and more personalized. (If their first names aren't visible, a simple Hello would suffice.)

Also, ​make sure that your cover letters are tailored exactly to the skills required in the job post.

​Now that we've looked at some common mistakes in cover letters, let's move on and discuss:

How to write better cover letters

1. Use your first 30 seconds wisely. 

(Highlight your best skills in the first sentence.)

Remember, clients are businessmen. And you know that for businessmen, time means money!

They won’t spend their time reading all 50+ cover letters sent to them, just to hire somebody. They will only skim through applications and choose which one catches their attention.

If they only browse through snippets of cover letters, then make sure that you mention your best skills immediately so that they show up on the preview!

Don’t beat around the bush and mention them in your second paragraph. Give them out straight away!

2. Don’t just tell, illustrate!

"I am very familiar with Excel."

"I have a positive character in duties and tasks. My time management is excellent and I'm organized doing office documents."

"I can guarantee you that I'm the best person for this job given my exceptional skills when it comes to data entry."

Great! Anyone can claim all of those statements.

How should the client believe you?

I have already discussed it under the Over-Promising mistake but I'm highlighting this point here again.

How can we improve the statements above?

Instead of saying that you're very familiar with Excel, SPECIFY the tasks that you can do. Can you create charts, pivot tables, macros, etc?

What makes you excellent in time management? Were you able to finish writing a 2000-word Academic article in 2 hours? Can you transcribe a 1-hour video in 30 minutes? 

What makes you say that you’re organized in office documents? And why should the client believe you? Are you knowledgeable in productivity tools such as Trello, etc etc. Specify your skills!

Why can you guarantee that you're the best person for Data Entry? Have you had 10 years of experience? Can you type 100 wpm accurately?

Remember: It's OK to enumerate your strengths. But it's even BETTER when you can back them up with specific examples from your experience.

Don’t just tell, ILLUSTRATE!

3. Highlight the client’s needs all the time. (It's NEVER about you.)

"This job will help me a lot in my freelancing career. I look forward to working with you.”

"I am more than willing to learn as I am always hungry for new knowledge, as long as it could help me succeed in everything I do."

“I worked in an IT field before but decided to stay at home to be with my kids while working online. I am willing to start immediately. You may contact me if you’re interested.”

Okay, guys. This might sound harsh but here's the truth - clients DON'T care about you. They only care about their business.

Therefore, it's useless to say anything about how the job will benefit you. No one is going to hire you because they want to help you with your career, achieve success, or so that you can stay home with your kids.

​These are completely irrelevant! What do these have to do with the client's business?

While getting hired online will help you reach some personal goals, clients don't really need to know that in your cover letters.

Focus on how they can benefit from hiring you instead. Are you going to save them time? Are you going to bring them more sales? Are you going to make their workload easier?

Keep talking about these benefits and I'm sure clients will find you irresistible.

4. Use power words.

Remember what I said about not sounding confident? And how clients usually just skim through numerous applications?

Using power words not only boosts your confidence in proposals, but also catches the eyes of busy clients.

Practice using these power words in cover letters and you'll see the difference:

5. Keep it brief and concise.

Remember that you are writing a cover letter, not your biography.

Don't scare off clients by sending them a 500-word proposal. A maximum of 200 words, broken into 3-4 short paragraphs would be enough.

​An ideal cover letter contains complete and clear information in short, readable sentences.

It consists of the following:

  • An Introduction
  • 1-2 CAPTIVATING sentences that gives an overview of your skills and experience

  • Your Objective and Skills
  • This may consist 1 or 2 SHORT paragraphs.

    State the reason why you’re interested in the post or why the client should hire you. ILLUSTRATE how the client will benefit from your skills/experiences

    Remember, it’s NOT about you. ALWAYS highlight the clients’ needs here. Get hints from keywords in their job post.

  • Closing
  • A simple sentence of optimism (not needy, nor desperate, nor over-promising anything)


    “Thank you for your time and consideration. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.”

Ultimately, there is only one question that your cover letter must answer:

"Why is it a good business decision to hire YOU, and not the other 50 applicants?"

Put yourself in a client's shoes.

Say, you need to hire somebody to do some tasks for your online business. 

So, you posted a job online and received more than 50 cover letters. All of the applicants are saying that they're hardworking, disciplined, and very interested to do the job.

How will you pick your winning freelancer? What traits or skills stand out for you?

Ask yourself these questions each time you come across a job listing that you're interested in. Make sure that your answers get reflected in your cover letter.

Marketing your skills to clients may seem daunting for some. But to be successful online, you must start thinking of freelancing as a business and submitting cover letters as business proposals.

If you already have marketable skills but are struggling to get hired online, you might need to enhance your sales skills. Check out our How to Become a Successful Freelancer Course and our Road to P100k/mo Freelancer Masterclass which focus on sales techniques for writing effective cover letters.

*Special thanks to Paolo Barazon for providing a lot of the input used in this article

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by Holly Ocaya 
Holly started freelance writing in 2010. As someone who has not graduated from college, she is living proof that you don't need a degree, education, or experience to be a good freelancer. Nowadays, Holly provides support for aspiring freelancers and works on her own writing endeavors.

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17 comments on “Why Clients are Ignoring your Cover Letters (and how to fix them!)”

  1. Yes,Yes, yes!, thank you so much! this is what i am waiting for, very educational, be sure that i will apply every single detail of your advice. Inspired too by the educational background of the author. One day i will become an inspiring writer too. And to sir Jason, as of now i am still taking advantage of your free courses and soon will be enrolling on one of your courses that i will be very interested in.

  2. Wow! This is a very effective tools to be used in applying for a job not just for freelancers but, for everybody who is looking for a job. Sir Jason, Paolo Barazon and Holly Ocaya more power to you guys..sharing your thoughts, insights and inspirations.

  3. I am guilty in using these "weak words" in my cover letters. Now I know better. Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  4. Hi, Holly!

    I like the last part the best.

    Most of the time, it was believed that your degree, education and experience that attracts clients the most. So if your not on that category, you're a total segregated person.

    Very inspiring. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  5. Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it's truly informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels. I'll appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  6. Hello there! This post couldn't be written any better!Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him.Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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