Applying for a tech job online: a playbook on freelance IT job adverts

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In the fast-paced world of technology job adverts, deciphering the essence of a role can feel like untangling a web of jargon and buzzwords!

For IT freelancers in particular, who are typically on the hunt for their next assignment as often as every three months, mastering the skill of dissecting digital talent postings is critical.

Here's your essential playbook on freelance IT job adverts, neatly divided into ten chapters and based on our experience of placing tech workers on niche, temporary assignments, writes Natalie Bowers, founder of boutique staffing agency Bowers Partnership.

 1. Decode tech job adverts saying ‘My Client’

The mysterious, often-repeated "My Client" is a phrase that often sparks confusion among freelancers.

What does it really mean? Contrary to what it implies, "My Client" doesn't necessarily signify an exclusive partnership or a direct relationship with the end-client.

Instead, it's a subtle indicator that the advertiser is an agency, not the ultimate employer or end-user.

Freelancers shouldn't assume exclusivity; it could be akin to a speed-dating scenario, with multiple agencies vying for the same client's attention! As exclusive as it all sounds, there’ll potentially be lots of rivals for you to stand out from. So, keep your options open and your detective hat always-on.

2. Location, Location, Location

When tech job advertisements don't specify the exact location, it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack – or playing "pin the tail on the donkey" blindfolded.

Without clear geographical info (‘This is a role based in our digital lab in Salford, Manchester), it's tough to know how long the commute will be, how to organise travel, or if you can even get there!

Omitting location is an unnecessary headache in the candidate job search that adds to frustration and delay.

All tech job adverts should provide clear and detailed location information so job board users can make informed decisions without unnecessary guesswork. But don’t assume just because location isn’t mentioned, it must be a remote role!

3. Beware the pay range gulf

Sometimes, technology job ads throw around a wide range of pay rates, like saying you could earn anywhere “from £500 to £700 a day.”

It sounds exciting at first, but it's like trying to hit a moving target. You're left wondering where you'll land on that scale. This uncertainty makes a job seem a bit sketchy. You might worry that you'll end up getting paid less than you deserve, especially if they're offering up to £700 but hinting you might only get £500.

When ads don't spell out the pay clearly, it can feel like they're hiding something. It's not fair to freelancers who just want to know what they might be getting into. To deal with these wide pay ranges, you've got to be smart. Don't just take vague promises at face value. Ask questions upfront to make sure you're not going to get shortchanged.

Generally speaking, the heavier your directly relevant experience and the more mature or established your skillset is, the less you should have to fight to get near the £800.

4. Get your bargepole out for age-specific or gender-specific tech job adverts

In today's diverse and inclusive workforce, it's essential for job adverts to adhere to legal requirements. However, it's worth remembering that this hasn't always been the case.

In the past, tech job adverts often included specific requirements related to gender and age.

Thankfully, times have changed, and such practices are no longer acceptable. In fact, it's now unlawful to specify age or gender in job adverts. Agencies and end-clients must prioritise diversity and equality, focusing on skills, qualifications, and experience rather than personal characteristics. If you spot a tech job ad that fails that overdue standard, my advice is to click clear of it!

5. Read between the lines (of experience)

Many technology job adverts are adorned with phrases like "experienced developer" or "seasoned professional."

While these terms may seem innocuous, they often serve as subtle barriers to entry for newcomers.

As a rule of thumb, if you're just starting out and want to get hired quickly, it's wise to steer clear of opportunities that explicitly demand extensive experience via these euphemisms.

6. Show me the money

Tech job adverts aimed at contract and freelance candidates which conveniently leave out the day rate (or hourly rate) can feel like trying to buy a car without knowing the price -- frustrating and downright shady!

As independent professionals, you deserve transparency, not a guessing game.

It’s not just about industry norms; it's about integrity. Adhering to industry codes of conduct and regulatory standards means being upfront about rates. Anything less just won’t do.

7. Sorry tech job board/advertiser, but is IR35 no longer a thing?

Day rate and hourly rate advertisements for techies should specify upfront whether the gig is Inside IR35 or Outside IR35.

If this key piece of information is missing, it probably points to an “Inside IR35” determination.

But to achieve certainty, don't be afraid to quiz your potential agency or client on the subject. It's better to be safe than sorry, and by seeking clarity upfront on IR35 status, freelancers can mitigate risks and ensure they're not caught off guard by unwelcome tax implications down the line. Or just less take-home than you were banking on!

8. Clear communication on working patterns and arrangements

Instead of vague terms like "Hybrid Working Available," tech sector job postings should provide clear specifics, such as “3 days on site, 2 days remote,” for example.

This level of detail on the preferred candidate working practice enables freelancers to assess the practicalities of the role and their ability to meet the requirements.

Freelancers need to know how much time they'll spend commuting versus working remotely.

Detailed information allows them to evaluate factors like travel costs, commute time, and the impact on work-life balance. Adverts for techies should also ideally convey whether there's room for negotiation regarding working patterns. Freelancers may have preferences or personal circumstances that require flexibility.

9. Keep a close eye on the prize to help busy decision-makers

Some freelancers going forward for opportunities don’t like the term ‘application’ as they associate it with permanent roles and full-time positions (or inside IR35 assignments).

But I’m going to use it here. Specifically, treat your 'application' like a finely honed tool! Tailor it precisely to the contours of the job advert. Take the time to analyse the requirements, responsibilities or specifications outlined in the advert, and then showcase how your skills, experiences, and achievements align with each. Avoid the generic approach; instead, personalise your application to demonstrate your genuine interest and suitability for the role.

10. Give your CV lots of love unique to the opportunity

Commercial suppliers like freelancers also don’t always get on with the term ‘CV,’ likening it to something you need to land a 9-to-5.

But don’t disregard a freelance job advert which requests your ‘CV’ (or its longer form - Curriculum Vitae). On the contrary, cross-reference the specifics of the requirement with your actual experience and ensure that your CV reflects it. If you've done ‘x’ in the past, don't assume the reader knows that -- tell them with clarity and prominence on your CV.

Remember, the person viewing your CV for this application is a recruiter and won't be able to make accurate assumptions about your experience, so make it easy for them to shortlist you. Oh, and even if you’re not going forward to become a blogger for Meta or an online wordsmith for Google,  don’t forget to spellcheck your CV!

And finally, four red flags of a real-world tech job advert

I’m not going to name names, but a freelance job advert for a sought-after type of technologist, from a well-known recruitment agency, has just pinged into my inbox!

Here are its four red flags:

1. No mention of IR35 status

The advert fails to provide any indication of whether the role falls inside or outside IR35.

These rules are massively important to freelancers, so if I were a freelance candidate eyeing the opportunity it might make me think that they don’t care for us contractors. Or just aren’t IR35-savvy. Either way, to me, that’s a big fat AVOID.

2. Too wide a rate range

The advert offers a wide rate range of £300 to £450 per day.  This guessing game regarding rate makes the role feel somewhat unreal.

After all, there is likely a budget allocated for the role.

Freelancers may also be wary of being offered the lower end of the range, especially when the advert states rates "up to £450." Without this clarity, freelancers may understandably question the legitimacy of the role and be hesitant to pursue it further.

3. Is this role in Deptford, Dagenham or Dulwich?

While the advert specifies "London" as the location, it doesn’t provide any further specifics, such as the nearest tube, train station or motorway.

Helpful jobs sites contain in their adverts location-related fields which they make the recruiter/agency/end-client fill in, such as “Commutable from…”

4. Woolly skill requirements

The advert uses vague qualifiers like "strong" to describe the level of experience required for certain skills.

Instead of woolly skill requirements or subjective terms, look for adverts which specify the number of years’ experience required for each skill, so you can have clearer understanding of the expectations for the role and more quickly gauge if your application is likely to succeed. Good luck!

Written by

Natalie Bowers

Bowers Partnership

Natalie Bowers is the managing director of Bowers Partnership, a boutique City firm specialising in sourcing talent for investment and wealth management firms and asset owners. She boasts over three decades of experience in recruitment within the world of corporate IT. Natalie has secured contracts for in excess of 1,000 freelance professionals during her career as a recruiter. She is renowned for her industry-specific expertise and is a sought-after commentator for various recruitment publications and specialist technology / contracting platforms.

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