How to Know You Need a Bigger Shovel

Spotting the Bad Job Listings

Sometimes, they just make it easy for you. There’s the ad that offers you a whopping $4 an article or the one that will pay you $200 to edit a 50,000-word book. But sometimes the lousy job listings aren’t so easy to spot. Unless, that is, you speak bullsh$t and can see them a mile away. If you can’t, consider yourself lucky. You haven’t been burned yet (or often enough). For those of us who have lived and learned, we can tell you what to look for.

“Students encouraged to apply.” Nothing says “This is a crap job paying dirt wages” more than one that solicits to the college (or even high school) student. For who might be hungry enough/gullible enough to be underpaid than a student with mounting student loans? Any job that uses the word “student” in the same breath as “job” is a low-paying job that even self-respecting students should avoid. You’re worth more than that, even if they seem to think you’re not.

“It’s an easy job for the right person.” Translation: “We’re paying you for one hour of work at McDonald’s wages, so you’d better be quick, thorough and quit yer bitchin’.” This phrase is most often seen in an ad with long lists of requirements.

A long list of requirements you must meet. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – the longer the list of requirements, the lower the pay. This is one of those phenomena that makes no sense – much like the black holes in space or the lack of gravitational pull on Pamela Anderson’s upper torso. If they want a college degree and ten years of experience and even expertise in the subject matter, you’re getting about 20 bucks an article.

“Work from home.”Yea, this is just as bad as “students are encouraged to apply.” For it’s stating a benefit in return for grunt work. You get to stay at home! You don’t have to leave the house! Aren’t you grateful enough without pay?? No? That’s because you’re normal.

“Pay is a percentage of ad revenue.” Let’s see…1 percent of nothing is….hmmm…not such a good deal after all, eh? I’ve had ad revenue on this site and others for a year or more. My profit grand total to date? 56 cents. So if you were working for ad revenue and the site does about as much business as mine, you’re getting a whopping .005 cents per year. Aren’t you glad you agreed to that?

“At the moment, we aren’t able to pay…” That’s funny… at the moment I’m not able to work for free. NEXT!

“I don’t have much to spend.” And what do you expect to get? While your honesty is appreciated, it’s no incentive for me to ignore higher-paying clients just because hey, you need help. I need help building bookshelves in my study, but somehow I don’t think you’d be up to helping if I were giving you just 20 bucks for the job. Am I right?

“We need a number of freelance writers.” Know what that means? Their writing budget is now stretched a number of times over. You’re not going to get a fair wage from someone looking for multiple numbers of writers.

“Startup” That’s the only word you need to send this flag flying. Having been involved in a number of startups that rarely launched completely, I can attest to the most common problems associated with them. Most often, it’s lack of clear organization, lack of steady work, lack of ongoing work and the folding of the startup – hopefully after you get paid.

“You must be available during the hours of 9 am to 5 pm by email, phone and IM.” This is not a sign of a low-paying job, but it’s a crap job nonetheless. Why? Because here’s a client who wants to treat you like a salaried employee, and wants to dictate the hours you must be available. That, my friends, is not a client. That’s a tyrant who doesn’t understand the definition of “freelance” versus “employee.” Educate them, but don’t work for them.

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  • Lillie Ammann November 1, 2007 at 4:07 am

    My clients generally find me, so I don’t apply for writing gigs. However, what you said sounds so true, and not just for freelance writing. When I owned an interior landscape company, I learned that the client who demanded the most wanted to pay the least. And the bigger and more well-known the business, the slower the pay.

  • Amy Derby November 2, 2007 at 7:04 am

    My favorites are the ones that list “exposure” in the payment line. You know, because the recent E. coli threat isn’t enough.

  • Amy Derby November 3, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Lori,

    I’m tagging you for: If you had an extra hour each day, what would you write?