Get approved on Upwork

How to get approved on Upwork

To begin your Upwork journey, you first need to get your profile approved. Discover how.

There’s probably nothing more frustrating than failing to get your profile approved on Upwork. If you were a baby chicken, that would be the equivalent of getting killed in the egg! Quite a horrifying sight.

I’ve read countless stories of freelancers struggling to get approved for weeks or even months. In some cases, it even took a year or more. You hear that right.

That’s actually what happened to one of my best friends, Albert. About a year ago, I started to hype him up about how Upwork was the place to be, and about how he could make at least $3000/m on the platform.

My personal experience of the platform was pretty much a fact that talked for itself, which led him to give it a shot. He, therefore, decided to create a profile, fill it with all the relevant information, and apply to have it approved.

As you can guess, things didn’t go as expected. His profile got rejected. Over. And over. For months.

Even though we both spent hours trying to figure out what the problem was and how he could get it approved, he finally gave up on the whole thing.

As weeks and months passed, we thought that we could probably give it another shot. And the great news is that we finally got his profile approved 2 weeks ago (in January 2020).

So not all hope is lost, after all.

Here’s a compilation of all the key points that will help you get approved on Upwork. While they won’t get you automatically approved, lacking in any of these areas will however prevent you from getting approved.

Get yourself a professional email

The very first step that you can take to make sure that your profile gets approved is to set up a professional email address.

This may sound a little bit weird and bizarre, but Upwork does take that into consideration at the very moment you sign up on the platform.

Here’s what it looks like when you try to sign up on Upwork.

Now, here’s what it looks like if you try to use a non-professional email address.

Upwork is a huge platform that doesn’t really want to bother itself with details. So it makes sense that it would have an algorithm that checks this kind of stuff.

If you’re not too sure what a professional email address is, it’s basically an email address that looks something like [email protected].

In 2020, there are now many different ways to create your own professional email. Most hosting providers also provide some sort of email service that lets you set up an email address according to your domain name. Just type ‘hosting provider’ on Google and you’ll find them.

Write a powerful job title

On Upwork and in life, it’s never easy to give yourself an etiquette. It feels very restricting. It feels like it doesn’t really encompass who you are *for real*. However, it’s totally necessary for two important reasons:

  1. On one hand, it helps clients understand what you can do for them.
  2. And on the other hand, it helps you structure your whole profile around one key idea.

As you can guess, the more diverse stuff you add to your profile headline, the more confusing it will become. That’s not what you want. And that’s not what Upwork wants.

Mistakes to avoid

There are two recurrent mistakes that I see all the time on freelancer profiles. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t just happen to new profiles or to ‘bad’ freelancers, but really to all and everyone.

Mistake 1 – Adding too many keywords to your Job Title

For instance, you don’t be tempted to add as many skills as possible to rank for Upwork SEO purposes such as this guy:

You may be tempted to add all your core skills to your profile headline. I was found guilty of that as well.

However, it’s really counter-productive. There’s just too much going on and it doesn’t send a clear message. It doesn’t signal that you’re an expert in any of these areas.

Mistake 2 – Being too succinct

While you shouldn’t stuff your Job Title with dozens of keywords, you shouldn’t do the opposite either. Don’t write the ‘infamous’ one-word Job Title that lazy freelancers seem to particularly like.

Here’s an example:

I find one-word Job Titles to be totally counter-productive, mostly because it doesn’t differentiate you from anyone else. It’s like the least common denominator that you can have with all other freelancers.

Remember that Upwork is a very competitive place, and you should also be on the look for new ways to differentiate yourself from others.

The ideal job title pattern

OK, so we’ve just seen the two mistakes to avoid. But about what the *right way* to write a Job Title?

While there’s no single way to write the *best* Job Title on Upwork, there’s however a pattern that I noticed. This pattern has to be adapted to your field of expertise, but it’s always the same.

The pattern looks like this:

  1. The whole sentence should be contained with the Job Title ‘preview’ (something around 3-4 words).
  2. It should include a very compelling adjective that makes sense in your industry.
  3. It should, ideally, be an *active* sentence.

Example 1 – The Award-Winning Copywriter

His Job Title is simple and efficient. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s a Copywriter. He’s got an Award. That’s compelling, even though we have no freaking idea what this Award is about. It could really be something minor, but it captures our attention enough for making us curious.

Example 2 – The Fashion Apparel Design Expert

When you’re looking for a designer on Upwork, pretty much all freelancers have the same Job Title. It always includes “Expert Designer” of some sort. There’s absolutely no way to differentiate one from another, basically.

Now, if you look at this guy’s Job Title, you can see that this guy figured it out. He gave his Job Title more emphasis on his core specialty, ‘Fashion Apparel’, without forgetting the ‘Design Expert’ part.

If I were a client looking for a Fashion Apparel designer, there’s absolutely no way I would miss that guy’s presence on Upwork. He nailed it.

I could give you dozens of other examples, but you’ve probably got the idea by now.

Write a compelling profile overview

As for the profile job title, you don’t want your profile description to be too short or too long. It needs to be long enough to tell your *story*, but short enough to prompt the client to act upon reading it.

In my article about “How to write a successful Upwork profile”, I’ve described a template that, I believe, will make everything a lot easier for you.

As to not waste your time, here’s the template and the steps you should follow:

  • Part 1 – The Hook.
  • Part 2 – The Achievements.
  • Part 3 – The Skills.
  • Part 4 – The Call-to-Action.

Part 1 – The Hook

That sentence (or paragraph) is the most important of your whole profile. It’s what differentiates you from others, and what shows that you are confident in your ability to deliver.

The style really depends on your personal experience and your field of expertise, but it has to show that you know what you’re doing. Here’s an example from our “Award-Winning Copywriter” guy:

Part 2 – The Achievements

That’s where you should talk about the most notable thing you’ve ever done (and that relates to your expertise).

If you’re able to extract a very compelling and powerful story from your past experiences, that will communicate the idea that you’re both experienced and skilled in your field.

Part 3 – The Skills

A common practice that most freelancers do on Upwork is that they write a list of all the skills they master, hoping that the client will read them all one by one and find the one he’s looking for.

This strategy is sometimes counter-productive because most clients are usually not looking for a specific *skill* but for a *service*.

For example, if a client wants you to design his website, he may not be looking for skills such as ‘CSS’, ‘JavaScript’, etc. It’s more likely that he will look for “website design” and related terms.

It’s therefore important to bring the topic of skills in a meaningful way. To do that, you need to give them a context – the service you provide.

Part 4 – The Call-to-Action

That’s the last sentence or paragraph of your profile description. It should be something that prompts clients to reach you.

While everyone has his own style, I recommend the Call-to-Action to match with the kind of services you are providing.

The Call-to-Action can be adapted to your field of expertise, and each field really has its own way of saying things:

  • Graphic Designer: Contact me now to get a beautiful Ebook cover.
  • Facebook Ads: Contact me now to sell like crazy on Facebook.
  • Business Consultant: Contact me now to get a solid 3-years Business Plan.

You get the idea.

In some cases, you can even include additional perks such as a *free consultation call*. However, my tip for you on Upwork is to never, ever work for free.

Make your profile transparent

As you’re creating your profile, you’ll see that you have the ability to change various characteristics in your profile settings, such as:

  • Profile visibility
  • Search engine privacy
  • Project preference
  • Earnings privacy

It looks like this:

I’m not sure whether it has an incidence on your ability to get your profile approved, but I highly recommend complete and total transparency when it comes to freelancing (and particularly on Upwork).

Concretely speaking, it means that:

  1. Your profile should be set to ‘Public’.
  2. You should show your full name.
  3. Be available for both short-term and long-term projects.
  4. Make your earnings public.

I always found it super weird to see freelancer profiles that had their earnings hidden. It really made them look like they had something to hide (which they probably do), and as if they tried to trick clients into paying more than necessary.

Specify your expertise

I’ve always found that the very notion of ‘experience level’ was highly subjective. Some people may consider themselves ‘experts’ when more experienced people in the same field would consider them ‘beginners’.

According to the Dunning-Kruger effect, most humans have a tendency to overestimate their personal abilities and knowledge of most things in life. It comes from the fact that they do not possess ‘self-awareness’ of their lack of expertise. Basically, they don’t know that they don’t know.

However, in our case on Upwork, it’s actually a *good* thing. It’s always better to overestimate yourself a little bit, mostly because Upwork is highly competitive and you can be sure that almost everyone else is saying that they’re experts.

So, I would recommend to put yourself at least one category ahead of your actual level. For example, if you feel that you have an intermediate level, say that you’re an expert. If you feel that you’re more of an entry level, say that you’re intermediate.

Say that you’re ‘entry level’ if you’re a real noob. Someone who barely knows anything in his field of expertise (which by the way should be concerning).

Pick the right profile categories

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you know that I’ve talked quite a few times about the concept of the little ‘box’ or ‘etiquette’ that you have to assign yourself as you’re working on Upwork.

The whole idea is not very pleasant. After all, you’re restricting your entire existing to a specific category. Nobody likes to be reduced to a single word. But in our case, it’s actually very useful and necessary.

Indeed, Upwork really *dislikes* freelancers who don’t know who they are and what they can do for clients. For Upwork, a freelancer who’s confused about his core competencies can be seen as a source of trouble.

Since Upwork mostly uses algorithms and automated processes, it’s obvious that it will check at your profile category and subcategories to see if they make sense with all the other stuff in your profile.

That’s why you should be extra careful with the categories you decide to put yourself in, and really remain consistent across the board.

Select the right skills

The whole freelancing world is deeply associated with the concept of ‘skills’. I’ve talked about it in other articles, and I do believe that skills are absolutely necessary to the gig economy.

They’re really what makes it possible for both clients and freelancers to work together. It’s the common interface that lets clients express what they’re looking for, and freelancers express what they can do for clients.

The more diverse skills you claim the possess, the harder it will become for you to communicate meaningfully with clients. They won’t understand who you are and what you can do for them.

And for that matter, your ‘skill set’ (the collection of all your skills) is even more important than any individual skill. It’s what makes your profile looks coherent.

Upwork really does care about coherence, and that’s why you should be extra careful with the skills you pick on Upwork. Focus on your core service or competency, rather than generalistic skills.

For example, let’s say that you’re a copywriter.

You may be tempted to add broad ‘copywriting’ skills to your profile such as ‘content writing’, ‘article writing’, ‘transcriptions’, etc. However, that doesn’t tell us anything about your core offer. It just tells us that you’re a copywriter.

If your core competency lies in writing killer emails, then you should only add skills to that effect. If it’s to write articles, then you should focus on that solely.

You get the idea. Being specific is better than being broad.

Employment history

While your employment history shouldn’t matter too much on Upwork (it’s a freelancing platform after all), it’s still an administrative necessity to fill this section of your profile.

On Upwork, there are really two kinds of people when it comes to employment history:

  1. The ones that actually have some sort of employment history.
  2. The ones that are still students or who signed up on freelancing platforms straight after college.

You have an employment history

If you’re in the first category, then you should only add items that match tightly with your overall profile. It’s tempting to add basically everything you’ve ever done as an employee, but it may be totally irrelevant to your Upwork profile.

Another way to go is to ‘refactor’ a little bit your past experiences to make them fit with your current profile.

You have no employment history

You should not leave the section empty, which means that you’ll have to fill it one way or another.

Freelancers in this situation usually add themselves as their own employment history or some variation of the self-employed freelancer.

Education

Education can be a great way to display the core skills and knowledge that you’ve acquired in the past. It’s especially true for people who attended highly selective places such as Ivy League colleges.

If your field of expertise is very technical and requires some sort of college education (that you do possess), it’s even better.

As for the past employment history, there are once again two kinds of people when it comes to education:

  • The ones that went to college or related.
  • The ones that didn’t.

You attended college

Add it to your education section, and make sure to write a compelling description that somewhat relates to your current freelancer profile.

For example, if you graduated from New York University in English Literature and that you work as a copywriter on Upwork, there are certainly some ways to relate the two.

You didn’t attend college

That one is trickier because there’s not much to show.

However, we live in an age where it’s possible to take online courses and certifications from basically any renowned university in the world. That means that if you take of these certifications, you’ll be able to add it to your credentials.

You can for example check platforms such as edx.com and coursera.org.

Your other experiences (almost) matter

Upwork lets you add whatever ‘other experiences’ you may have. Once again, it doesn’t seem like a big deal but the Upwork algorithm cares about it.

It can also be a good way to differentiate yourself from everyone else if you have some particularly outstanding story to tell.

As you can see, you can write whatever subject and description. That can be a place where your creativity shines.

Structure your portfolio

Your portfolio is not only important to get good gigs. It’s also a necessity to have your profile approved on Upwork.

If you have nothing to show, Upwork will find it suspicious (which it’s) and its algorithm may think that you’re lying somewhere down the line.

That’s why you should always include portfolio items. These items should be related to your core offer and demonstrate that you know what you are doing.

Upwork has a portfolio tool that lets you build your own portfolio based on one of its three templates:

  • Gallery
  • Case Study
  • Classic

It’s up to you to decide which template is the best for your own purposes. However, I recommend you to use either the ‘Gallery’ or ‘Case Study’ template.

The best portfolio items are always the ones that are narrated like a story.

Take the right certifications

While they may not seem like a big deal, Upwork takes certifications seriously. That’s one of the key conditions to get your profile accepted, in my opinion.

While they were not necessary a couple of years ago, they’ve become omnipresent, and especially in order to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Most fields have these certifications nowadays. For example, if you’re a Graphic Designer, you should take the Adobe certifications. If you’re a copywriter, the Cambridge certifications.

It usually takes some time to prepare and pass them, but it’s totally worth the effort.

Link your account

Upwork has a feature that lets you connect your account to other ‘social’ accounts. Make sure to connect at least one of them (usually Twitter).

Create specialized profiles

A new feature that appeared in 2019 (and therefore very important in 2020) is the ‘Specialized profiles’.

In your profile interface, you have the ability to create each of these specialized profiles (max. 2) so that they display their own profile overview, headline, skills, portfolio items, job history, etc.

Since it’s a new feature, Upwork probably cares a lot about them. They’re also a good way to differentiate old and new profiles.

In any case, take the time to create two specialized profiles.

Conclusion

Where the reasons as to why certain profiles get rejected on Upwork are not publicly available, you can at least make sure that all the *basics* are properly completed.

We’ve seen the best practices associated with all these items:

  1. Using a professional email
  2. Writing a proper profile headline
  3. Writing a compelling profile overview
  4. Setting the right profile privacy options
  5. Selecting the right experience level
  6. Picking the right categories
  7. Structuring your employment history
  8. Adding your education history
  9. Adding other experiences

Even though we can agree that all of this is a little bit *too much*, keep in mind that you’re not the only one to struggle. Almost all other freelancers who try to onboard on Upwork have the same difficulties to get their profile approved.

So, at the end of the day, if you follow the tips I gave above, you will eventually get your profile approved.

Remember that the key is coherence and consistency.