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Skills and experience rejected by an algorithm

Today I’m feeling the crushing weight of rejection. And I’m reasonably confident that the rejection was delivered by an algorithm.

I recently decided that the time was right for me to register for a freelance job website. A colleague had suggested that it would be a good way for me to smooth out the ebbs and flows of consulting.

Although I’ve resisted freelancers’ websites in the past, I decided that this was a good time for me to register. I figure that, while I’m unlikely to pick up the large, complex writing projects I enjoy the most, I might find some small projects to fill my current gap.

I followed my colleague’s advice about which site was most likely to offer interesting work. I read the background, filled out my profile, and selected my skills.

The site forced me to choose from a defined set of skills, and I was a little frustrated to be constrained by someone else’s framework. But, with a skillset of writing, editing, qualitative research, usability testing, academic writing, and technical writing, I decided that I should be able to find some work.

I labelled myself as an expert in my field, included my qualifications, set my hourly rate, added notes about a few previous projects, and submitted my profile.

A few hours later I got this response:

‘As we do with everyone who wished to join [site name], we carefully reviewed your profile to determine whether there is sufficient need for your skills and experience in the marketplace. Unfortunately, at this time there are already many freelancers with a similar skillset to yours and we cannot accept your application. I know this news is likely disappointing to you.’

The letter continued, telling me that I could re-apply in the future, or perhaps build my experience so that I could add more skills.

Now, this site is based in the USA and, unless they have staff working through the night, I think it’s unlikely that they ‘carefully reviewed’ my profile. It seems more likely that the algorithm decided the site had enough writers.

In response, I uploaded some additional examples, re-ordered my skills, and waited to be approved.

This time, the reply was immediate:

‘After carefully reviewing your submission, we have found we cannot accept your registration. Our marketplace does not have opportunities for you based on your combination of skills and experience. As a result, you will not be able to use the marketplace nor submit any proposals.’

I assume that the site must be set up to accept only a limited number of profiles for each skill. So, if the writing bucket is full, and I select writing as my primary skill, I will not be accepted no matter how strong my skills and experience might be. In this marketplace, my skills and experience are not relevant.

I’ve long been wary of freelancers’ websites, mostly because I’m concerned that they drive down prices and devalue consulting by encouraging freelancers to bid against each other. There’s a real temptation to bid low simply to get work, particularly for writers who are new to the site. If other writers are willing to work for just a few dollars per hour, why should I expect to be paid significantly more?

I’m also concerned that freelancers’ sites make it easy for freelancers to falsify their skills and experience, and that poor work is the result. I realise that the sites provide a rating system, but I’m not persuaded that the ratings are a valid measure of quality work. My son’s friend who, at 15, promotes himself as a highly experienced resume writer and graphic designer is a good example of this. It’s easy to ask friends and family to give you good ratings. And I wonder whether many clients are in a good position to judge quality work.

I’ve now added a new concern: I wonder whether freelancers’ websites dismiss excellence and assume that all skills are equal, regardless of experience and education. So on these sites, a writer is a writer is a writer (thanks Gertrude Stein).

And maybe that’s why freelancers’ websites are not the right places for me to look for work. After all, I see myself as a crafter of words, not an algorithm.

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