How To Get Your First Job on Upwork

4 tips to save you time and make you money

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

The gig economy is here to stay. 57 million people in the US alone do freelance work, and it is expected that, by 2027, the number will rise to 86 million.

The pandemic has impacted this trend as well. Many people lost their jobs and we were all forced to stay at home for more time than usual. More time at home means more opportunities to make money online. The problem is: we are all thinking the same.

Freelance work platforms saw a sharp increase in their number of users, making it harder than before to secure a gig. But there are still ways to turn the odds in your favor. Let’s take the example of Upwork.

I created my account on Upwork in 2016. I applied to a few jobs, never got any of them. A few months later, I tried again. The following year, the same happened. I guess I was the personification of insanity:

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” — Albert Einstein

But it all changed in the past month. I got serious about it and started applying some strategies. These resulted in a lot more replies to my applications, and 2 jobs earned.

These are the techniques I used to become successful on Upwork.

1. Have a Relevant Portfolio to Show

If you want to work in translation, have a handful of translations ready to show. If you want to get some data entry jobs, show proof of all the occasions where you’ve done it already. If you want to get writing jobs, show your best writing examples!

It sounds basic, but it’s not so simple. For example, throughout my career, I have done a bit of everything in communications. I wrote articles, I translated them, I edited videos, I created and maintained a newsletter… the list goes on. But someone who would potentially hire me to write an article, couldn’t be less interested in my video editing skills, right?

It all changed for me when I stated on my Upwork profile that I have 1K followers on Medium, and directed every potential hirer to my Medium profile. There, they could see my portfolio. They could see exactly what I could deliver to them.

Focus on one skill, and bet strongly on it. Spend time creating a portfolio if you still don’t have one. Creating a website to display your work is also a good idea.

Don’t tell the hirers you are their best choice. Show them.

2. Apply to jobs posted in the last hour

When someone posts a job on Upwork, they immediately receive a bunch of applications. I know, once I posted a job too, and I stopped looking at the emails I received after a couple of hours.

Don’t waste your time scrolling down the feed and applying to gigs that were posted last week, or even three days ago. I would even recommend not applying to anything posted longer than 2 hours ago.

Sure, you can still get one of those jobs, but why would you bet on something that has a much smaller chance to turn into a win?

Those jobs are still there because the hirer is negotiating the last details with the already shortlisted candidates. But it doesn’t mean the job is really still open.

Choose your battles wisely.

3. Bid With a Lower Amount

If the job is advertised with $50, bid with $40. If it has a $10 value, offer $8. Always go lower the first few times you apply to jobs on the platform.

I know that many of the jobs advertised there already have very low payments. But look at this as a stepping stone. It’s a little investment, in the form of time and effort.

In your application, mention all the relevant experience you have in that field. Then, highlight that you are just starting out on Upwork and that is why you are willing to make use of your valuable skills for less money. Many people are happy to save a few bucks, especially if they are still getting a high-quality result in the end.

This will increase your odds of getting picked and allow you to start building a portfolio and reputation on the platform. Do this for a while and, soon enough, you will be bidding above the offered price.

4. Do a Bit of the Work Upfront

I have applied this rule a few times without success. But I still believe it has a high potential to turn the odds in your favor. Besides trying it myself, I also read about other freelancers who do the same, as Toni Koraza mentions in this post.

Some of the job posts on Upwork attach the files you will need to work with. If they do, take advantage of it, and invest a bit of your time doing a part of the required work.

For example, if it’s a translation job with 10 pages, translate half a page and send it over with your application. Your portfolio shows what you can do in general, this approach shows the hirer what you can do for them.


These are the tips I wish I knew when I started applying to jobs randomly on the platform, hoping to get noticed and constantly failing.

I learned them through trial and error. But learning this way takes time. The exact same time that you can use for something better, like making money. So, if you are just starting out on Upwork, don’t forget:

  1. Have a relevant portfolio to show
  2. Apply to jobs posted in the last hour
  3. Bid with a lower amount
  4. Do a bit of the work upfront

Happy freelancing!

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