How is a freelance job interview different from a regular job interview? Since neither side is committing to a long-term relationship, both bring different expectations to the table. That kind of freedom comes with plenty of benefits for workers and employers alike, but it also changes the hiring process a bit, including which interview questions you can expect to hear from a hiring manager.
What Your Client Wants to Know
When interviewing freelancers, clients don't need to worry about how you'll fit into the corporate culture or where you want to be in five years. Depending on the gig, it might not even matter whether you're a morning person or a night person or what your typical work week looks like.
Instead, expect questions geared toward results. That's because, even more than regular employees, contract workers are there to solve a specific problem. The person who hires you will have to demonstrate that you're doing that, probably on a much shorter timeline than with a full-time worker. Even though you're cheaper and less risky than an employee who gets benefits, you're also easier to evaluate because your goals are specific and limited. Furthermore, since the usual termination process doesn't apply, it's also easier for the client to fire you.
However, just as with a normal job interview, your best bet is to focus your preparations on the interview questions you're likely to get. For freelancers, this means demonstrating that you're worth the money and that you can get things done.
These are some of the questions you might be asked during the interview process:
1. Can you show me samples of similar work?
Tips for answering: When you're a freelancer, your work is your primary reference. It's important to have a portfolio of samples to show prospective clients. In the olden days, this meant a physical folder full of your best work. Now, digital portfolios make it easy to email links to prospective clients or show off your work in an interview.
Regardless of the format, you'll want to be able to display some samples and demonstrate how you delivered on the client's vision in each case. Explain what the client was looking for, what your creative process looked like, and how you ultimately arrived at the finished product. And try to choose samples that are similar to what they're looking to hire you to do.
You'll get bonus points if you can attach a dollar sign to that demonstration by explaining how you made or saved money
2. What's your work process like?
Tips for answering: With this question, the interviewer is trying to get an idea of what it will be like to work with you. Are you going to be open to feedback on your work? How much will you allow for revisions? Will you work collaboratively or mostly on your own? All of these questions are hidden behind the main one.
Ultimately, your prospective client wants to feel assured that you'll receive constructive criticism and participate in a review process. So, make sure to mention that you're flexible, collaborative, and open to ideas. Perhaps share some examples of what your process has looked like with other clients.
3. Tell me about a time you had trouble making a deadline.
Tips for answering: The truth is that everyone, from schoolchildren to executives, hates group projects. Still, as long as individual contributors are valuable, and until we can figure out some better way to synthesize independent thought into a large-scale result, we're probably stuck with them. That means that we're all dependent on one another to hit deadlines and keep projects moving.
When you answer, remember that the interviewer has reason to be even more anxious about a freelancer hitting deadlines, because you're not as readily available as an employee if you drop the ball. Your goal here is to provide concrete examples of your dedication to getting things done, no matter how difficult. Be as specific as possible.
4. How much do you charge?
Tips for answering: This is a case where you want to let them do the talking first. Go in with a general idea of your freelance rates, but don't commit to a price right off the bat. You won't know how much to charge—or even whether to bill hourly or by the project—until you have a lot more information about the work required.
Don't be fooled into naming a number at the beginning, only to find out later that the client expects three meetings a week and doesn't want to pay for them. Or that every stage of the project involves three signoffs and two of those belong to other remote workers who are rarely available. Get all the specifics before you commit to a price—and then get it in writing in the form of a contract or statement of work.
If you do bill the client on a project basis instead of per-hour, be sure your contract is very clear about any specific deliverables and deadlines they are paying for. This allows you to bill for other deliverables separately if the client requests them.
5. What's your availability?
Tips for answering: One of the distinctions between an employee and a contractor, according to the IRS, is that businesses can't specify the hours of work for a contractor. Setting deadlines is acceptable (e.g., "project will be completed by EOD on Nov. 1") but not blocking off hours of your time on an ongoing basis (e.g., "Freelancer will be available eight hours a day, five days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until ABC Company says otherwise").
Still, things need to get done when they need to get done. This is your opportunity to express enthusiasm, reassure the client about your commitment and timeliness while setting some boundaries. Many clients give the impression of wanting the commitment of a full-time employee from their contractors, without extending the same in the form of job security. This doesn't mean they're trying to cheat you; it may just be that they're used to that model from working with regular employees.
You can convey your passion and reliability without promising to be available for 10 p.m. emergencies or every regular morning meeting. Most professional freelancers find it impractical to sleep in every morning anyway, so you can likely tell them you're usually available during normal working hours, and that you have a policy of responding to client emails within X time period (24 hours or less). If they do want you at certain meetings, make sure that's included in your contract. You're under no obligation to promise them full-time availability for part-time work.
Prepare to Ace the Interview
If you're ready to answer these questions, you're well on your way to a strong freelance interview. Before you head out the door or get on the phone for your interview, review these tips for how to ace an interview for a freelance job.