What does shortlist mean on Upwork: Advice from a $600k freelancer


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As a freelancer who has earned over $600,000 on Upwork, I’ve always said that the key to finding success on the platform, is putting yourself in your clients’ shoes.

This is why, in addition to freelancing on the platform, I also occasionally use the Upwork platform to hire.

Read Also: Can you make good money on Upwork? How I made $600,000 in 5 years

And I can confidently say that stepping into the client role has provided many invaluable insights into the Upwork hiring process over the years.

But perhaps my most interesting finding has been gaining a better insight into how clients sort, vet, and shortlist proposals and freelance candidates.

Read Also: How to hire on Upwork: Step-by-step guide to hiring freelancers

a screenshot of the proposals screen
A screenshot of the Upwork Proposal Review tab.

How do clients see proposals on Upwork?

When freelancers submit bids for jobs on the Upwork platform – both via invite and via the Jobs Feed marketplace – their proposals land in the Proposal Review tab of the active job post.

The list somewhat resembles that of an e-mail inbox only with a snapshot of information about the freelance candidate including the freelancer’s:

  • Name
  • Location
  • Title
  • Hourly rate
  • Total earnings
  • Job Success Score
  • Top Rated designation
  • Skills
  • Upwork profile link

The preview will also contain the first line of the freelancer’s cover letter (also referred to as a proposal).

There are a variety of factors that affect the order in which these proposals appear in the client’s inbox including:

  • Whether or not the proposal was boosted
  • What time the proposal was received
  • Whether or not the Upwork algorithm deems a specific freelancer to be a “Best Match”

I am often asked whether or not it’s worth it to boost proposals to get that coveted top spot in a client’s inbox.

At the time of this writing, Upwork has yet to provide any publicly available stats on the subject. But speaking from personal experience, while it may impact the order in which I review proposals, it has never impacted my hiring decisions. I don’t care about whether or not someone submits a boosted proposal. I care about their subject matter expertise and whether or not they can do the job.

This is what it looks like when the client opens a new proposal. The expanded proposal screen also features the freelancer’s proposed bid, whether it be fixed price or hourly, and a list of milestones when applicable.

What does it mean to shortlist applicants?

When a job is highly niche, a client may receive only a handful of proposals.

But more often than not, for jobs in popular fields like app development, web design, tech, graphic design and writing, a client might receive dozens of proposals at a time.

This is when sorting and shortlisting comes into play.

Shortlisting is the act of narrowing down a long list of potential candidates to only those best suited for the job.

There are two ways to do this on Upwork:

  1. By clicking on the Thumbs Up icon on the Proposal Review tab.
  2. By clicking on the Shortlist button while reviewing an individual proposal.
a screenshot of the shortlist on upwork
Shorlisted freelancers are moved to a special Shortlisted tab

What happens after shortlisting?

Shortlisted candidates are moved to a special “Shortlisted” tab under Proposal Reviews.

Can clients delete proposals on Upwork?

No, clients cannot delete proposals on Upwork. However, they can archive proposals.

Archiving happens when the client clicks the Thumbs Down button. Those proposals are then moved to the “Archived” section of the Proposal Review tab.

If a client accidentally archives a proposal, they can simply undo the Thumbs Down and recategorize as needed.

What are clients looking for when it comes to proposals on Upwork?

If you’re wondering what factors contribute to candidates being shortlisted or archived – I can provide a bit of insight there too.

Upwork clients are looking for high-quality talent and professionals that they know can get the job done.

One of the best ways to stand out in the crowd is to write custom personalized cover letters. Cover letters should mention specific aspects of the job description and address any questions or concerns the client might have.

You would be shocked to see how many freelancers aren’t even reading job posts on Upwork and relying on an impersonal copy-and-paste template. I know I was.

Clients are also looking for contractors who deliver high-quality work. Winning cover letters put a client’s mind at ease by letting the reader know the applicant has their back.

And of course, cover letters should also be free of obvious typos and grammatical errors.

Finally, Upwork clients are looking for candidates with a strong work history.

Obviously, an established freelancer who has plenty of 5-star reviews on their profile will have an easier time winning jobs on the platform versus a brand-new Upwork freelancer. However, new Upworkers can naturally improve their odds by sourcing off-site testimonials and creating a robust portfolio ripe with work samples and case studies.

Read Also: How to find your first job on Upwork: Advice from a $600k freelancer

An impressive resume can go a long way even when you’re new to the platform.

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