Establishing an active Upwork account is a truly empowering career move. It gives you the freedom to find and apply to a wide range of freelance gigs, whenever you want or need to.
However, your Upwork profile has to go through an approval process before you can dig into the available work, and some people have issues getting their Upwork profile approved. In this article, we provide some solid strategies to give you the best chance of being approved on Upwork.
The advice below is equally relevant to you if you’re applying to Upwork for the first time, or if you’re struggling to get your profile accepted.
If you’re new to freelance work, or to Upwork itself, take a look at our full Upwork review. In short, it’s an enormous global freelance platform, with a steady stream of thousands of new gigs and opportunities.
Background: Why Does Upwork Reject People?
I decided to write this article because I often hear from people who’ve received the dreaded “Upwork profile not approved” message.
I must make clear is that it’s really important not to take this “rejection” personally. It’s more than likely that the profile rejection decision was made by an algorithm and not a human.
While some of the people who receive the “Upwork profile not approved” message are entry-level freelancers without much experience, I do hear from plenty with an extensive working background. And I mean people with decades of work experience and solid portfolio pieces to show off.
There’s a simple reason for this:
Upwork Can Get Oversubscribed
The freelance market is one of supply and demand. There’s huge demand for freelancers, and plenty of work out there. But there are also a LOT of aspiring freelancers.
Sometimes the balance goes out of whack. The last year or so, for obvious reasons, has been particular crazy. Many people have lost jobs and started to investigate freelancing as an option. This results in a sudden rush of people creating a new Upwork profile.
When Upwork has a glut of new applications, it’s understandable that they don’t accept everybody. It’s not that they “close the doors” and start sending out “profile not approved” messages to every applicant. But their systems may know that they have, for example, more than enough generalist writers or data-entry freelancers on the books.
This is why perfectly credible freelancers get turned down. So don’t take it to heart.
What to Do if You are Turned Down for Upwork
You broadly have two options:
- Move on and try a different freelance job board instead. (I have an article listing several options).
- Refine your profile and keep trying to get accepted.
The key thing to remember is that all is not lost. The tactics below for getting approved on Upwork will give you the best chance of success. If you continue to get turned down, it may simply be that Upwork is oversubscribed for your type of work. It probably won’t be the case forever, and there’s nothing to stop you kicking off your freelance career on another online platform.
For what it’s worth, I would encourage you to keep trying with Upwork until you’re certain you’ve followed ALL of the advice below. While Upwork isn’t the only freelance job board out there, it the biggest by most metrics.
An approved Upwork account is a valuable asset. Once you’re established, you always have somewhere to look for new assignments. As somebody who’s earned tens of thousands of Dollars on the platform, I can assure you it’s a worthwhile time investment.
A Few Quick Warnings: What NOT to Do When Applying for Upwork
Just before we move on, there are a few important warnings I want to put out there.
Paying for Upwork Profiles
First, and most crucial, is not to be tempted by services that promise to get your profile approved for a fee. For a start, this is cheating, and that’s a seriously rocky foundation to build a career on.
It’s also unlikely to serve you well in the long term. All these people tend to do is select skills that they know are in huge demand, such as knowledge of specific programming languages. You might get away with it for a while, but you also run the risk of being banned from Upwork.
Similarly, don’t try to buy an active Upwork account. The company does ID verification and you’ll almost certainly get caught out.
On the same theme, don’t try to “trick the system” into thinking you live in a different country because you’re convinced that will make a difference. Upwork is a global platform with freelancers spread across the world.
The system is concerned with what you do, not where you are. With the exception of a handful of countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, Upwork is legitimately available to you. Trying to be clever by using a VPN or similar technology is more likely to get you banned than get you work.
Finally, be a little wary of advice in other how to get approved on Upwork articles. This one was written in early 2021, and while I was doing my research I found a lot of outdated advice. For example, Upwork no longer has skills tests, nor suggests a recommended hourly rate for your profile.
Make sure you’re following up-to-date advice, such as the advice here!
How to Get Approved on Upwork: The Key Steps
1. Take your Time Over your Profile
As I say to students on my Freelance Kickstarter course, applying to Upwork is something you should be spending hours on, not minutes.
Upwork makes clear right at the start of the application that there are many people trying to sign up, and emphasises that a “stand-out profile” will help you qualify.
As such, don’t “phone it in” and treat creating your profile as a box ticking exercise. Think of it as an application for your dream job, not merely a hurdle you have to jump to gain access to paying work.
2. Use a Professional Email Address
One of the first things you have to do when you sign up to Upwork is provide an email address. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that they specify a WORK email address.
Upwork’s not entirely clear about what this means, but a reasonable assumption is that they’re discouraging you from using a free web-based account like a Gmail or Hotmail address. In fact, if you try to use one of those, the system asks if you’re sure.
A “work email address” definitely means that you should avoid using something unprofessional like firstname.lastname@example.org!
As I discuss in more detail below, the Upwork profile approval process likely involves both automated and human systems. In both cases, silly though it may seem, it could be the use of a “non work” address that makes the difference between a profile being accepted or rejected.
So what should you do about this? You have a few options, but I’d suggest buying a domain of your own, paying for some cheap web hosting, and setting yourself up a “real’ email account. You could use the same hosting account to set up a website for your freelance business – now or in the future.
3. Use Genuine Details
This may seem an obvious thing, but on more than one occasion people have asked me about doing their freelance work under a pseudonym.
One circumstance where I can understand this is when people have a full-time job and are doing some “moonlighting” – either to earn some extra cash or as a first step towards switching to freelancing.
Unfortunately, Upwork isn’t really a platform where this is feasible. You have to prove your identity, and also need names to match on your financial accounts when it comes to getting paid.
While I sympathise with those in the situation referenced above, the policy is understandable. When you’re freelancing, you’re doing real work for real companies and clients. They need to know who they’re dealing with.
4. Emphasise your Specialist Skills and Knowledge
A short while ago, we did a fun podcast on why everybody seems to want to be a writer.
One surefire way to get the “Upwork profile not approved” message is to fill out a profile saying you want writing work, with no further detail on what you know about and what kind of writing work you do.
This is just one example. Generic data entry is another.
My point is that you really need to stand out. There are already over ten MILLION freelancers on Upwork. Identifying as a generic writer or data-entry drone is not the way to make your profile shine!
So what CAN you do? Let’s stick with writing as the example:
Perhaps you can write grant proposals. That’s much more specialised. So is writing about tech or cybersecurity. Perhaps you’re an expert on environmental topics, car mechanics or fitness. Maybe you have some specific qualifications – not in writing, but in a subject you could write about.
This is the way to think about this. Everybody knows about something. You need to think beyond the fact you’re merely looking to pick up some work. What can you do? What do you want to do?
5. Select as Many Skills and Categories as Possible
It’s reasonable to assume that most Upwork applications go through an automated approval system.
As such, you want to try to ensure that you have as many chances as possible to match up to skills and categories there’s demand for.
So don’t just select a couple of skills and work categories for the sake of moving onto the next step. Select as many as the system lets you.
I’m not saying to lie – definitely don’t do that! What I mean is ensuring you cover all of the things you can do. This probably does mean selecting a bunch of different “types” of research, writing or programming.
It doesn’t matter if you’re choosing things you actually want to work on, or if you have any intention of applying for freelance gigs in those areas. If you have the skills, make it apparent.
Somewhat counterintuitively, it may be that you want to get into Upwork to do writing work, but that it’s your book-keeping skills that get your profile accepted. So long as you’re telling the truth, this doesn’t matter.
6. Select the Right Experience Level
As part of the Upwork application process, you have to choose your level of experience, from options of “Entry Level,” “Intermediate” and “Expert.”
Obviously honesty is important here. But unless you’re genuinely brand new to a type of work, I’d recommend choosing “Intermediate” or “Expert.”
Your experience doesn’t have to have been gained through freelancing. Even if you’ve never done a freelance gig in your life, you’re still an expert if you’ve worked in a field for a long time.
7. Be Careful Choosing your Rate
Upwork also asks to to select a desired rate as part of the profile creation process.
Upwork used to suggest a rate based on your selected skills. It doesn’t any more, so it’s down to you. Some general advice:
- Don’t be shy: Choose the kind of rate you need to support your lifestyle.
- Remember the fees: You can read about Upwork fees here. The platform takes a cut of your earnings, so ensure you’re happy with what you’ll be left with.
- Don’t join a race to the bottom: You don’t get a prize for setting the lowest hourly rate on Upwork, you just don’t earn very much.
- Pitch realistically for your experience level: If you’re honest with yourself and research the market, you should know where on the scale you sit – be realistic, not over-generous or grasping.
Remember you can always change your headline rate at any time, so don’t fixate on this step and waste too much time on it.
8. Fill Out Every Possible Detail
You never know which piece of information you provide to Upwork could sway the automated system, or a human reviewing your application.
With this in mind, don’t miss an opportunity to include something if the option is there. Fill out every possible field. Don’t ramble, but don’t leave things out either in your hurry to get the application finished.
9. List ALL of your Education Credentials
Just like when you’re creating a resumé, knowing what educational details to include can create a dilemma.
On Upwork, there’s really no reason not to include everything – not just college degrees and other academic qualifications. In fact, vocational stuff can be equally – if not more – important.
10. Think very Carefully About your Title and Overview
The hardest part of completing your Upwork profile is the title and overview. Not only is this what Upwork will see when you sign up, it’s also what clients will see first when you apply to gigs on the platform.
Take your time, seek out examples of successful freelance profiles, and ensure that what you write gives a precise and scannable summary of who you are and what you do.
As I said in the very first step, signing up to Upwork is something you should spend hours on, so don’t rush this.
11. Show Examples of your Work
Just like your title and overview, your work examples are important both when signing up and when applying for work.
If you’re already experienced, this is a case of picking out your best examples of work. Once again, take your time – don’t just throw in a couple of links so you can move on to the next thing. This is about putting your best foot forward.
If you’re completely new to the game, you could face a different issue: having examples to actually include. Don’t worry, all is not lost. There are plenty of ways to bulk up a portfolio with your own projects and voluntary gigs. Check out our article on building a portfolio with no experience.
12. Consider Learning New Skills
It’s undeniable that you’ll find it easier to be accepted for Upwork, and to find work, if you have in-demand skills and relevant experience.
If you’re truly stuck on what you can do, you can mope around feeling lost or you can do something about it. With eLearning sites offering thousands of courses, there’s nothing to stop you starting to learn about anything from Python programming to Facebook marketing RIGHT NOW.
Upwork, and plenty of other freelancing sites, often release lists of the skills that are most in demand on their platforms. If you’re not sure what to focus on why not look there? We have our own list of in-demand skills for you too.
13. Edit and Proofread
This should be so obvious, but PLEASE read and re-read every aspect of your Upwork application, checking for spelling and grammar errors.
If you’re in any doubt as to your accuracy, or if English is your second language, get some help with this. Ask somebody to review it for you, or use a product like Grammarly (review here) to ensure you don’t miss anything.
You wouldn’t think that people would put their professional reputations on the line by rushing applications and sending them off with embarrassing mistakes. But as somebody who’d worked in recruitment, I can confirm that plenty do. Don’t be one of them.
14. Link Other Professional Accounts
Upwork gives you the ability to link your account to other networks such as LinkedIn, Behance and GitHub.
If you are active on any of these sites, it’s well worth completing this simple step.
Who Approves Upwork Profiles?
With MANY people applying for Upwork every day, it’s reasonable to assume that computer algorithms are heavily involved in approving new Upwork profiles.
Upwork has previously confirmed that they use a mixture of automated systems and human intervention. Obviously the company doesn’t share its exact processes, as people would immediately adapt their tactics to get around them!
It’s best to assume that your new Upwork account could be reviewed by a computer OR a human (and quite possibly both). Keep this in mind when you complete your profile, giving the algorithms as much information as possible, and the humans reassurance of the quality of your application.
How Long Does Upwork Profile Approval Take?
Upwork profile approval is usually complete within 24 hours. You could reasonably expect it to take longer during particularly busy periods.
There’s no one single answer to how to get approved on Upwork. If you’re ticking all the above boxes, following all the rules, and still having your application rejected, it may be best just to try an alternative platform and have another attempt at a later date.
In the meantime, you can work on building more skills and experience, so that you can enhance your profile on your next attempt.
It IS worth sticking with it. There’s a LOT of work on Upwork, with hundreds of new gigs every single day, including plenty from household-name companies. One of them could be your next client.
- For LOTS more on Upwork, and a full blueprint for launching as a freelancer, check out my Freelance Kickstarter course.
- Check out this article to find more tips for Upwork.
- Learn about the basics of freelancing here.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.