Hiring a content writer is an important part of running a B2B marketing organization. At a certain point in the organization’s growth, you need to be able to quickly, efficiently, accurately, and distinctively tell your brand’s story in a ridiculously crowded marketplace, regardless of industry. After all, even if your biggest competitors aren’t producing a lot of quality content, you are still competing for the attention of your target customers with all the other content on the internet. We all know how a quick break on social media can turn into an hour-long black hole of wasted time. Your target customers are just like you in this way, so you have to make sure that once you’ve targeted and reached them, you get the point across well, fast, and in an interesting and compelling way. That’s why a content writer is so critical. So the individual in that seat needs to bring the heat each and every day.
But that’s a lot of pressure for that person, and even more so for a hiring manager. How can you evaluate a content writer from an interview or even a writing assignment alone?
There are plenty of resources online on what questions to ask in a content writer or content strategist interview. It’s easy to pull those, use them in a phone or in-person conversation, and pat yourself on the back for doing The Right Thing™. However, when you go to leadership to make the case for your favorite candidate or think about drawing up that offer letter yourself, how do you prove your content writer candidate is a good fit for your team? That’s where a content writer interview checklist (for our education friends, a rubric, if you will) comes into play.
An interview checklist can help you quantitatively measure how well candidates score on the most important factors you need for your B2B marketing team. When you score well, you can compare well - and that makes it much easier for leadership to make a decision, which is what you want to do as soon as possible after finding a favorite candidate. As of this writing in 2018, relatively low unemployment is the rule, so if someone’s applying for a job, you have to move fast and have a great offer. All of this work is in service of getting your dream candidate!
An effective content writer interview checklist includes:
Have they had experience writing content for your industry or vertical?
- Authenticity is critical to convincing and compelling content strategy, and few reading or writing exercises can help prepare a writer better than being in the weeds of that business day-to-day. If you’re looking for a content writer who can hit the ground running, some experience with content for your industry is a key part of the hiring checklist.
- That said, if your company specializes in auto insurance, that doesn’t mean you need someone with 5 years of experience writing content at an auto insurer. A candidate who is competent in other types of insurance, finance, tech, or the auto industry more broadly may have the right mindset, vocabulary, and transferable skills to do the job well and quickly. So it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
- We recommend putting this ask in the job description and/or on any pre-interview assignments you give. Viable candidates will put this experience front and center, and you’ll get a quick view of applicable writing as well as assess the candidate’s ability to follow the prompt at the outset, which is another critical characteristic of a successful content writer.
Are they familiar with writing for your audience (for instance, B2B or B2C)? If not, based on their portfolio of work, do you think they could learn to do it easily?
- B2B and B2C content can have very different approaches. Does your candidate have experience writing for a high-level executive or a specific type of decision maker in an organization? Do they create urgency in their writing that encourages the reader to buy something right away? Are they able to explain difficult concepts to buyers who need to be educated? Do they build community and affinity with their writing?
- All of these may be important questions for you to ask and answer as you consider your candidate’s experience with different audiences. Based on your team’s goals, you will need to make a judgment call as to if this is important enough experience to have in a new hire, or if it’s a skill you’re willing to teach them on the job.
What do they know about SEO and content?
- Early content writing was more about getting someone who could simply blog about your company’s recent activities. Today, content writing is much more strategic and integral to bringing in new traffic to your site and actually qualifying leads for your business. Given the elevated role of content in modern marketing organizations, knowledge of SEO is a huge differentiator for top content writing positions. When interviewing candidates for content writer roles, you should consider their knowledge of SEO. Can they explain how they can make their writing friendlier to search engines and future customers? Are they going to be managing your company’s website and/or CMS? If so, they’ll need to know technical SEO as well. Think about their existing skillset, what you need this individual to do, and assess if you or your team can provide or teach them the rest. If neither you nor your potential new hire can help you improve your visibility on search engine results pages, then the relationship won’t show a good ROI.
Did they do their research? If they aren’t an expert in your specific field or vertical, did they do their due diligence to learn what would appeal to your customer?
- Whether or not your candidate is familiar with your industry or audience, they should be coming into the interview process with some firm research into what resonates with your target market or personae. This is an everyday part of the content writer’s job and you’ll be able to get a sense of their strategic thinking and attention to detail through simply asking them how they would (or have) come up with a plan to address a key problem of yours through content. Things like keyword research, client interviews, and analytics should be part of the writer’s discovery plans. A great candidate should make you feel confident that they can develop a research plan easily, or that they know how to ask questions to get to what they need. This also gives you a good idea of how they would keep on top of new developments and incorporate valuable insights into your content efforts - making them a promising long-term hire.
Is their writing clear and concise? Can they distill facts and takeaways from disparate information or sources?
- Quite possibly the easiest question to answer, but worth asking - can this person write clearly about something new? You’ll be relying on this individual to represent the voice of your brand to potential clients and customers. You can’t and shouldn’t have to monitor each line they write for clarity. What’s more, you won’t want to handhold each step of the way when they need to learn about something new at your company. A great candidate can draw conclusions and connections easily, and do so in plain language. Ask for portfolio samples if you haven’t already done so, and if you choose to move forward with an offer, make sure you incorporate this question into your vetting process. A prior manager should be able to vet the quality of their work and the process for getting to a great work product.
This checklist can give you a solid feel for the aptitude of your applicant in making strides toward a positive impact on your content marketing right away. Anyone can come into your team having interviewed well and showed some decent writing samples. But if you are able to take the time to ask and answer some pointed questions about your candidate, you can more objectively determine if they are the right fit for your content marketing team as a strategic long-term hire.
Have you had experience hiring (or being hired as) a content writer? What has made a difference in evaluating the right person for your team? Let us know what we’re missing in our content writer checklist by posting in the comments below, or reaching us on Twitter @workshopmktg.