Kaite Rosa is Senior Director of Marketing at Payfactors. Prior, Kaite held content-focused roles at Boston-area companies including Virgin Pulse, Lionbridge, and Brafton. She has also reported for Boston-based online publication VentureFizz, and New York City-based online publications Mobile Marketer and Luxury Daily. Follow her on Twitter @kaiterosa.
Hiring a new content writer to your team is rarely an easy task. Today’s talent market is incredibly tight, and the big-time Boston-area companies offering unprecedented perks can make things that much more competitive. Not only that, but screening for strong writing skills isn’t exactly simple -- even for the seasoned content pro.
So how can you make hiring a little easier the next time you’re looking to expand your team? Here are some of the tried-and-true tactics I’ve used to find stellar content writers.
CAST A NARROW NET
I work for a tech startup, and our marketing team is still in its infancy. I know firsthand how tough it can be to clearly define what your new hire will be doing -- particularly when you’re still figuring out the team’s needs (and especially when you’re creating a new role from scratch).
Will your new hire be writing data sheets for product marketing? Helping your business development team with sales enablement content? Owning content for inbound and demand gen? Writing for the blog? Supporting product with technical copy? Interviewing the C-Suite for thought leadership pieces? Penning press releases? Crafting content for social media?
If you’re thinking, “Yes! All of it!” then let me be the one to break it to you: You’ve already set yourself up for failure.
A job description containing all of the above is innately flawed for two reasons.
First, one person can’t possibly own all those responsibilities successfully. It’s just way too much work for a single writer.
Second, the writer who kills it with your product marketing content is going to have a vastly different skill set than the one who writes creative copy for your demand gen offers.
ADJUST AS NEEDED
Instead of hopelessly searching for a content unicorn, narrow in on the near-term skills you absolutely need your new team member to have.
Maybe product can handle their own technical documentation for now, but you can’t wait another minute to find a writer who has a more creative slant to handle content for the blog. Outline your immediate must-haves, then adjust your job description (and job title!) to attract the kind of writer you need today.
Once you start reviewing resumes, reading writing samples and meeting candidates, be flexible. Maybe you’re looking for someone to own content for product marketing and sales enablement, but you end up finding an amazing candidate who’s also got a journalism background and would be great for interviewing execs and writing thought leadership content. Can you adjust that job description a bit further, to fit both your needs and the candidate’s strengths?
Be adaptable, and pivot when you need to.
GO BEYOND THE PORTFOLIO
While a writing portfolio is a great way to see what your candidate might be capable of, it’s impossible to know who edited that copy (and how many rounds of revisions it actually went through).
A take-home test may seem like a sure-fire way to weed out poor writers -- but it’s flawed, too. There are a billion variables that can skew an off-site writing test: a home environment very different from the workspace. An extended deadline. Outside help to edit.
Instead of sending your candidate home to work on a writing sample, prep a variety of quick assignments for your candidate to complete on-site.
For example, draft a bit of copy in advance for your candidate to edit. Sneak a few intentional errors in there -- some obvious, some not so obvious -- and see what they do with it.
The best writers not only catch the errors, but they’ll offer up suggestions to make your copy stronger, too.
Have your candidate use the piece they edit to craft some short content, like social media or ad copy. This’ll give you a sense of their ability to write clear, concise, compelling content.
At the same time, provide your candidate with a handful of statistics or some bullet points related to your product or industry. Ask them to use that information to storyline a quick blog, an infographic, or even a video script. This will show you how they approach a new project and help you understand how they think about visual content.
Finally, keep time to a minimum: I suggest giving no more than 30 minutes to complete the full test.
This tactic might seem unrealistic (cruel, even!), but it’s a solid way to figure out how your potential new hire works under stress and against a tight deadline.
When all is said and done, hold a quick debrief after the writing test. Ask the candidate to walk you through their work. What did they spend the most time on? What didn’t they get to? How did they decide what to work on first?
This helps shed light on how and why they prioritized all the projects. It also gives you a good look at how they approach the creative process.