What questions should you ask your content writer?

Hiring a writer or content producer is an important task for many communications leaders. Here’s what you should know about them before making an offer.

How do you know whether a writer is right for you?

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. 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.

PR pros 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 reached them, you get the point across efficiently and in an interesting and compelling way.

That’s why a content writer is crucial, and why the individual in that role must bring the heat each and every day.

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?

An interview checklist can help you quantitatively measure how well candidates score on the most important factors you need for your B2B marketing team. As of this writing, relatively low unemployment is the rule, so if someone’s applying for a job, you have to move fast and have a great offer.

An effective content writer interview checklist includes:

Have they had experience writing content for your industry or vertical?

Authenticity is crucial to a convincing and compelling content strategy, and nothing 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.

If your company specializes in auto insurance, that doesn’t mean you need someone with 5 years of experience writing content for 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.

Put this ask in the job description and 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 from the beginning.

Are they familiar with writing for your audience (for instance, B2B or B2C)?

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?

Content writing used to be 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 helping to qualify 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.

Did they do their research?

Whether or not your candidate is familiar with your industry or audience, they should be coming into the interview process with some research into what resonates with your target market.

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 your problems 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?

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.

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?

Sarah Schneider is the marketing manager for Workshop Digital, a digital marketing company in Richmond, Virginia. A version of this post originally appeared on Workshop Digital’s blog

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