Recently my lovely friend Raegan asked me out for coffee to talk about writers. You see, Raegan is a marketing recruiterextraordinaire here in Houston, and her clients are clamoring for content creators. Her question to me went something like this:
“When we interview writers to fill these positions, how can we tell the bona fide content creators from the wanna-be’s?”
So we commandeered a table at our local Starbucks to hash out how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to spinners of content.
With that, here are 10 questions you absolutely must ask before hiring a content creator, plus the answers to listen for … and the red flags that should send up a warning signal.
1. How do you kick off a project with a new client?
What you’re looking for here is listening. A good content writer will spend time with the client to get a feel for the brand’s personality as well as the needs of its target audience.
Red Flag: “I just kinda start writing.”
2. Which blogs do you read?
You’re looking for a writer who’s committed to keeping his or her skills sharp, and that includes reading some of the better blogs on the subject of content creation.Two that come to mind are ProBlogger and CopyBlogger, but any marketing- or content-focused blog would be an acceptable answer.
Red Flag: “I totally dig TMZ and Perez Hilton …”
3. Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.
The best writers love to read, and not just blogs and e-zines. On my list of acceptable answers would be any marketing or general business book, as well as any book that shows your writer is a well-rounded individual.
Red Flag: “Do comic books count?”
4. Which professional organizations do you belong to?
A good writer views his or her work as a business, one that is worth investing in—and part of that investment involves joining professional organizations. They offer the opportunity to keep up with trends, sharpen skills, and benefit from interaction with other professionals. And a good writer will find a way to come up with the annual dues.
Red Flag: “None.”
5. Which style guide do you prefer to go by?
Red Flag: [blank stare]
6. Can you describe the difference between content and copy?
Copy is sales-oriented, while content is value-oriented. Copy is the stuff you’d find in a brochure, while content is what you’d find in a bona fide newsletter. A good writer should know the difference between the two.
Red Flag: “Is that a trick question?”
7. What is your proofreading process?
There’s more to good proofreading than reading your content over and over again on the screen. A good writer will have a process (or several to choose from) for proofing each piece of content. Some of my tactics are reading the content out loud and reviewing a printed copy. Give bonus points if they mention my super-ninja trick for when it’s gotta be perfect: reading it backwards.
Red Flag: “Proofreading? Is that a thing?”
8. How do you optimize your content for search?
A good content creator will be familiar with the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). Your ideal candidate will answer this question by describing how he or she (a) determines which keywords to focus on and (b) works those keywords into the content.
Red Flag: [blank stare]
9. What operating systems and programs do you use?
True story: On two occasions at my last corporate job, we hired writers who showed up on their first day, took one look at their computers, and said, “Oh, you use PCs.” Yep, they’d only ever used Macs. Each assured us it wouldn’t be a problem, but … yeah, it was. So if you’re hiring a content creator to work on-site with your team, make sure he or she is hip to the program—literally.
Red Flag: “I use a Mac [or a PC]—doesn’t everybody?”
And the bonus question:
10. Can you describe the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re?”
Yes, it sounds asinine. But I see this mistake All. The. Time. And I know at least some of those errors are the work of allegedly professional content creators. A good writer knows that a spellcheck program can only get you so far.
Red Flag: “Wull, they all sound the same, so it’s all good, right?”